Fifty Shades of Dismay

Artist Gary Stranger.

Following the news that the latest book in the Fifty Shades of Grey sequence topped the UK best-seller list for 2015, Siobhan Coleman takes a fresh look at the novel that kicked the phenomenon off… and is far from impressed. 

Similarly to VCRs, cassette tapes and Adam Sandler’s acting career, I have found erotic fiction to be irrelevant for quite some time. This of course is thanks to the increasing accessibility of internet pornography. So I’m sure you can understand my reluctance when it came to reading EL James’ naughty bestseller. Whilst the plot of a shy girl meeting an attractive business magnate is tediously predictable, I must admit that a good author delving into the twisted psyche of a sadomasochist could be utterly fascinating. Unfortunately, I have drawn the conclusion that EL James is not a good author.

In James’ defence, I do not fit into the Fifty Shades of Grey demographic and so it isn’t surprising that I found the book to be about as titillating as an Ikea instruction manual. Perhaps if I were a middle-aged housewife, whose husband showed more enthusiasm for Match of the Day than sex, I would consider seeking escapism in a novel such as this. Furthermore, I must point out that I have never considered myself to be the kinky type. Frankly I am more excited by M&S than S&M.

As ‘grey’ is frequently used to describe the dullest of skies and dullest of clothing, so too is it used to depict one of the dullest male protagonists in literature. Firstly, 27-year-old Christian Grey is a good ten years too young to be taken seriously as a frightening but irresistible sadist. Call me a radical feminist if you like, but I had difficulty swooning over a misogynist who spends the entire course of the novel pestering a girl to be his slave. But you have to hand it to him, he certainly is silver-tongued: “I am going to fuck you now.” When compared to characters such as Mr Darcy and Edward Rochester, the uncharismatic Christian Grey holds no place amongst the greatest literary heartthrobs.

As well as my disapproval of the glorification of abusive relationships, I cannot hide my inability to enjoy such inaccurate depictions of sex. I personally don’t know anyone who has a sex torture chamber in their own home, but perhaps I’m just out of the loop. 111 pages in, the reader is presented with the first sexual encounter between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele (which meant I had to endure 110 pages of ball-achingly dull plot before getting to the juicy stuff). Christian agrees to take Anastasia’s virginity without forcing her to sign a contract of dominance and submission. Unlike any other female in the world’s experience, Anastasia’s loss of virginity is painless and results in three orgasms (one of which is obtained by her breast being massaged, who knew right?). I am a firm believer in the phrase “less is more”. Perhaps if E.L James had used subtle and suggestive language it would have had a more seductive effect. However, every sex scene is described through explicit yet horrendously simplistic language. During one particularly obscene sex act, the narrator tells us, “This is wrong, but holy hell is it erotic.” I do appreciate James’ constant reassurance about the erotic nature of the book, otherwise I would never have known.

The book comes to a heated climax (no pun intended) when Christian decides to beat Anastasia with a belt; finally introducing her to the dark world of sado-masochism. Anastasia is left in physical and emotional pain and decides to end her relationship with Christian due to incompatibility. May I remind you that this is a 514 page novel that easily could have been summarised in a few words: woman meets man, man likes kinky sex, woman doesn’t like kinky sex, woman leaves man. I opened this review by making a comparison between erotica and pornography, but honestly I’ve witnessed porn films that have more intricate and complex plots than this.

Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the most poorly written books I have ever read. EL James succeeded in creating a mind-numbing story centred on two equally tedious characters who lack any romantic chemistry whatsoever. In my opinion, any author who is inspired by the Twilight series seriously needs to reconsider their career as a writer. I struggled to find any positives in the novel, other than James frequently advocating the use of condoms and the fact that the book only cost me £2.99 from Amazon. I was stunned to discover the book is part of a trilogy. Unless I find out that the sequel is illustrated, I doubt there is anything that could tempt me to pick it up. I don’t suppose Fifty Shades of Grey will claim any special place in the history of literature, but it will always be remembered fondly as the book that made menopausal women horny.