Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Fifty Shades of Grey" Book Review

A few weeks ago I watched Matt Lauer discuss Fifty Shades of Grey, a relatively new book by E.L. James (a pseudonym) on The Today Show.  The panel was discussing whether or not this was good reading.  The two other people discussing it - a male psychologist and Savannah Guthrie (a co-host), had very differing opinions.  The doctor was all about how the book is demeaning to women and it's awful to romanticize an older man taking advantage of a younger, inexperienced woman.  Savannah basically said it's all good fun.  They also interviewed a group of Real Housewives-like women who were all hot and bothered about the books, saying it had jazzed up their sex lives.  I had never heard of the book before then and the hullabaloo about it intrigued me, so off to Amazon I went to purchase it for my Kindle.

"When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
 Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires." (Amazon's description)

I was a little put off about buying something that screamed erotic literature, but you never know.  And I usually don't read other's reviews on Amazon because I don't want to pre-judge.  This book, and the other two in the trilogy - Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, are so much more than erotica.  Don't get me wrong, the sex is HOT, but I found myself sucked in to the relationship development and the personal growth of the two main characters, Anastasia (Ana) Steele and Christian Grey.  Ana is a 21 year old college student about to graduate in Vancouver, Washington.  Christian is an extremely successful 27 year old who lives in Seattle.  They happen to meet and fall for each other for very different reasons.

Here's the first thing - Christian is really not an older man.  The Today Show story made it seem like Christian was some 40 year old taking advantage of a much, much younger woman.  A six year age difference is negligible in my world.

**spoilers ahead!**

Christian wants to have a dominant/submissive relationship with Ana.  It's how all of his "relationships" have been.  Ana has never had a boyfriend and is a virgin.  He wants to introduce her to what his "world" is all about but doesn't want her to go into it unknowledgeable.  He tells her to do the research.  (I had to do the research!  I had no idea what some of these things were and now I wish I could un-know some of them.)  Ana was understandably shocked and determined that she wouldn't do some of these things, but similarly determined that she wanted to be with this man, no matter what.

There's the second thing - Christian didn't take advantage of Ana what-so-ever.  She went into the relationship wanting and at least semi-knowledgeable about what it would entail.  She may have been inexperienced, but she was fully willing.

A BDSM relationship isn't for everybody, obviously.  And it's not going to be enjoyable reading for everybody, either.  And that's okay.  But it's also okay for people to have this sort of relationship if they choose it.  It's just another lifestyle choice.  But the books are not about a BDSM relationship.  They are about a relationship.  Period.

Ana and Christian have all sorts of issues.  Some are general life issues that I wouldn't expect people this young to have.  In fact, I  often found myself forgetting that they were so young because I can picture them ten years older and their lives still making sense.  Ana is incredibly insecure and Christian (as he says) is fifty shades of fucked up, and those are the things they need to work through.

As I said before, I was sucked into their relationship and its progression.  I literally couldn't put this down and I barely got anything else accomplished while I was reading it.  As I got closer and closer to the end of the first book, I felt unfulfilled because I didn't think everything was going to get wrapped up as neatly as I hoped it would.  I hadn't bought the other two books because I wasn't sure I was going to like the first one, or if it even followed the same characters.  But then I realized that we'd get to follow Ana and Christian throughout the three books; I was so anxious to continue reading about them and find out where they would go next.

Parts of the book were incredibly funny and parts really made me think.  And not just think about the subject matter, but literally I had to look a lot of words up to find out what they meant.  The "big words" were well-done though.  Both Ana and Christian are very smart individuals, and Ana is an English major eventually going to work in publishing, so the use of the "big words" never felt like the author was just having fun with the thesaurus.  (Some of the words I had to look up were: profligate, mercurial, avuncular, apogle, inveigle, antediluvian, and vacuous.)  One of the things that kept making me laugh was when Ana scolded Christian for using SHOUTY CAPITALS in emails, because I feel exactly the same way about all caps.

The author is British, and though I hadn't confirmed that before reading, it was obvious to me because of some of her un-Americanized wording.  She used pram instead of stroller, satchel instead of bag or purse, arse instead of ass, er and erm instead of um, and envisages instead of envisions.  Though I know those words are occasionally used here, they are definitely not as common, while they are very common in current British books.  I was also a little irritated because she would use the same words over and over, without finding another way to describe the same thing.  But as this was her first book(s), I can forgive her.

The books have become incredibly popular and have even been picked up for a movie deal.  I can't imagine these as a movie, probably just because of the sex aspect.  It's really quite graphic (though thankfully not disgustingly so), and so much of the relationship development happens during those scenes.  I just don't think a movie can do it justice.

There was an article about the books and the author in Entertainment Weekly last week, too.  I learned a lot about the development of the books from that article, which I found really interesting.  Apparently the author really loved the Twilight series and she wrote an incredibly popular on-line fan-fic piece which was a sort-of alternate reality Bella/Edward.  That's what became Fifty Shades of Grey.  It makes sense - at multiple times while I was reading (before knowing about the Twilight connection), I thought that the characters reminded me of Bella and Edward somehow.

I really recommend these books.  I thoroughly enjoyed them.  But I do think that most people I know will  need to have a little bit of an open mind about the sex part initially.

{Read my review of "Fifty Shades Darker" here}

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