E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey

Posted July 5, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First in the Fifty Shades Trilogy erotic romance series revolving around Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele and based in Seattle.

My Take
Oh, this was so sad! Yes, it is a book that titillates the reader with its focus on bondage and discipline, but the underlying theme is about control and trust. It’s about a damaged little boy desperate to protect himself. For some reason, Grey’s Mrs. Robinson gave him that. What I want to know is what happened to cause this to seem a welcome alternative, a saving to a fifteen-year-old boy. Did the trauma occur when he was still with his birth mother? Did something happen after he was adopted?

It does provide an in-depth analysis of dominance and discipline for the lay person as explained by a man who has never had vanilla sex with a woman before Ana to a 21-year-old virgin who had no idea this sexual sub genre existed and includes an interesting argument about submission.

I’ll agree with the detractors that James is not a good writer. Sentences in the initial chapters are awkward and stiff. There are some odd word juxtapositions that, even when read several times, still don’t convey the meaning I suspect the author intends. Ana comes off looking like an idiot partly because James doesn’t set her character up for this. There is no discernible reason for her to be so awkward and twitchy when she meets Grey. It’s almost enough to make me set the book down. At least her Grey character is more believable.

The only reason I continued to read was the brouhaha surrounding it. I’m curious. I have to admit the overt topic is not my cup of tea, but there is such a desperation in both characters which James does manage to convey. It pulls you in. Prurient curiosity as to what Grey will do next up against the “other” that Ana asks for and needs. Grey never experienced normal. He has no idea the comfort that can come from vanilla sex or a vanilla relationship. The concept of dating he understands intellectually, but he doesn’t grasp it emotionally until he is forced to try it with Ana. In this, there is a give-and-take. Ana is willing to try some of what Grey needs, she wants to understand. Grey, in turn, is willing to try to meet Ana’s needs, primarily because he wants her so very much.

Another area that’s difficult is why Grey is initially attracted to her. Can those few “yes sirs” and “no sirs” at his office really be enough for him to pursue her to this extent? As for Ana’s attraction, so he’s good-looking. Why else is Ana attracted to him? What is it that causes her to gibber and squeak?

I’m also curious because his adopted parents and his other adopted brother and sister seem so warm and loving. They touch. Grey appears to love them back. So, why? What happened to make this guy so averse to touch? Why does he feel a need for a relationship where he has such an extreme degree of control?

My annoyances begin with how incredibly irritating Ana and Kate’s characters are. What a pair of drama queens!! Ana annoys the hell out of me with her breathless, witless-ness around Grey. She’s a squirming, quivering mess as she sighs, she breathes, she smirks, she flushes. She vacillates between being a self-assured woman with morals and a silly schoolgirl practically between breaths. She is so disapproving and judgmental. Yet, she’s almost as controlling as Grey.

Why is Kate so bitter because Ana knows Grey and has his cellphone number? So Grey warns Ana against him after they’ve had coffee after their first “date” and she goes off on a crying jag?? She’s what? Twenty-one, almost twenty-two? Puh-lease. Kate leaps all over Grey because Ana keeps crying. Please. Ana cries because she gets up in the morning (um, sarcasm!) She pushes and prods relentlessly at both of them. How does Kate react if Ana stubs her toe? Does she get out the chainsaw and murder that nasty stair? Blow up the sidewalk?

The next major annoyance is James and her words. Yes, she is using words to tell us what is happening in this story, but she isn’t making us believe it. It’s difficult to buy into events when James hasn’t invested it with emotion until much later. And, for all I know, maybe I’m simply caught up in the big question about Grey by this time. Or, maybe James got the hang of it and is writing so as to make me believe.

I understand the “laters, baby” is a joke Grey and Ana enjoy from Elliot’s goodbye to Kate. But, I just don’t see such a formal, closed-off guy, saying “babe”.

He’s told her that only certain very close people are allowed to call him “Christian” and does not invite her to call him by his first name. Naturally, James has Ana calling him “Christian” on their second date and this particular loose thread is not addressed.

Yes, being hit by a cyclist could be painful. I certainly can’t imagine that it is so life-threatening as to elicit this reaction from Ana or Grey.

I’m coming to suspect that Grey likes the challenge of Ana. She doesn’t want what his money can buy. She’s an innocent and she doesn’t necessarily let him get away with everything he wants. Who knew that Grey would be willing to try “the hearts and flowers”, the “other”. And Ana is enticing Grey into all sorts of his own virginal experiences.

