Friday, August 31, 2012

50 Shades of Grey - Book Review

Before you start reading this review it is important that you understand that this is my opinion and I do not apologise for it.  It is contraversial and I don't expect many people to agree with me.  I do ask however, that you read it through, consider my comments and then make up your own mind.  

I love to read but with three small children I have very little time to indulge in this time-consuming pastime so I expect a lot from a book, and to be honest, most times I am happy that I have taken a break from reality to enter a new world that was born from someone's creative soul.  I have never felt the need to write a book review since Grade 8 when it was part of my school curriculum.  That was until I read this book.

The Lead Up
The first time I heard about this book was on a Facebook status that read "50 Shades of Grey, more like 50 Shades of Boring".  Everyone who commented agreed with the originator saying it was poorly written and really trashy, so I made a mental note to remove that particular book from my "to-read" list.  I was happily having my hair done a few weeks later when my hairdresser (knowing I was a sitting duck for at least an hour and a half) began telling me and the client next to me, about this book that she lovingly referred to as "50 Shades."  I told her about my one-and-only review that I had read and mentioned my resolve never to read it and she was quite plainly horrified.  Desperately trying to convince me, she waxed lyrical about how it had improved her marriage and her sex life and how the sex scenes were so magnificent that she literally couldn't put it down.  I wasn't convinced.  I had to wait for my blonde bits to get blonder so she went off to continue reading "50 Shades."  She was so engrossed in The Book that I was honestly concerned that my hair would turn orange while she was outside swooning over the next instalment of Anastasia and Christian's torturous affair.When she returned I could see that she was still really upset with my view, even though I did mention that I had not read the book myself and this was in fact a friend's view.  I tried to save the conversation by mentioning that I didn't think I'd like the book anyway because I'm not really a YOU magazine type of person. Shortly thereafter I was whisked off for hair-washing, where I overheard her and client number 2 discussing who would play Princess Di in the new movie that she had read about in that week's YOU.  Oops!  How to make friends and influence people Lisa, well done! [Note to self: remove foot from mouth when you get home]

After a long hair wash I rejoined the conversation where she eventually convinced me that if so many people loved the book, I couldn't knock it if I hadn't read it.  She did have a point, so by the time my flowing mane was blonde again, I had promised to consider reading The Book.  [sidebar: may I mention here that 3 days after this particular visit to the hairdresser, my mother asked me when I intended "doing" my hair again as it looked well-overdue for some colour!!  Perhaps the YOU magazine comment wasn't too well-received and she cursed me to be brunette for 6 weeks *horror*]

Anyhoo, my kind and loving husband downloaded the first chapter of The Book onto my iPad and I braced myself for the sexual onslaught.  Imagine my surprise (and disappointment) to find that the first chapter was a bit of a wishy washy Mills and Boon type of story that really didn't capture my attention at all and I was reminded of my friend's "boring" comment.  So when hubby asked whether he should buy me the whole book I wasn't too keen.  A few days later we went out to dinner with some friends of ours who we hadn't seen in a while and just before dessert she leaned over with bright, excited eyes and asked in a conspirator's whisper whether I'd read "50 Shades?" I explained where I was on that and again the horror on her face took me aback.  She was halfway through it and it apparently just got better and better. The love story was apparently something out of this world and I was informed that Time magazine ran an article on how even rope sales had increased because of women reading The Book and wanting to emulate the steamy portions in their own love lives.  In retrospect this should have rung a huge warning bell in my head, but it didn't. After hearing this bit of news, hubby instantly thought he would be able to find a use for the rope he had stashed in the garage for the last 5 years, so the very next evening he came home with a paperback version of The Book.  Hmmmm.  Now the practical and curiosity part of me kicked in and I thought, well I've got it, I might as well find out what the fuss is all about.  Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised......

The Book
I read The Book.  In fact I think I probably read it twice by the time I had turned the last page.  It took me almost 5 weeks to finish.  Where others battled to put it down, I battled to pick it up and when I did I had to re-read the 5 pages before to try to remember what had happened before I put it down.  I also found my mind wandering like it did while I was studying, thinking about what I should make for dinner or who I hadn't seen in a while, but more often I reverted to my ever-increasing to-do list which was put on the back-burner during my reading sessions. 

I must admit that I was a bit shocked that the book was about S&M.  Now I wasn't born yesterday so the acts did not shock me, but out of all the women who "loved" the book, nobody had mentioned in their glowing reports that the story was really about a dominant and submissive scenario.  I was led to believe that it was a beautiful love story, so the S&M was completely unexpected.  I think the reason it shocked me is that while I was reading, I knew that millions of women globally were trying to emulate these acts which did NOTHING to excite me, in fact it turned my stomach.  I'm just as keen as the next person to read a bit of "clit-erature" but seriously, no amount of adjectives describing the god-likeness of the protaganist was going to make me feel any attraction towards him once I got to this part.  The Book was indeed poorly written but not in the way I had expected.  It had moments of "all-rightness" but the part that irritated me was that certain explatives and sentences were repeated ad nauseum throughout the book and the email messages back and forth and the lengthy legal documents could really have been reduced by 75%.  

The Spoiler - in a nutshell
Basically, Anastasia the virgin student meets Christian the 27 year old billionaire who sweeps her off her feet, wines and dines her, showering her with expensive gifts, impressing her with his fabulous good looks and extensive bank account.  She thinks they're going to have a "vanilla" relationship but he is into whips and chains and wants an "arrangement."  He has a fully kitted-out "Red Room of Pain" in which he enjoys inflicting pain on her, while he gains sexual pleasure.  She is instructed not to look at him and to cower naked in the corner until he bids her otherwise.

