I kept thinking about this quote from the movie Quiz Show
when I heard about Fifty Shades of Grey
“Cheating on a quiz show? It’s like plagiarizing a comic strip.”
I suspect Mark Van Doren wouldn’t have been too worked up over the sketchy provenance of Fifty Shades
either, this Twilight fanfic inexplicably turned best-seller and cultural phenomenon.
This book has become hard to avoid. It’s front and center in bookstores, has prompted articles in the New York Times
and a provocative Newsweek cover
, brought in a seven-figure movie deal
, and has inspired Saturday Night Live skits
. Perhaps most unforgivably, it seems to have spawned the use of the phrase “mommy porn.”
So I added my name to the waiting list of more than 100 people for my public library’s electronic edition (this is a huge number of people for a digital book at my library, especially considering that they have twenty-three copies. I think Twilight
itself rarely had more than ten waiting, for far fewer copies). Finally, my turn came, and . . .
There’s just not that much to say. I don’t generally read romance novels or erotica, and I haven’t read Twilight
, so I don’t have much to compare this to. I have, however, read plenty of so-called “chick lit,” and I would describe Fifty Shades
as a worse-than-average chick lit story with (much) more graphic sex. As far as the much-touted BDSM element goes, I counted four such scenes out of an uncountable number of descriptions of “vanilla sex” (as the characters describe it).
The writing is pretty awful, with Anastasia’s “inner goddess,” “subconscious,” and even “medulla oblongata” making appearances on almost every page, apparently as a way for her to give a third-person narrative opinion of her first-person narration of events. It’s contrived and irritating, and any decent editor would have limited E.L. James to no more than one such mention of each of Anastasia’s multiple personalities. There are numerous annoyingly unrealistic details - Anastasia is in college but needs her best friend to teach her how to shave her legs, the 2011 MacBook Christian gives her has 32 GB of RAM - but honestly, I’ve read worse.
My main impression of Fifty Shades
is that it just doesn’t live up to the hype, positive or negative. Sure, some libraries have banned it
, but even Stephenie Meyer doesn’t seem too upset about her storylines being ripped off
, and if she’s not worried about it, I’m certainly not going to be. All of Anastasia and Christian’s antics are brazenly, well, consensual, almost to the point of being ludicrous, with a legal contract up for discussion throughout the book. Christian talks a big game about the extreme things he wants to do, but most of it never happens.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if a condom company pays for product placement in the movie, because the characters keep reminding us of the importance of safe sex. Like Christian Grey himself, Fifty Shades’
bark is worse than its bite.Rating: Probably 1 1/2 stars.
It's hard to work up enough enthusiasm about this book to really hate it.