Sunday, May 20, 2012

DUAL REVIEW: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Lucinda's Rating: 2/5 Stars (DNF)
Tracy's Rating: 2/5 Stars
Erotic Romance
Adult (Mature)

College student Anastasia Steele is just filling in for her friend and roommate when she meets and interviews powerful businessman Christian Grey, and it turns out to be a highly awkward and embarrassing experience. But when Christian seeks her out on her home turf then warns her away, Ana can't help but be intrigued by the undeniable attraction they share. Soon, Ana learns that any relationship with Christian will be far different from her expectations, as he has a taste for bondage, dominance, and punishment—and Ana must decide if she can be the submissive he needs.

First Line:
"I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror."

Lucinda's Views: 

I tried my best to read this, having been urged on to finish it by several of the library staff, but I couldn't. I don't know if it was the wooden characters or the stalkerish behavior of the main characters that turned me off of this book, but try as I might I could not bring myself to finish the book. It did start off with an interesting, if done before plot and I was at first intrigued by this groundbreaking offering of erotica by a major publishing house. Things seemed to go downhill in subsequent chapters, however. The characters never seemed to develop any depth and I just couldn't deal with Ana's whining. All I can say is that I just lost interest. I was trying to read the Hunger Games Trilogy simultaneously and this offering just didn't compete.

Tracy's Thoughts: 

Like Lucinda, I had several enthusiastic co-workers urging me to read this book. About a third of the way in I was ready to throw in the towel, but I stuck with it. And while I can't say I loved it, I didn't hate it either. At least, I didn't dislike it any more than I did the Twilight series (but more on that later).

EL James is the first to admit that she isn't a great writer, but her prose is... competent, if sometimes a bit robotic. She clearly has a fondness for certain words—many of them starting with the letter "P"—and I actually made a game out of spotting her frequent variations of the words purse, pout, and petulant. (These recurring word choices probably didn't help Lucinda's impression of Ana as an annoying whiner either.) What really captured me and kept me reading was the e-mail exchanges between Ana and Christian that begin midway through the book. This is the only time that the characters seem to come alive. In their e-mail conversations, they are playful, challenging, even funny. I especially loved the humor Christian showed in changing his e-mail signature to reflect their ongoing conversation. They have a personality in their e-mails—Christian particularly—that just doesn't come out in their face-to-face exchanges or in Ana's inner monologues.

Speaking of inner monologues... I got really tired of Ana's conversations with her "inner goddess" and her subconscious. It began to sound like Ana has a split personality, especially in a few really strange moments when she describes her subconscious/inner goddess/whatever as "hiding behind the couch." Not to mention how just plain WRONG it is for Ana to be observing and communicating with her subconscious, which is supposed to be, um, subconscious. As in, something she is unaware of. But whatever. As I said, EL James has no pretensions about being an accomplished writer.

As Lucinda points out, there is actually  potential for a really good story here. Christian and Ana love each other (for whatever reason), but they have a real conflict in their lifestyles and expectations. I would have loved to see more about how they deal with that conflict, or how sometimes people can love each other but be basically incompatible. Unfortunately, James goes more for the Twilight plot treatment, much of it focused on Bella Ana's inner angst and confusion. (Which isn't so surprising, considering the novel originated as a piece of Twilight  fan fiction). Here are just a few of the Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey parallels that struck me as I was reading:
  • Enigmatic, adopted hero with unpredictable mood swings? Check. (Well, unpredictable for the heroine anyway).
  • Self-esteem challenged heroine who mysteriously attracts every male within a mile radius? Check. 
  • Heroine parental issues, including a supposedly "scattered" mother and conversationally challenged father figure? Check.
  • Lots of immediate, internal obsessing on the part of the heroine over the hero? Check.
  • "Overprotective" hero that tracks down the heroine in unexpected places (i.e., behaves like a stalker) and is "concerned" over the heroine's means of transportation? Check.
And there are more similarities where that came from. Of course, Christian's deep, dark secret isn't vampirism. It is his BSDM lifestyle (along with whatever traumatic childhood event "caused" it). But believe it or not, this book wasn't nearly as explicit as I was led to expect. For the most part, it was more unsettling (at least in the scenes where Ana herself was most uncomfortable) than sexy. Of course, the subject matter is for mature readers only, but the language used to describe Christian and Ana's encounters is almost restrained, even clinical at times. At least it wasn't as shocking to me as a some of the scenes from True Blood!

So, for me this book was a mixed bag, with untapped potential. But the e-mails and questions about Christian's history still have me slightly intrigued. I have books two and three of the trilogy at home and am determined to give them a fair shot. (One co-worker told me not to judge by the first book, promising that the plot deepens as the saga progresses.)

A few questions for you:
For those of you who've read this book (and we KNOW some of you have!), what did you think? Are we being too harsh?

Just for fun, have you seen the police sketch of Christian Grey on The Composites on tumblr? What do you think? Does the sketch capture Christian as you imagined him?

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