A few weeks ago I took it upon myself to read the Fifty Shades Trilogy.
By all accounts it’s a truly terrible trilogy of books, worse even than the Twilight Saga, but I wanted to read them anyways.
I’m nothing if not thorough, and so to be able to discuss them, I felt I had to have read them.
This is, in a way, a review, but it’s not a review in the same sense as the other reviews I’ve done. There are also spoilers later in the post, so if you think you’ll enjoy it (why would you do that?), don’t read on.
If you’re not interested in a discussion, just read this:
Fifty Shades is a terrible trilogy. It’s a bad example of a sexual fantasy trilogy. It’s a bad example of a romance trilogy. It’s a bad example of an erotica trilogy. It’s a bad example of a fiction trilogy. It’s a bad example of writing, of publishing and of the quality of fiction which is lapped up by the general public at present.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, there are a few reasons which I’d like to point out which illustrate why I have such strong opinions on how little I actually like the Fifty Shades trilogy.
They can be fairly easily broken down into three categories:
1. The Writing
2. The Story
3. The Sex
Firstly, the writing.
EL James’ writing style annoyed the absolute pants off me. And not in a good way.
Her descriptive talent was lacking, she had an incredible tendency to tell, not show, which is irritating.
The single most irritating thing in the entire book, though, was the personification of the narrator’s ‘inner goddess’ and ‘inner subconscious’. They were actually headwrecking. For starters, why can’t the narrator just tell us her feelings herself? Why does she need two little people dancing around in her head?
Also, you cannot have an inner SUB-conscious. That would be conscious. If you can see it, that’s definitely, definitely your conscious.
Stupid, stupid, stupid writing device.
Other things which I found incredibly irritating: the blatant repetition of phrases such as ‘oh my’ and ‘fifty shades’.
I realise that ‘fifty shades’ is the name of the trilogy, but there’s no need to shove it down our throats as often as it was mentioned. It gets very tiresome after the hundredth or so time.
Oh! And the ‘Katherine Kavanagh anything’. GOD, I would happily have thrown the book against the wall every time that turned up, except I was reading it on my laptop.
The e-mail exchanges are both tedious and frustrating. Text messages might have been better, because they wouldn’t have been half as frustrating to read through names and subjects before getting to the message body.
Also crap, holy crap, double crap, triple crap. My god, come up with some new swear words!
Oh, and lastly, it’s not a trilogy. It is quite clearly one large story which was split in three as a money-spinner. A good editor (which, apparently, is what Ana is) would have condensed it down into one book which MIGHT have been palatable, but as it stands, it’s three books which are entirely interdependent, a pet hate of mine. The character description is appalling as well. We’re never given any characteristics, just enough to allow us to identify which character from Twilight they’re supposed to be.
Alice/Mia is described as ‘raven haired, tall and curvaceous’. Personally, I think she’s creepy. I can kind of understand Alice’s unnatural fascination with Bella, because she had psychic visions that they would be friends, but Mia’s refusal to let go of Ana’s hands? Just weird.
Also, has anybody noticed that two of the female characters, Ana and Mia, are names for eating disorders? That’s not weird at all.
Secondly, the story.
It was ridiculous. The characters are terribly, terribly personified. The narrator and protagonist is an air-headed, dull, stupid, frustrating, irritating, thick, oblivious, terrible, terrible person.
From the very beginning of the book she conducts herself in a way which is totally ridiculous and oblivious to any sort of danger in the world.
Not only is she 21 years of age and totally unable to tell when a) someone is hitting on her, b) someone is hitting on her and c) someone is an absolutely crazy stalker from whom she should run at top speed, she is also totally oblivious to how sex works, how normal relationships work, how life works, how jobs work, how helicopters work, how anything works really.
I mean, honestly.
When you drunk dial someone and they turn up and force you to come home with them? At that point you should run away screaming.
When they come to your place of work, hundreds of miles away, and buy the kidnapping-essentials kit? You should run away screaming.
When he finds out where you live and sends you gifts without your permission or knowledge and refuses to take them back? Run away screaming.
When he follows you halfway across the country despite you explicitly saying you didn’t want him to follow you? RUN AWAY SCREAMING.
Seriously. The only good thing Ana did in the entire series was when she left him at the end of the first book.
Other than Ana’s daft reactions to the way Christian acts around her, various other things in the books are totally perplexing. Apparently EL James has no idea how the publishing industry works. At the time I read them, I was an intern in a publishing house. I was tempted to bump off the commissioning editor to see if I’d be given her job. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s how it works in real life.
Even James decided that it wasn’t too realistic as she sort of retracted it later in the books.
Except it was after she’d suddenly been promoted to Managing Director or something, I don’t know, I was busy rolling my eyes.
There were also various things about a billionaire not having sufficient security to stop people getting into his apartment, his crazy obsession with having bodyguards for Ana, his weird issue over her name (like the only thing she even tried to stand up to him about and she gives in as soon as he expresses displeasure), and her strange, strange reaction to his ex “Mrs Robinson” and various other things.
Anyways. The story was really too sickening to go into much detail. There were various things which irritated me, some of which I’ve illuminated above but more of which have been eloquently listed by other people. You can see some at the end of the post.
And THIRDLY. Most importantly. I have MASSIVE, MASSIVE issues with the sex in this book.
Firstly, it’s erotica, or at least it’s marketed as erotica. It’s one of the first times erotica has been so very mainstream. Everyone knows of Mills and Boon books and Jilly Cooper books, which have a lot of sex in them, but the Fifty Shades trilogy has apparently been raising temperatures for its explicit descriptions of sex and, specifically, BDSM sex.