He’s given her the contract and suggested she research its terms—with the new super- super loaded, high-tech MacBook Pro he sends her—lust, envy… It’s rather too bad, people in general don’t get as detailed when they’re getting married! Ana does finally grasp that contract negotiation is a TWO-way communication.

I do enjoy the emails they send back and forth—be sure to read the subject line and the sign-offs. They can be cute. And it’s the emails where Ana feels most comfortable explaining her discomforts.

Crack me up! Ana has no idea and Christian is getting off on buckling her into the helicopter.

The Red Room of Pain is a departure decorating-wise from the cliché black.

Okay, I rather enjoy Ana’s inner monologues with her subconscious and her inner goddess.

It’s an odd yo-yo of a relationship. The contract is for Friday through Sunday afternoon and a promise of monogamy for the entirety of the contract. And he wants to control her every move the rest of the week as well. When she announces a trip to Georgia to visit her mom, he freaks. Well, he also likes that she said “no” to his moves.

Ooh, mama! The boy is so jealous of any guy even smiling at Ana. Cool your jets, boyo! Any male friend who smiles or touches her gets the evil eye. I almost expect to hear they’ve been mugged!

Then there’s the clichéd “oh, I really want to know” that Ana talks Grey into demonstrating what he would really like to do to her. (Notice the similarity to “I’ll respect you in the morning”??? ) And she runs. She talks this damaged boy into opening up, exposing himself, trusting her. And she runs after telling him what a monster he is.

The Story
It’s Kate’s flu that forces Ana to take on her roommate’s precious interview with the elusive Christian Grey. Mega-industrialist tycoon who is a major patron to the university. Kate really needs this interview. It’s taken months to set up, it’s intended as a feature of the next issue of the school paper—and the last of which Kate is editor, and both Kate and Ana are graduating. And, since Grey is the graduation speaker handing out diplomas, it is a nice gesture in thanks.

It’s at Clayton’s Hardware that Ana next encounters Grey and helps him purchase electrical ties, tape, and rope. Hmmmmm. Ana also scores a coup for Kate when Grey agrees to photographs. You know he’s doing it for more time with Ana, but James is too stiff here. Ana, of course, is almost too busy squeaking, hardly breathing, and whispering—gag. An
d what’s with all the “er, Miss Kavanaugh” crap!

The photo shoot ends with a promise, but the promise dies, becoming a week of crying and studying culminating with a drunken phone call when Ana goes out to celebrate the end of exams. Grey clearly hasn’t eliminated her from his mind.

The Characters
Anastasia Steele is an English literature major about to graduate. She’s clumsy, a virgin at the age of 21, and an odd mix of mature and idiot. Her stepfather, Ray Steele, is the man she considers her real father. Her mother, Carla Adams, seems flakey with her flitting from one entrepreneurial idea to another, but she seems grounded emotionally. Mom’s current husband, Husband Number Four, Bob, is variously referred to as her newish husband and as having been around for a while.

José Rodriguez is studying engineering at school and is a great photographer. Unfortunately, Ana regards him as more of a brother. Ana has worked at Clayton’s Hardware Store for the past four years where Mr. and Mrs. Clayton appreciate her work. His brother Paul seems to want to appreciate a lot more.

Christian Grey is an extremely wealthy industrialist who happens to be twenty-seven-years-old. He drives Ana crazy with his formality one minute and his warmth and boyishness the next. She never knows what to expect and his “threats” to discipline her keep her off balance. Taylor is Grey’s bodyguard. Andrea appears to be his executive secretary.

Kate Kavanaugh is this year’s class valedictorian and Ana’s roommate. After graduation, she and Ana are planning to room together in the condo her parents bought her in Seattle. Obviously, she comes from a wealthy family. Her family connections have organized her internship at The Seattle Times. Ethan is her brother.

Elliot Grey is Christian’s brother who has a construction company and he’s mad about Kate. Mia is his little sister who has been studying cooking in Paris. Dr. Grace Treveylan-Grey is his mother and Carrick is the father. They all adore Ana. The first girl he ever brought home. Been photographed with.

The Cover
The cover is a black background which offsets the knotted grey tie with the woven pattern—the same tie Christian uses on Ana.

The title sums up Christian. He is Fifty Shades of Grey and all of ‘em are all fucked up.

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