Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) by E.L. James

How did I get it: The library.

Why did I read it: I kept reading blog posts and news articles about this book so I wanted to see what I thought of it.


When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Review: Regardless of its Twilight fan fiction origins and in spite of its immense popularity, Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the worst books I’ve read in a very long time. The writing isn’t all bad and some of the references are mildly amusing, but nothing can make up for the novel’s lousy main character or the overall lack of real character development on anyone’s part.

Anastasia Steele starts off as a pretty mediocre and rapidly becomes too stupid to live. Nothing about her is very consistent. The obscure references she used on occasion didn’t make sense given that she seems to suffer from short term and long term memory loss. I cannot even remember how many times she failed to pick up on obvious issues that had been previously dealt with let alone how often she failed to remember conversations she has hours or days afterwards. Despite being a modern 20-something year old, half of the time Ana reads like a very sheltered spinster and the other half of the time she acts like she just turned fourteen. Every other page she wants to be with Christian, and every other page she’s crying because they can’t be together or because she doesn’t want to be with him. Even the italics for her thoughts aren’t provided with any regularity.

I was and am still a bit shocked by how little the main character contributed to her own story while still being charged with narrating it. Like some overwhelmed heroine from a Gothic novel, nothing happens because of Ana, but a lot happens to her. From start to finish, Ana just reacts and often over-reacts to stimuli and remarks from others without actually providing much of either. In fact most of her thoughts are kept to herself or shared solely with the reader. These aren’t usually very complicated since most of them involve some combination of “Holy crap” and far too many exclamation points. If she finds that isn’t enough, Ana is very quick to check in with her subconscious or look to her inner goddess to see what she ought to do. Sometimes she talks to Kate, the one and only friend she seems to have in the entire world, but mostly Ana talks to herself. As a result, I wasn’t surprised when Christian had no idea what she was talking about half of the time because he would have to be reading her mind to get the little in-jokes she has with one or more aspects of her own personality. 

Right or wrong, the majority of my frustrations with the book involved Ana. Christian Grey was much less annoying despite being fifty shades of messed-up. There isn’t much doubt that he’s right in some ways given his ridiculous backstory, but I think the most messed-up thing about Christian Grey is that he is interested in Anastasia Steele because there is never any explanation for it. The reader is just supposed to assume they’re having feelings for one another because one or both of them occasionally says so. Seeing as I already had to assume that Ana is interesting, intelligent, or depthful because other characters say so, I got very, very tired of doing all the work myself. After all, the reader’s job isn’t to pick up an author’s slack to salvage a book and make it enjoyable.

Throughout the book it also seems as if the reader is really supposed to be thrown for a loop or scandalized due to Grey’s BDSM hobbies, but nothing he did was all that shocking nor did his doing kinky things with other kinky adults seem all that montrous. Then again what could compare to the sheer stupidity of Christian being desperate enough to hook up with someone like Ana. I also couldn’t get over his inability to have her sign a contract before or after having copious amounts of sex (that wasn’t the sort he wanted exactly sort of maybe who knows). Her lips could not have been that distracting. Wearing pony tails and giggling at nothing could not have been that big of a turn on. Her inability to come up with an idea of her own could not have been that sexy.* But no matter what Ana did, Christian was doomed to find it desirable because he was trapped in a book with her and I felt really, really bad for him.

 I could go on and on for days and still not convey how much I wish I hadn’t bothered finishing Fifty Shades of Grey. Even reading this book as a mild form of entertainment served no purpose, and by the end it felt more like an act of self-torture than anything else. If the ending had been like that of American Psycho, I probably would have liked it a little bit. But with or without it all being a dream fantasy sequence or the ramblings of a crazy lit major, Fifty Shades of Grey lacks charm, closure, consistency, chemistry, substance, and romance.

In conclusion, not moving, far from erotic, and amusing for all the wrong reasons. This book had better not stay with me forever if it knows what’s good for it, and its trilogy will not be obsessing me or possessing me. At all. Because I am going to do my level best to forget it even existed as soon as I hit the Publish button on this review. There are much better Romances to be had in other books, and most of them won’t read so much like a Choose Your Own Vanilla BDSM Adventure.

How I would rate it: 1 out of 5 stars. (I went into this book thinking it would be a 3 or a 2. As much as I wish I could give this book a slightly higher rating, I don’t feel like it deserves one so I  can’t.)

* And don’t even get me started on how lousy the sex scenes were.


About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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11 Responses to Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

  1. mmromance says:

    Reblogged this on mmromance and commented:
    Okay, this isn’t on the topic of mm romance. BUT I love this review and I love the site, so I’m reblogging.

  2. My Mother wants to read this, she is a Twilight fan much to my horror I simply enjoy mocking it. If she reads this one as she’s wanting I suspect I’ll only have more material to make fun of.

    • April says:

      Could be fun. Tell her to check it out of the library and save some money because those books are ridiculously overpriced. Even as e-books.

  3. Juliette says:

    Thanks for the honest and well written review. With so many great books out this summer (indie and otherwise) I have no desire to read this series. Most people I know who are reading it are a bit more sheltered and innocent than some (me) so this is new and “exciting” despite the bad writing. They’ve never read anything like this before – sort of like when my best friend and I read “The Happy Hooker” when we were too young to know what half the words meant, but we still had a dirty little secret to giggle about.

    • April says:

      Thanks for reading, and I know what you mean. I also suspect books like this work well with people who don’t really read much because without better books to compare Fifty Shades of Grey to, I suppose I might have felt better about the time I spent reading it.

  4. jenxbyron says:

    I haven’t read much about this book, because I much admire an honest fan-fic writer over a hack who can’t even be entertaining. This is my favorite part: “But no matter what Ana did, Christian was doomed to find it desirable because he was trapped in a book with her and I felt really, really bad for him.” LOL, I do, too, from your description. Her name obviously should have been Mary Sue.

    • April says:

      Oh definitely. I couldn’t even finish the first Twilight book so at least there’s that, but poor, poor Christian. And poor me because she was SUCH a Mary Sue.

      I sort of hope that someone writes fan fiction for Christian and Jose and then changes the names and gets it published as a better trilogy, but it’s hard to say if that particular pipe dream will come to pass or not.

  5. Pingback: Fifty Shades of why the big deal? « Closer to Lola

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