Thursday, October 4, 2012

50 Shades of...Oh My!

Well, I promised that I would write this review about the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy before I thought better of it, so here it goes.  I'm going to try to explain what is good and bad about these books, and I'm going to try to, above all, be fair.  Initially, I was going to make this more amusing and poke a bit of fun at it, but I've noticed from others who have read these books that the reviews tend to totally trash them.  There are actually good things about these books and I think being that harsh with a new writer is rude.  So, here is what I hope is a fair assessment.  Let's get the bad over with first...   

First of all, I'm not sure what all of the fuss is about.  These kinds of stories have been around for a very long time.  Just look up BDSM short stories on the internet and see what comes up.  I assure you it'll be ten times worse than the 50 Shades of Grey series.  I think the "big deal" is that this one was marketed towards a normal book store as opposed to where you would normally find a book like this.  Also, many people never were exposed to this lifestyle before reading these books.  However, despite the fact that the books are mildly pornographic, the scenes are no worse than those of any other trashy romance novel.  There's a lot of sex in the trilogy, to the point it eventually gets to be repetitive, almost boring, but clearly there is a market for that sort of thing.

The biggest problem I saw with this series are problems that stem from the fact E. L. James is a new writer.  She repeats words and phrases throughout the entire book series.  Word variation is one of those things that's important because a reader literally gets bored when you use the same words over and over again, and it makes it seem that you don't have an extensive vocabulary.  I think E. L. James can do better due to the use of words like "mercurial."  (Though, I have to admit, "mercurial" got on my nerves.  I had never heard that word before I got these books and by the end of them it was ingrained in my head.)  Also, let's just say George Takei ruined the phrase "oh my" for me.  Every time there was an "oh my" in a love scene, I heard it in the George Takei voice and saw him saying it.  Kind of a mood killer...

There was another problem with the third book that the other two didn't have that I feel needs to be mentioned.  At the beginning there are a series of flashbacks.  The flashbacks occur every other chapter until about page eighty.  Never put that many flashbacks in a book, especially in the beginning of one.  It was hard to get into "Fifty Shades Freed" because I was interested in what was happening in the "now" and when we backtracked it derailed my interest.  Too many disjointed flashbacks is a common problem for new writers as well.  I've done that before, but not every other chapter like that.  Truthfully, there is a long flashback in the opening of my new book, but it isn't disjointed.  It's jarring to go from flashback to present, flashback to present, flashback to present.

Finally, I do take issue that this was a Twilight fanfic.  I somehow managed to look at it from an unbiased perspective, but occasionally, I just couldn't.  I felt more needed to be changed for me to appreciate it as a work that stood alone.

Still, there are several good things she did to make it stand apart.  The back story for Christian Grey was good (it actually reminded me a good deal of the back story for "Dexter," making me wonder if she was inspired by that as well).  The characters weren't as annoying as those in Twilight either.  I could actually identify with the main character, even though she was VERY naive for her age, something I had trouble doing with Bella, Edward, or Jacob when I read that series.  (I'm not even going to bother to review that one.  The story falls apart when you realize that Edward is over a hundred years old and falls in love with a teenager.  I'm thirty and I hate angsty teenagers now.  Also, he's practically starving on the animal blood, and she smells like a steak--he would've eaten her.)  Anyway, Christian Grey was a very interesting character that had emotional depth.  Even though we're seeing things through Anastasia's eyes, Christian is the main character of the series, which I thought was a kind of interesting twist.

Also, for being a "dominant" Grey actually is a pretty likeable character.  If you've ever read anything else like this, most of the time the men are complete and utter scoundrels with no redeeming qualities.  If you are just learning about this sort of thing from these books DON'T read Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty."  I've read stories like this before, and I couldn't get sixty pages into that book because the man was such a jerk I wanted to kill him.  Grey is different.  He actually does have redeeming qualities, but you do need to keep an open mind and give the series a chance for them to come into play.  Also, this is a story about redemption and overcoming the things from his past that make him the way that he is.  By the end of the series, he's changed a good deal and so has Ana.
The stories themselves were actually pretty addictive.  There was enough action going on in the background that I found myself skimming some of the sex scenes because I wanted to see what happened next.  Even though it was "convenient" for one of the villains from Christian's past to come up randomly by crossing Anastasia's path, I think that's a plot device that all of us are guilty of using every now and again.  And, I know from experience, the world is a lot smaller than I'd like it to be, so that's one of the complaints about these books I don't agree with and found actually plausible.

Long story short, I actually liked these books.  The action (I mean the story not the ahem...action) kept my attention and I read all three.  The writing style needs work, but I think E.L. James could be a much better writer with more practice.  By the third book many of my complaints except for the additional one were already getting better.  She's extremely lucky to have her books catch on like wildfire, but I think she knows that, and I'm happy for her.  I'm legitimately happy for her.  It was a pleasant surprise at the end of the series that she had a large, all caps "Thank you so much for reading," blurb.  She appreciates her fans, and that's a good quality in a writer.

J.K. Rowling said, when she found out how well this book sold, "maybe I should've had Harry be more creative with his wand."  What a smarmy thing to say about someone else's work when Rowling was just as lucky to have her work catch on like it did.  The witch and wizard school concept has been done before.  The first time I was exposed to it was from the Disney movie "Worst Witch."  I swear, the more I hear about that woman the less I like her...don't get me started on the "resource book" case.  She's a good writer, but I'm becoming convinced that fame has gone to her head and being a good writer isn't everything. 

My point is, I think we're all being a little harsh and I think it stems more out of jealousy than legitimate complaint.  We try and try to do everything right so that our books will get published.  We strive to make our books less cliche, make sure our grammar is impeccable, not repeat our words, and someone came along who broke those rules and is now a millionaire with the biggest audience base a book has gotten in a very long time.  It actually gives me hope.  I think that means that if there's a market for a certain type of story, your audience will forgive you for your stylistic shortcomings.  Thank goodness for that, because I know I have a long way to go.

And that's my review.  This has been pretty long...oh my!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. I like to write book reviews. Since this was a review for the whole trilogy, I felt it needed to be long and needed to expose the good as well as the bad.