Fifty Shades of Grey
Author: E L James
American release date: April 3, 2012
Format/Genre/Length: Novel/Romance/528 pages
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: Mature Audience
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★
Frustrated that her best friend/college roommate has come down with the flu on the day of an important interview, Anastasia Steele—Ana, to friends and family—agrees to help her out, although that entails driving some 165 miles in order to do so. But what are friends for, right? So she drives to downtown Seattle to keep the bedridden Kate’s appointment with the CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings , Inc., one Christian Grey, who is scheduled to be the commencement speaker at their graduation. What begins as simply an annoying favor for a sick friend becomes the catalyst to the biggest change imaginable in the innocent college student’s life.
Technically, Ana is only the conduit for the interview. The questions are written out, all she needs to do is ask them, and record all the answers. Good thing, because when she meets Christian, she is so flustered by his amazing good looks, and his youth that she is a bit tongue-tied (and mentally curses Kate for not having prepared her for him).Of course, part of the fault is Ana’s for not having read the questions through, and blurting out, “Are you gay?”, before she wishes a hole would open up and swallow her. She barely makes it through the interview, and his slightest touch produces reactions she’s never experienced before. All in all, Ana is greatly unnerved by Christian Grey.
Ana goes back to her life—her studies, her part-time job at the hardware store, her friends, including Jose, a photographer whom she suspects of liking her a bit too much in the wrong way—but she can’t stop thinking about Christian. When he turns up unexpectedly where she works, she is flustered as she helps him gather the things that he requests—cable ties, masking tape, rope—although she can’t begin to fathom why he should need these things, and he isn’t exactly forthcoming with details. When Ana mentions in passing that Kate wishes they had better pictures of the young CEO to go along with the interview, Christian offers to do a photo shoot, to her amazement. An ecstatic Kate strong-arms a reluctant Jose into taking the pictures, and the next day all three show up at Christian’s expensive hotel. After the photo shoot, he invites Ana for coffee, and she accepts—even though she doesn’t even like it.
Ana cannot stop thinking about him. Especially after he makes an overly generous gift to her of some very expensive first editions. She goes out with Kate and Jose to celebrate their graduation, and consuming too many drinks makes her bold; while waiting in line for the ladies room, she places a drunken call to Christian. She won’t tell him where she is and hangs up on him, but the man has resources, and luckily so, saving her from an unfortunate situation, also introducing Kate to his brother Elliot. While they hit it off, Christian takes Ana with him to his hotel, where she passes out.
It’s obvious that this attraction between them is very mutual; although Christian continually tries to warn Ana away from him, telling her he’s no good for her, she cannot resist him. When innocent Ana says to him, “You’re quite the disciplinarian,” he responds with, “Oh Anastasia, you have no idea.” And when it reaches the point where it’s obvious that something’s got to give, then he reveals to her some of his nature, what he’s looking for in a relationship, and he gives her a contract to sign, outlining everything in black and white. You see, Christian is a Dominant in search of a Submissive—this is the type of relationship he has with women, albeit one at a time, for he is monogamous. Although there is something he hasn’t realized about Ana, which could be a deal breaker.
Loving Christian Grey will not be easy, but Ana cannot help herself. When she’s around him, she wants him so badly she can taste it. He does something to her, something very elemental, and being away from him is painful to her. But can she live with his very exacting rules? Does she even get a voice in this matter? And is there any wiggle room? Enquiring minds want to know.
There is no denying that Fifty Shades of Grey has become a phenomenon in the short time since its release. I became aware of the hoopla and wondered about it, especially after hearing that the story was originally a fanfiction penned by author EL James, based in the Twilight fandom. So I decided to see what the fuss was all about, and I was more than half prepared to find it unmitigated tripe, and highly questionable erotica. I’ve never read anything in the bdsm genre before, so I was also apprehensive that I would not like this aspect of the book either. All in all, I prepared to dislike this book.
But a strange thing happened. From the beginning, I found the author’s voice engaging, easy to read, and well developed. It flows very smoothly, and her narrator, Ana Steele, is easy to like, and I enjoyed watching her story unfold. As for Christian, well, that man is just hotter than hot, and incredibly sexy. Yet no cookie-cutter romance hero is he; he is multi-layered and multi-faceted, and very riveting as we peel away the layers, trying to find out what makes Christian tick.
While this book is definitely for mature audiences because of its dark themes and open sexuality, it is not what I consider to be erotica. To me, erotica is sex with a bit of plot thrown in, just a step above pure smut that makes no pretense at plot. In the world of fanfiction, this is often referred to as pwp—plot, what plot? But Fifty Shades is first and foremost a romance between Ana and Christian, a very sensual romance, and the sex enhances that romance but it isn’t everything, it’s a part of everything.
As for the fanfiction aspect, if I hadn’t been told that was the origin, I would never have guessed it. Even knowing it, I don’t really see it (and I have read the Twilight books, so I am familiar with the characters). You might make a case for Christian being the controlling Edward Cullen, while I can see a little bit, perhaps, of Bella in Ana Steele, mostly in her clumsiness and naivete, but honestly, these characters are their own, and very well developed. She basically took Twilight and reshaped it into her own story, in the same way that Leonard Bernstein took Romeo & Juliet and made it into West Side Story. Fifty Shades of Grey is its own story.
The question still remains as to why this book, the first in a trilogy, has gone so very viral, and for that I have no real answer. It’s a good book, and I like it, but there are others out there, I know. This isn’t the first bdsm romance, far from it. There are m/f and m/m books out there with the same theme. My only explanation is exposure. Those other books never gained the same sort of exposure. I can only speculate that some great promotional efforts took place before its release, and if so, more power to everyone involved. It worked. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt that EL James is a former TV executive, and probably has friends in high places. I should be so lucky.
While Fifty Shades is not erotica, in my opinion, it is erotic, sensual, and romantic. I understand there is a nickname for it—Mommy porn. Intrigued, I asked a friend what that was all about, and learned that it’s because the largest part of the audience that makes up the readership are women over thirty. Okay, I guess I fill that bill and then some. I think that anyone who enjoys romance will love this book, whether you’re into bdsm or not. I can’t say I’d read another one, outside of the trilogy. That wasn’t the part of the story I found the most satisfying. For me it was all about the romance, the love.
I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy.