Saturday, 5 May 2012

Books #41-43 The Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L James

Fifty Shades Of Grey Fifty Shades Darker Fifty Shades Freed

I have decided to review the Fifty Shades Trilogy as a whole because the remarks I want to make about it refer to all three books. Please do not worry, no spoilers.

Like many I was drawn to the Fifty Shades Trilogy by all the recent media coverage, including a piece about it recently on Newsnight in which E.L James was interviewed, wanting to know just what all the damn fuss was about.

By E.L James own admission, Fifty Shades began life as a piece of Twilight fanfiction entitled Master Of The Universe in which the Bella character met Edward at a later date before engaging in a BDSM relationship with him.

Master Of The Universe can no longer be found on the Internet or at least I couldn't locate it. It has been deleted pretty much everywhere, presumably either by James herself or by the publisher who took this hugely popular Internet story and revamped it into something new, or, newish.

The Bella character becomes Ana Steele, a virginal English graduate who encounters multimillionaire businessman Christian Grey, a successful yet damaged man who enjoys being dominant and targets Ana as his next submissive.  

Shades of the original Twilight novels are fairly evident in the first book Fifty Shades Of Grey, from watching her eat, to replacing her clapped out car, and the infuriating lip biting.

I say infuriating lip biting because of just how often the fact that Ana bites her lip and Christian tells her not to is repeated throughout the novels narrative, not sure precisely how many but it is a good Fifty times too often. The same for rolling her eyes, the fact that Ana thinks Christian is "mercurial" etc.

In addition references to Ana's "inner goddess" are frankly vomit inducing, and punchworthy. Her subconscious is also massively over used. The book is highly repetitive in the terminology it uses, and therefore ultimately poorly written.

The sex too is massively repetitive and often incongruous, they have sex more often than is physically possible for anyone and often in bizarre circumstances after one or each of the characters has had a truly awful day, and shagging to the point of exhaustion wouldn't realistically occur. I understand that these books are erotica and therefore are about having sexual content but like others who have read it, I soon found myself skipping some sex scenes to get on with the plot.

There is a patronising element to Fifty Shades trying to feed into the fantasies of women who think they are "the one" to change an errant or damaged mans ways, when a sensible woman should know this can't be done and this effects the believability of certain developments. Despite the fact that Ana calls Christian mercurial, her constant changes of heart and moving of goalposts make you understand the guys confusion and feel for him.

Despite this the books like the Twilight novels are utterly bizarrely compelling, and I read them all very quickly. Christian is actually a really enthralling character, and his back story is touching. As certain events occur in Grey, Darker, and Freed it really does become like a crazy American soap opera and is quite addictive in that respect. Ana is frequently irritating though.

So yes, characters and plot do make you continue reading these stories but the quality of the prose is frankly godawful. Newsnight among other media outlets have referred to the saga as "Mummy Porn" and somehow there is I feel something inherently condescending towards "silly women who don't want to read serious books" in this. I guess that you could call this the modern revamped Mills and Boon. There is absolutely "something there" in these books, and had she reduced the level of repetitiveness in her prose and kept the sex scenes in but removed the ones that are silly in the context and surplus to requirements, there might be a decent novel but it lacks any kind of erudition or sophistication.

It's good for a laugh, and light titillation, and as I say bizarrely compulsive so there is some kind of magic in there. I also found the Twilight novels compulsive despite the fact that they too are quite poorly written. Ultimately these books are a guilty pleasure because I enjoyed it in spite of myself and in spite of the fact it is utter tosh!!!   Grey 7/10 Darker 8/10 Freed 7/10   


  1. I've been going back and forth about reading these and I still don't know if I'm convinced. I'll freely admit to judging before reading and I just wish the whole 'Twilight' thing will die.

  2. It is hard to believe that someone got a publishing deal through writing fanfiction about Twilight and a little galling for would be unpublished writers of original work. They are worth it so as to at least be informed about them as a talking point but I don't like the angle it has taken both in the novels and media towards women and towards female sexuality. Worryingly essentially patriarchal with a pretence that novels of this nature are sexually liberating for women.