Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

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November 24, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey review
I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I thought that when my name finally came to the top of the library’s hold list I’d read the first chapter and put it down with a sneer, but that’s not what happened.

Yes, the writing is clunky and the book lacks polish. There are plenty of little things that don’t ring true (Anastasia doesn’t have a computer; she trips over a clean, well-lit floor; the dancing in the nightclub scene), and I could have done with a bit less of the inner goddess. But overall I found the book fun. Everyone in the book is nice, including the brooding Mr. Grey. The story is quite upbeat, and it’s easy to read. If you’re in the right mood to fantasize along, you can have a good time.

A voyage of self-discovery and transformation can be a great story, especially in the erotica genre. But the book failed for me—and I suspect this is at the root of many the complaints about Ana—by not being that. Ana shows bravery when she ventures into Christian’s world. She faces some pretty daunting challenges, and she does a good job in negotiating her boundaries. But instead of realizing that she’s kink-curious and exploring her own interests and needs, she makes it all about the man, and she get stuck in a loop of “I want him so much, but I don’t know if I can give him what he wants.” The story comes off as being about her picking and choosing between different options offered to her instead of being about her taking action to discover who she is and what she wants. The ending is also seriously disappointing. It looks as if the author noticed she was running out of space and cobbled together a weak climax at the expense of making Ana do something that’s both ridiculous and inconsistent with her earlier actions.

The book probably isn’t going to win any awards for the Most Realistic Depiction of Kinky People. The kinky person here is high-functioning but emotionally damaged. Of course that’s necessary to raise the emotional stakes in the story—if Ana were having a relationship with a happy, well-balanced person who happened to like spanking, the conflict wouldn’t be nearly big enough—but it’s still disappointing. The BDSM is rather mild—I was kind of waiting for it to start. Some BDSM-themed books (Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, Story of O) plunge quickly into activities that would endanger life and limb, but Fifty Shades keeps things tame. Where Anne Rice’s masters hang their slaves up by their wrists all night, Christian Grey “aims for pink.”

The book combines easy reading, romance, erotic spice, and better writing than your average pulp romance with some kind of genre-busting spark. I hope it will help open the door to distinctive, well-written, entertaining, and well-produced erotica hitting the mainstream.

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.