Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

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.

Where to Buy

This book has been reviewed by many, many people, most of whom are far better at the review craft than I am. So, I'll simply endeavor to offer my observations, opinions, etc. about this somewhat controversial and rather polarizing book.

First off, I don't think this is a horrible book. Neither do I think it is a wonderful/fabulous/excellent book. The story it is telling is interesting, and while its Twilight fanfic origins show in various scenes that bear a striking similarity to or at least contain echoes of scenes from the Twilight books, still I think it's story is essentially original, at least insofar as any romance plot can be said to be truly original. This one does lack the "forbidden love" aspect that Twilight had, and while Ana frequently comments on how Christian is "out of her league", never does she really consider that she's not good enough for him or vice versa, nor does she ever entertain thoughts that their divergent socioeconomic levels/positions should preclude a relationship between them.

Ana isn't a bad character, though she does often seem to be incredibly naive for someone that's supposed to be 22, and though she has a fairly mature outlook on and response to life in general, her attitude toward relationships is rather immature and teenagerish. While at first glance she seems to be timid, shy, and something of a weak character, the more you think about all that she does, you realize that she's really quite strong and courageous. She has the courage to go and do the interview with Christian at the beginning of the book cold, knowing nothing about him or his company, armed with nothing but Kate's list of questions and the desire to help her friend out of the predicament she's in. When she starts seeing Christian and he introduces her to his "Red Room of Pain", she shows a surprising bit of maturity in recognizing that she isn't really a submissive, and enough sense of self-worth to question whether or not it's fair to herself to play his game and agree to his terms. As the book goes on, Ana's outlook on everything becomes increasingly mature and well-thought-out, and it's hard not to respect the decisions she makes since she is largely careful not to jump into anything without sufficient forethought and doesn't (usually) let herself be pressured into making a quick decision that could have far-reaching consequences for her. Still, her inexperience often tells on her, most notably at the end of the book where it does lead her into making a possibly rash decision that is bound to have significant ramifications in the future.

Christian describes himself at one point as being "fifty shades of fucked up", and on the whole I have to agree with him. Initially he simply comes off as being an arrogant, selfish ass who makes you want to throttle him for the way he treats Ana and insists that she has to be the one to adapt to his way of doing things and not at all vice versa. While he does give her a sweet, vanilla sort of introduction to sex, still he's somewhat condescending in the way he talks about how it was the first time he'd ever had vanilla sex and seems to try to impress on her how great he is for making such "extreme" allowances (not a word he uses, but certainly is the attitude he conveys about it). As the book goes on and we learn more and more about Christian, and his and Ana's relationship develops more, we start to see him relent more and more from the completely selfish stance he adopted at first into something that begins to incorporate a fair bit of compromise with what Ana wants and needs from the relationship. And along with Ana, we also start to learn just how damaged he is in terms of the sorts of traumas that he's had to endure in his past, particularly very early in life. One would think that some of his issues would have been noticed and addressed when he was a child, but apparently he learned early on to mask how he felt behind an outer facade of supreme confidence. Ultimately, what bothered me most about Christian is not that he has these issues, for really they add a lot of nice depth to his character and make him more "real", but the fact that even though he himself recognizes that he has some serious issues that should be dealt with, he outright refuses to even consider even trying to address at least some of them. And thus, in my opinion, he shows that a deep-rooted selfishness is truly part of his character, and not an aspect that I can like or condone.

I'll admit that I was dubious about the book going into it, for I'd heard a lot of negative things about the writing, the characters, etc. For much of the first half of the book I was inclined to agree with a lot of the negative criticism. Christian just seemed to be an unforgivable ass, the first person present POV and Ana's voice were annoying, and the writing did seem to be mostly on the level of first-draft type writings you can find posted in many places on the internet. The writing improved as it went along though, or at least I noticed it less as I got more and more caught up in the story and the characters, and I got used to Ana's voice (though the whole thing of referring to her "inner goddess" became rather overused I thought, even if it was cute at times), and I started to like Christian, at least a little. I didn't quite see the huge emotional explosion at the end coming, though perhaps I should have, and I was quite blown away by and impressed with it actually, though there were still many things about the scene and situation that I had me shaking my head at them. So a book that, for me at least, started out pretty weak, finished strong and managed to hook me in enough to read the next installment.

This is a book that it seems people either love or hate. Personally I'm somewhere in the middle, though on the positive side of center. I've rated it 3 stars, though I'd probably really give it 3.5 stars as while my final impression is good, still it has enough faults to keep it from being as high as a 4 to me. As far as whether or not I'd recommend it to others, I'd have to say that I'd recommend that anyone that's even remotely interested in it, even if just to see what all the fuss is about, should read it for themselves and form their own opinion. Maybe you'll love it, maybe you'll hate it, but I doubt you'll be truly neutral about it.

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