On their first date he hands her a legal document to sign which does not allow her to disclose anything about their relationship to friends and family and a second legal document follows shortly thereafter which basically spells out that she will be submissive in his presence, he will dictate what she wears, what she eats, how often she exercises and how long she must sleep.  Together with these rules she has to stay in a room in his penthouse (swoon, it is so tastefully decorated) every weekend without socialising with any of her friends or family and obviously she is forbidden to discuss his lifestyle or as he calls himself "50 Shades of F*cked Up."  He continues, in the document, to list his preferences of sexual apparatus that he would like to use on her, ranging from Butt Plugs to Genital Clamps (oh yes please can I?) and it also includes the code words for when the pain becomes too great (but that never happens because she resolves never to show him any weakness).  His jealousy frightens her and she often re-thinks her words so as not to upset him.  Although sexually heightened by this beautiful creature, she is so humiliated by his "spankings" that she leaves him and the book ends with her crying because now she's all alone.  She wonders to herself whether she should rather just do what he wants because then she can be with him.

The Message
Now this story is all fine and well and I have read raunchier, better-written novels, BUT the message that I got from this book is that even though Anastasia thinks that Christian's behaviour is wrong and immoral, she goes ahead with it anyway because she is infatuated by his power, his presence, his charm and good-looks.  Above all, she desperately wants him to like her. She continuously goads him into re-confirming his attraction to her and she cannot believe that he could possibly like her.  Her low self-esteem has led her to believe that she is plain and uninteresting, so she needs to try to keep him.  This spells a recipe for disaster.  Not only is she unable to confide in her friends and family, who she admits would be appalled, she allows Christian to control her.  He brings in his own doctor (at huge expense) to put Anastasia on the pill, continuously asks her if she's "still bleeding?" and then my personal favourite, while cowering in the "Red Room of Pain" he bends her over, yanks out her used tampon (YUK!!) before he has rough sex with her, continuing until she is sore because he likes her to be sore - WTF??

So the glaring issue that I have with this "relationship" is that she enters into it planning to change him, to make him love her and not just use her for his warped sexual pleasure and dismiss her, as he has 15 others before her.  She allows him to inflict pain on her even though she feels cheap and used because afterwards he showers her with positive attention and thanks her for taking the beatings and even allows her to stay with him, even though that is "against the rules."  The Book openly portrays her as a bright but naive girl lacking in self-worth, who stumbles into this affair with little or no knowledge of the world in which she is expected to perform.  In my opinion this shows an abuse of power and smacks (pardon the pun) of domestic violence where men inflict pain on women and when it's all over they apologise and lavish her with attention.  In abusive relationships women keep going back because when the beatings are over the men apologise and are at their most attentive. 

I quickly Googled abusive relationships and got the following: (sound familiar?)


Do you.....
  1. Feel afraid of your partner?
  2. Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  3. Feel that you can't do anything right for your partner?
  4. Feel that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  5. Feel emotionally numb, helpless or out of your depth?

Does your partner.....
  1. Humiliate you?
  2. Treat you in a way that you are embarrassed for your friends and family to see?
  3. Blame you for their own abusive behaviour?
  4. See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  5. Have an unpredictable temper?
  6. Hurt you or threaten to hurt you in any way?
  7. Act jealous and possessive?
  8. Keep you from seeing your family and friends?
  9. Control where you go or what you do?

Anastasia would have to answer yes to all of the above, but apparently, according to The Book and the women who promote it as a love story, if your partner is young, gorgeous, successful and wealthy then we can ignore these classic signs of abuse and go all weak-kneed that the abuser, Christian Gray wants Anastasia Steele and she can make him love her!

The Final Word ....... well almost
I have read better books, even bad books were better.  Maybe I am alone in my thinking that people have been brainwashed into thinking that this is a love story or maybe I have too much self worth, self pride and far too strong a "sh*t radar" to even contemplate any beauty in this type of "love story."  I find it quite sickening but what saddens me the most is that this is obviously what middle-aged suburban housewives are fantasizing about behind closed doors, being abused by a beautiful man in the "Red Room of Pain," even though they probably have a wonderful man in their own living room. 

I love the fact that couples are using parts of The Book to spice up their sex lives together, but these are presumably couples who started off in the "vanilla" way and I am the eternal optimist, so I am sure that love came first to these couples and now they are just playing with different scenarios to improve their sex lives, which is great.  However for younger readers, I think The Book is immoral and sends a dangerous message to young girls who, like Anastasia, think it's necessary to do anything and become anyone to land the hot billionaire (and their swooning mothers agree!!)

The Final Final Word
But the marketer in me has to admit that E.L. James has embraced the Marketing Concept which has eluded numerous companies for decades - she has seen a need and given the public what they want.  Unfortunately the ethical portion of marketing which is often overlooked in the hype of shock-value reads such as these, is glaringly necessary to ensure some sense of morality as it seems that some moral compasses are stuck.

Apparently there are three books and Anastasia does eventually manages to change Christian and they get married and live a luxurious lifestyle.  Personally I think there was so much waffle that the three books could be put into one but if people are prepared to buy three books and triple the author's growing royalties, then lucky her! 

I have been told that I am over-thinking this book and that it is not supposed to be "an intelligent read" (I'm not sure how to turn off my intellect, I still haven't learnt how to switch off my opinionated views, of which this review is one of them).  Speaking of intellect, why the increase in rope sales??  Christian is too classy to use rope!  He uses silk neck ties from his extensive wardrobe and cable ties, which are far cheaper and apparently more effective restraints, who knew?