Except… it’s not that explicit. And it’s not that hot either.
So that’s my first issue with it. For an erotica book, the narrator sure is squeamish about her genitals. It’s constantly referred to as ‘there’, and she consistently tells us that blood was pooling… there.
Um, now it’s a while since I did a first aid course, but isn’t pooling one of the signs of death? She’s most definitely not dead.
For a book which is supposed to be explicit, it seems to be sadly lacking in explicit terminology. Sure there’s a lot of ‘fucks’ thrown in there, but really not much else.
I’m not saying that there should be. But from the way people were describing it, I was totally expecting something hardcore and explicit.
By the time the third book rolls around, EL James has clearly gotten bored of thinking of sex scenes. We’ve started cutting from the glint in his eyes to when it was over and she has ‘just fucked’ hair.
Ugh to that too.
There was only one bloody time when there was anything even verging on hard, and Ana broke up with him and went home wailing.
In any case, besides the sex not being any fun, or interesting in any way, it also becomes steadily more and more vanilla as the story progresses. Apparently finding the right woman means your kink will disappear. We’ll come back to that later.
Let’s talk for a moment about safewords. Safewords exist for a reason. BDSM is a fun but dangerous activity. Safewords are so incredibly important.
Throughout the entirety of the three books, Ana only uses the safeword once.
It’s not the time he beats her so hard she breaks up with him. You know, right after he had drilled into her what the safewords were. When she was incredibly upset and in her own personal hell, as melodramatic as that is. No, because that would have been a good, sensible time to use the safewords. When things have gotten too much for her and she’s upset and in pain. Nope. Why would she use the safeword then? Don’t be daft.
It’s one or two books later. Christian is teasing and she safewords. And his reaction? He gets upset.
What in the hell is that? The point of a safeword is to protect someone when they’re afraid they’re being pushed too far. That means that when someone uses a safeword you should stop, and look at your own actions.
Yet Christian gets upset. Because that makes perfect sense. Because, if they were continuing with BDSM, which they’re not, getting upset at her when she uses safewords would really be encouraging play which is Safe, Sane and Consensual. That’s only one of the basic tenets of play. And when you want to play, obviously the best way to make sure both parties are enjoying it is to scare the sub out of using safewords which are designed to protect both parties. That makes perfect sense.
Other than that, Christian continually pushes Ana to do things she doesn’t want. Besides his contract which, after all that agonising, they never even bloody well implement, he frequently threatens to spank her and follows through with it despite her never agreeing to it as a part of their relationship and inflicts upon her all sorts of kinky practises without her prior agreement.
It’s so DANGEROUS to advocate this as a normal relationship, kinky or otherwise.
SSC is a basic tenet of BDSM. Prior agreement is so important. It’s a shame that James doesn’t seem to agree with that. No sensible, sane, safe or consensual relationship includes something which the sub doesn’t want to do.
It’s complicated. There is such a thing as consensual non-consent, but that’s the kind of thing you have to discuss beforehand.
In the scenario where one party ploughs ahead with something they think the other party will enjoy, you end up with sexual assault and some incredibly traumatised person. Not only that, because of the fringe nature of BDSM, do you think someone who does that will be prosecuted? Consent is a murky area at the best of times. Try throwing that into the mix.
But that’s a different kettle of fish, it’s a legal thing rather than a sex thing.
In any case, it is an awful, dangerous, wicked idea to perpetuate, that you might know better than someone else what their own sexual desires are. It is NEVER, EVER right to advocate behaviour like Christian’s. Despite Ana’s protestations that she’s not into spanking in any way, shape or form, Christian insists on it. And Ana, stupid girl that she is, goes along with it.
That is flat-out assault. If Ana had any sense, she should have left the first time he spanked her while she asked him not to.
BDSM is a fringe interest. It can be dangerous, but it isn’t as long as everyone goes into it with their eyes open.
It’s not a perversion or a sickness, it’s not a product of childhood abuse, it’s a legitimate sexual interest, less common but just as acceptable as being turned on by boobs rather than butts.
Fifty Shades doesn’t portray that. Fifty Shades perpetuates the idea that BDSM is a sickness only enjoyed by people who had traumatic childhoods and that it can be fixed by the love of the right woman. By Ana, that is.
Once we get to the third book, Christian has lost all interest in BDSM and they only have vanilla sex.
It’s just so wrong. So wrong.
Everything about these books irritates me. The construction of them. The standard of writing. The terrible, non-erotic sex scenes. So many things.
I just can’t talk about it any more.
Don’t read them. They’re awful. They’re dangerous. They’re just plain wrong and they should never have been as popular as they were.
It is a shame(hence the title, fifty shames) that a trilogy of books which could have been so good, which could have been a sleek, sexy story about a billionaire mogul with kinky interests and a girl introduced to the sexy, exciting arena of kink set against a backdrop of expensive clothes, expensive cars and psycho exes.
But it’s not. It’s tedious, it’s dull, it’s not sexy at all, it’s frustrating, it’s stupid and it’s just so much less than it could have been.
Also, I’m not particularly eloquent or funny. Try reading these other versions of discussion, they’re far more entertaining than me:
Red Lemonade’s WONDERFUL Fifty Shades of Tedious Fuckery series starts here and continues with several other iterations.
Katrina Lumsden’s wonderful trilogy of reviews on Goodreads, here, here and here.
And here’s one review from Amazon as well. Better than me, doubtless.