Is a novel recommended to me in the catbox by our very own Evil Catullus when asking for something suitably awful to deride on here.
I therefore procured a copy by stealth-reading it in a local bookshop while hid in the corner because there was no way I was going to buy it, and was not disappointed in its execrability. How the author, one E. L. James, real name Erika Leonard, a TV executive from west London, got this heap of dross published I shall never know, when a glance at the clearance paperbacks on the bottom shelf will reveal hundreds of novels that are better in every way, I have no idea.
Overaged Twilight fangirl attempts erotica and fails miserably.
A bit more detail, if you don't mind?
Allow me to gird my loins first, because I bloody need it.
Right. The protagonist is one Anastasia, a 22 year old student in California who just happens to be a virgin both at sex and the internets (is this even possible?). She is beautiful, smart, everyone loves her, a special snowflake, and therefore a total arsing Mary Sue. Her one flaw-that's-really-not is that she's clumsy.
She runs into Christian Grey, a billionaire and older man who enters into a tempestuous relationship with her based on what a Daily Mail reader thinks Total Power Exchange BDSM relationships are like. He is in his own words "fifty shades of fucked up" but despite this, he's got a sexy voice, long sexy fingers that other reviewers have pictured as belonging to E.T., a husky chocolate-like sexy voice, artistic stubble, and who's super rich to boot. Much wordage is spend describing how unearthly handsome he is. Ana and Christian Grey proceed to make with the boning throughout the rest of the novel. Ana constantly bites her lip and gushes about how ungodly handsome Christian Grey is at every conceivable opportunity, the wet blanket.
At this point you're thinking you've read all this before. This is because you likely have. The author originally published this on Fanfiction.net where it was called "Masters of the Universe" and which was a Twilight fanfic with exactly the same plot in which virgin!overage!Bella hooks up with bondage-freak!Edward. After this became viral by dint of being probably the only Twilight fanfic that was actually coherent, the author pulled it from Fanfiction.net, and then used Microsoft Word's find-and-replace function to change all the names over.
I swear to Odin I am not making this up. One guy ran Fifty Shades of Grey and the original fanfic through a text comparator used by universities to detect plagiarised work from students, and found a similarity of 89%. I don't know about you, but when I was at university, if I handed in an exam that was 89% similar to someone else's work, I'd have been chased out those hallowed halls of urban academe by the women's lacrosse team and then had the Vice Chancellor publicly degrade me Alfred Dreyfuss style. 89% also indicates that she literally just changed a few words round here and there, which is slightly the truth.
There then is followed by an endless parade of what TV Tropes calls "Ikea Erotica" in which Christian's tab A is inserted into Ana's slot B except with lashings of slight kinkiness. This completely fails to be sexy in any way, shape, or form. That's right. Erika Leonard has managed the impossible - making kinky sex dull as ditchwater. She has gone so far right through the overwrought purple prose that she has come out the other end of the spectrum into 1970s' home appliance beige. I'm not going to torment you with a quote from the so-called sexy bits, you would surely know what I mean.
Actually, I will.
"He blows very gently on one as his hand moves to my breast and his thumb slowly rolls the end of my nipple, elongating it. I groan, feeling the sensation all the way to my groin. I am so wet. Oh please, I beg internally as my fingers clasp the sheet tighter. His lips close around my other nipple and he tugs. I nearly convulse."
Tell me that isn't just begging to be cut-and-pasted into Microsoft Narrator for a dramatic reading.
Now I will give Leonard some credit here. Writing erotica well is really bloody difficult. I know I can't do it; whenever I try I always find myself unable to take it seriously and insert wonderful self-snarking lines like "This was the first time that she had brazenly bared her bounteous beauties before a beau." However it can be done. The opening of Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, for instance, had even the Daily Mail's literary critic describe it as "stirringly erotic" and to be fair he's not far wrong. But there's so much of a difference between "turning like a key in the split lock of her flesh" (Birdsong) which is both original and good and "I am so wet," which is lifted from every low-grade porno film ever. Ugh.
Let's also turn to the portrayal of BDSM in this novel. It bothers me. I will admit that I personally have some interest in engaging in that sort of thing (albeit limited; past, present or future girl/boy/whateverfriends please note that no, I do not get off on being shackled to a radiator with a pineapple thrust up my brown eye), though I have never participated in 24/7 Total Power Exchange with slave contracts and all that because as Dom I wouldn't feel comfortable with having that level of responsibility over another person and if I were sub I'd be too tempted to "top from the bottom." I am also informed that TPE is not something a lot of people do for precisely that reason also. However. I know a few things about it and that one of them is that it is not to be used as a smokescreen for abuse. The portrayal of Christian Grey as a BDSM freak and, to be frank, a woman-beater is something I find deeply unpleasant. The author seems to have a rather Daily Mail tinted view of D/s in that she portrays it as physically and emotionally unhealthy and that BDSM is the sign of a sick society. Christian, with his long fingers and monotone personality comes over as deeply unpleasant and not the sort of person I would want to engage in B/D, D/s, or S/M with because he frequently oversteps the mark and hides behind the fact he had abusive parents to excuse his general trampling all over Ana and suchlike. Who proceeds to lap it up with the efficiency of an extremely absorbent doormat.
Then there's the fact that the whole premise, what with a young and inexperienced woman hooking up with an older and more experienced man and to get into kinky shenanigans, is pretty much lifted from the vastly superior "Histoire d'O." Which is 50 years old and is still regarded as an erotic classic, and there's a reason for this - when Pauline Réage (real name Anne Desclos) wrote that novel, she was doing it with the express purpose of arousing real people rather than what she thought people would find sexy. In particular, she was doing it to try to impress her older lover Jean Paulhan and literally wrote the first third of it non-stop with a pencil and some exercise-books in her garret in Paris, which explains why there's about eight paragraph indents in the first 50 pages or so. As such, she was aiming it at the audience's real life desires and tastes and not at what the audience expected. Fifty Shades of Grey is aimed at what the author thinks the audience wants, which is florid description of Edward Cullen (remember, this was originally a Twilight fanfic) that they could spend happy hours on the internets splittin' the kitten over.
Speaking of which, I find it quite objectionable that Leonard basically piggybacked onto the (undeserving) popularity of Twilight to promote her novel. It was as if she deliberately set this up as a Twilight fanfic to draw in the captive audience of squeeing fangirls who would spread the word about it to other Twihards, then once the popularity was known, bait-and-switched it into original work by use of find and replace. But then again, Ms Leonard is a TV executive and as such this sort of PR sliminess is only to be expected from one such as her.
In short, this is nothing, absolutely nothing. There are far better novels both erotic and no out there and thousands of way better writers who actually generate original stuff without cheap marketing stunts, yet they don't find themselves given ginormous book deals for their ascended fanfic, so why is Erika Leonard, that washout marketron, still allowed to get away with it. In the meantime, if you must read something BDSM-related, point thyself in the direction of the aforementioned Histoire d'O, which is 50 years old and murders this dreck. If as alleged this novel lit a fire under thousands of marriages in the US, then I shudder to think how many couples were just staying together for the children over there.