Review: Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E. L. James

Long after my aunts and grand-aunts delighted in its illicit secrets, I too have joined the disappointingly huge numbers of people that have read Fifty Shades of Grey. Coming around to this experience has been a trial. On my first attempt I could not pass the second page – Ana’s wholly predictable tumble into Christian’s office on their first meeting was too much of a cliché. (Does that even count as a spoiler?)

On the urging of the Todd, whose exact words were “You can’t let me suffer alone in this misery”, I picked it up again and gritted my teeth throughout all three books.

It would be unfair and perhaps inaccurate to call the trilogy a literary disaster. The books have sold millions of copies and with a movie set to be released next year (the official trailer is pretty awesome) it is a success in every way that matters. Except that any self-respecting reader and writer tends to shudder when the book is mentioned.

Poster from Universal Studios

The plot is simple: a traumatized child grows into a sexually controlling young man who renounces his sensational lifestyle when he falls in love. There are some attempts at drama, humour and intrigue but they all fall flat because they’re largely predictable. Still, there’s a plot and it moves forward painstakingly to a nauseatingly sweet conclusion.

The source of my displeasure with Fifty Shades is twofold: the writing is often painful and awkward and Ana’s character is so ridiculous as to be unlikable. When one gets over the stilted and unnatural narration and dialogue one still has to contend with her stupid choices, actions and motives.

There are moments that will elicit chuckles and tender smiles, but it’s more like wading through a swamp and finding one spot that’s a little bit drier than the rest. You’re still waist deep in a stinky old swamp, but you can appreciate the flowers through the mosquitoes, at least.

I think the Fifty Shades idea could have been brilliant, had it been handled by someone with a little more dexterity. The premise is entirely unique and could have gone in a million different directions, but James was so heavy-handed with the delivery that it lost whatever appeal the mystery of Christian presented. James’ writing is also shallow, barely scratching the surface of what could have been a consuming literary exploration of the human psyche, with a love story to boot. She does her characters an injustice by rendering them so two-dimensional, or maybe it’s just a defect of Ana whose eyes we are forced to see the world through.

The trilogy is easily the worst thing I’ve read all year, and I wouldn’t have read it at all except I’m trying to get into the habit of reading everything, even the things I don’t really want to. And now I’ve validated my opinion that it’s a horrible series with some redeeming qualities, though not nearly enough to bring it out of the land of Horrible Mistakes and into the land of Good Books.

Then again. . . 


If you read Fifty Shades and liked it, please tell me what you found good about it. I like to look at things from as many points of view as possible.

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