A Review of Fifty Shades of Grey (by probably the only woman in the world who hasn’t read it).

July 20, 2012 9:44 am


Everywhere you turn, someone is clutching a copy.

A very quick search tells me that the Fifty Shades trilogy has sold 31 million copies worldwide and holds the record for being the fastest-selling paperback of all time, even surpassing the iconic Harry Potter series. At least one person in every supermarket queue I’ve waited in recently has been clutching a copy. At least one person nearby in every train carriage I’ve occupied recently has been engrossed in it. What began as something of a guilty pleasure has become the latest ubiquitous paperback flying off the shelves –and a topic everybody’s talking about.

Believe it or not, I still have no real desire to know what all the fuss is about. If you’re a woman and you’ve read the series, you probably don’t believe me; even the harshest critics of E. L. James’ efforts seem unable to deny the novels’ page-turning qualities. ‘It’s not exactly a masterpiece of prose, but you get into it – you have to know what happens next, you can’t put it down’, said a friend of mine. Whenever I’ve expressed my disinterest to anyone who has read, or is in the process of reading the Fifty Shades trilogy, they’ve similarly dismissed my attitude as that of a literary snob.

For some, reading Fifty Shades… would be a little embarrassing.

Okay, maybe they have a point. The main reason for my avoidance of the series beyond a quick scan of the back cover of the first instalment – because curiosity did try to get the better of me – is very simply the level of hype that has surrounded it since its paperback release. I can’t quite explain why this puts me off, but it does. Perhaps, as the friends of mine singing the series’ praises claim, I’m afraid I might like it. Perhaps, as I tell them, I’m more afraid that I won’t – and I’d never be able to get those lost hours of my life back. Either way, I’ve resisted thus far; it’s too late to turn back now. Especially when I already know, partly from reading what has been written about it and partly from my overhearing other people’s conversations, much of the series’ plot.

The other main reason for my reluctance to jump on the Fifty Shades bandwagon is that I’d heard the story originally began as Twilight fan fiction. I read the Twilight series. Forgive me, I was sixteen and I was given the books as a gift; if it helps my case at all, I read the books before the films had been made… Anyway, absolutely nothing inspiring emerged there in terms of literary style or sophistication of prose. The series’ unprecedented success relied upon nothing more than its appeal to the (apparently universal – who knew it was every girl’s dream to fall in love with a vampire with morals?) fantasies of the teenage female imagination. Fifty Shades, it would seem, relies on a similar strategy but this time aimed at a more (ahem) mature imagination. And what’s so wrong with that? you might ask. I think what really puts me off is that according to the same bunch of friends, and a significant proportion of the reviews, just like Twilight’s Bella Swan, the heroine of Fifty Shades is another of those impossible ‘Mary-Sue’ type characters. The plot unfolds through the sickly-coloured lens of the female protagonist’s more-than-slightly naïve worldview. Self-deprecating and humble, (arguably to the point of displaying an unhealthy lack of self-respect and independence) the unassuming heroine who nonetheless gets her happy ending, is supposed to appeal to the reader’s awareness of their own ordinariness and imperfections. This strategy never works; if you’re anything like me you probably end up wanting to scream at the silly little girl to get a grip.

There are all these other books to read and thankfully none of them contain irritating characters like Bella Swan or Ana Steele.

Ultimately, I have to admit that I can’t really legitimately pass comment on the Fifty Shades trilogy until I’ve read it for myself; perhaps I should give in to the peer pressure after all. That probably won’t be happening any time soon because I have a pretty long list of other – dare I say it, better – novels to get through first, but it might be interesting to find out; just how wrong can 31 million people be?

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