Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I had largely let the whole 50 Shades phenomenon pass by the periphery of my vision until a friend directed me, with some coercion, to the plot summary; an eye-rolling teenage fantasy that bore a more than comfortable resemblance to some formative experiences of mine. Overall, I quite liked this book. It cost me less than 3, was an instant impulse purchase for my kindle, and took me under two days to read. However, there are a number of issues that it brings up which I feel need to be addressed.

On Twitter I described it as slightly fanfic-ish. Well, how right I was! Turns out that Fifty Shades of Grey was fanfic – unbeknown to me at the time – and now it makes a lot more sense. There’s a lot to dislike about this book and I am left with a lingering sense of ‘wrong’ from some of the issues I explore below. I don’t know what other reviewers have said because I have diligently refused to read anyone else’s commentary lest it sway my personal opinions, but I suspect my discomfort is not uncommon. If you’re the sort to care, there be spoilers below.

Although I completely understand the sense of confusion throughout the book, our narrator insults me – both as a submissive now comfortable with her role, and as a nascent submissive who found herself in a similar position once upon a time. In many reasons this is why I loved it, it echoes my diaries of that time so clearly at points. But, oh God, is this also the problem. The first of many.

For the first instance, Christian Grey is not a Dominant. He exerts virtually no self control, needlessly pandering to her, and opting for a worrying ‘push me / pull me’ attitude towards enticing her in and scaring her away. He drops everything to fly across the country to see his supposed submissive at her whim. How exactly is that developing her capacity to better herself as an independent entity [for him]? Worse still, Anastasia Steele is most definitely not a submissive. She doesn’t enjoy her acts of submission and finds it far from liberating. She merely tolerates everything that happens to her, because she loves him and is scared to lose him. She does things because her subconscious, thrill seeking, ‘goddess’ ego tells her to, rather than because a Dom, who has earned and honoured her trust, tells her to. Also, Anastasia accepts everything because… wait for it… she believes she can ‘fix’ him.

We are told Grey became involved in a hardcore BDSM relationship with a much older woman when he was aged just 15, that his mother was a ‘crack-whore’, he was abused as a child and that he has regularly paid for sex as a way to avoid intimacy; something he has no experience with because he never received love as a child. The scathing portrait continues as we are told he has only ever had D/s sex, doesn’t know how to ‘do’ vanilla until he meets her. He refuses to sleep next to anyone and is generally psychologically damaged, emotionally unavailable and not in control of his own grounding. The author paints him as damaged goods and, as such, an entirely other breed to ‘normal’ people. This, for me, paints a damning and wholly inaccurate description of D/s as, near enough, a mental illness. Not impressed.

Additionally, there is an unhealthy obsession with the contract they have. In the context of the narrative it props up a good third of the book and exists solely to set demands and restrictions on her, and completely skips over what protection and guidance his submissive might expect to receive in return. The author also focuses on Grey’s appearance and wealth to the exclusion of all other personal traits. Infuriatingly, these qualities are even seen to be more important than this successful businessman’s intellect. Speaking of success, the novel is riddled with utterly ridiculous displays of wealth. However, how Grey earns this money is a mystery to me as his role as an entrepreneur is all ‘shipments’ and ‘mergers’, and he basically does no work at all after he meets 24 year old virgin Anastasia. I know that this essentially is erotica, but there is way too much sex. Again propagating misinformation about the nature of D/s as a purely physical thing rather than a multifaceted emotional relationship.

Ultimately, it paints a very unrealistic portrait of a healthy D/s relationship. If you read this book with no prior knowledge, you would likely be led to believe that it isn’t a valid lifestyle. That it only happens to people who are broken when, really, they just need to be ‘fixed’ and learn how to ‘make love’ like normal people do. This is simply not true. The whole way through, I felt like I wanted to jump to the defence of every person I’d knelt in front of and assure you that I was not doing that because I was contractually obliged to, was scared not to, or because my ‘inner goddess’ thought it was cool, but because they earned it. They earned it by working extremely hard to know and understand who I am and what I need, and they loved me enough to provide that for me. Intimacy avoidance be damned!

But, despite all that, it was a pleasing enough quick read and undeniably hot in places. Just make sure you don’t take it all too seriously. Although… when they inevitably make it into a film, please please can Benedict Cumberbatch play Christian Grey?

This post was written by a RWL Guest Blogger – An avid writer of erotica herself, submissive feminist The Girl (link NSFW) was as intrigued as I was by the controversial erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Thankfully, she very kindly agreed to write this review for Rarely Wears Lipstick, so that I don’t have to read the book myself! Second image via kris krg‘s Flickr photostream.

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