Sunday, July 29, 2012

Laters, baby

A review of "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E. L. James.

"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 desires." (Source:

After reading rave reviews and hearing so much about the novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" by British author E. L. James, the hype finally also caught up with me and I was really curious to discover what the fuss was all about behind this number #1 erotic bestseller. And though I am only on the first installment of the trilogy, I already wanted to share my two cents about it. 

I dare say that I am not adding anything new to the ballyhoo, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is quite the interesting read: it is sexy, entertaining, definitely all-consuming, graphic (to say the least) and overall, the novel still remains lighthearted (quite paradoxical when we consider that the story revolves around the heavy theme of BDSM). Funnily enough, I did have the strange impression I was committing some sort of sin turning page after page. In retrospect, I reckon that this is one of the reasons why people got so fascinated with this book to begin with - it brings one's naughty side to the surface. Unquestionably sensual, oh-so dangerously compelling but still, how reassuring it is to know that we can hide an incorrigible smirk behind closed doors -- or a book. On a side note, it has been discussed that "Fifty Shades" will soon be adapted  to film. I am eager to see how one will be able to block out that smile while watching it [Oh wait, it is dark in the cinemas...] 

Now coming to the theme of BDSM - Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism that is of course prominent in this novel, it got me into scrutinizing the subject further. I thought that the way this tendency was approached in the book was, to be completely honest, rather soft... softer than I would have imagined (pun intended). Maybe that is the thing about hyping something, expectations are hard to meet (pun intended). Kidding aside, it was beguiling to unearth how this rough subject would be tackled (pun intended, again [sorry I cannot seem to help myself]). Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele discuss the rules between the Dominant and the Submissive early on. The demands are written on paper but as the story unfolds, the reader, much to his disbelief, discovers that it becomes difficult to stick to the rules in their case. In passing, Ana never does sign the contract. Due to the mutual attachment that actually develops from the first moment they meet, the reader understands that their terms come closer to a compromise more than anything else. It is all a question of control, and Christian Grey might be the one in control in the bedroom, but Anastasia Steele surely also had it outside of it. The sense of power in sex, and in relationships, was carefully handled. In the end, perhaps it was a little too careful?

More than the erotic tone of the novel, I guess the romantic in all of us also reads hope in the passionate affair between Grey and Steele. Like the female protagonist also experiences, there are  a few instances in the story where the relationship shifts back and forth from being merely physical to being perfectly cute.  It is in fact heartwarming, but like Ana also constantly questions, it leads the reader to even more confusion. On one side, it is sexual -- primal passion at its best. Later, the reader cannot help but be even more smitten with Christian Grey when he is playful and sweet. Once more, the sex scenes seem purely carnal but then again, it is never only about sex, is it? Neither for Steele nor for Grey.

What I was really taken with in this book was the subject of virginity. For Miss Steele, her physical (and amorous) one and for Mr. Grey, the many 'firsts' he also gets to experience with the young woman. I think the attraction between the two is a surprise for both of them -- and like every other virgin, physical and/or emotional, they have absolutely no idea how to deal with feelings and whatnot. In a way, I do believe that not only Steele falls madly in love with Grey -- but, not written in so many words, and especially not using the word love, Mr. Grey deeply cares and loves her too. Although skillful in the department of (kinky) sex, Christian is obviously even more a virgin than Ana in the department of romance. This twist to the story was probably my favorite part about it. The thing about sex, and love, is that, in the end -- isn't the heart always inexperienced with someone new

Finally, I could not really decide on whether I liked Miss Steele or not. At times, she exasperated me with her alternate behavior and sentiments. Then, I felt sympathetic because the bewilderment must have surely been overwhelming and overpowering. But I devilishly enjoyed Ana's reference to her inner goddess and  subconscious. That was fun. I am also convinced that a lot of inner voices speak in, let us say, such situations. Christian Grey, like he clearly is to Ana, is an enigma. The reader can visualize this disarming and charismatic man. Furthermore, I was sure that he would not remain a one-dimensional character and his transformation in the course of the novel, which equals just a few weeks in 'real' time, is a pleasure to read. It makes you wonder whether people can change. On a narrative level, it was a very easy read. However, I have to comment on the many repetitions that occur. It is a delightful tactic, I agree -- but sometimes, wasn't  it slightly overused?

All in all, I now grasp what the whole fuss is all about and it is fun to read; perhaps not literary brilliance but certainly worth it, and I am keen on reading the next two installments of "Fifty Shades".  Laters, baby.