50 Shades of Grey
by E.L. James
Well, I could not resist all the hype surrounding this modern day bodice ripper-cum-page turner. Originally marketed as an e-book and print-on-demand in June 2011, 50 Shades of Grey is the creation of E.L. James, a British television producer who has apparently made herself wealthier than her entrepreneurial character Christian Grey.
In this first person narrative, Anastasia Steele, a soon-to-be graduate of Washington State University meets the object of her affection Christian Grey, a handsome young Seattle business tycoon, when she interviews him for the university newspaper as a favour to her over-achieving roommate. The predictable transpires, but the road is particularly bumpy for the inexperienced Steele who has just spent four years curled up in an armchair reading English classics and living vicariously through her roommate's love life. Christian Grey is a demanding, moody, charismatic man with particular sexual tastes that would frighten off the vast majority of women. Ana is warned by her friends to stay away, but she can't help herself. She is too easily disarmed (and disrobed) by the mercurial Grey.
The first installment of this three-part trilogy spans only a few weeks, but the relationship and by extension the reading are intense. Although I'm ill-versed in this genre, I must admit that if you are even slightly interested (and . . . you are) then this book is worth picking up for a number of reasons. The author creates sustained tension through very high stakes for the naive Anastasia, who is attracted to the brooding, winsome Grey. However, the more time she spends with him the more she risks falling in love. The author further ups the ante by endangering the protagonist's safety with Grey's sexual proclivity for BDSM, and of course, she has to face the inevitable: he will never be able to reciprocate her love.
All the ingredients of a bodice ripper you say, but...
Into the narrative, the author successfully weaves Ana's voice of reason (her subconscious) and her voice of desire (her "inner goddess"), which accurately reflect the seesaw of emotions that a woman might actually experience in her situation. The author also offers some inner monologue that complement the other two voices. This combination makes the characters and this unlikely story readily accessible and credible. What's more, the first installment focuses exclusively on the sexual experience of Anastasia: you know, the other side of the sexual equation that we rarely hear about or see in mainstream media.
Not everything is perfect in the book. For one, only a TV producer could dream up this much product placement. Steve Jobs will undoubtedly meet E.L. James at the pearly gates with the latest iPad. There was also some grating prose bordering on purple, in addition to some annoying repetition. For instance, I thought I'd scream if I heard, "My breathing hitched," or "Oh my" one more time...but maybe that was the point. Equally annoying was the repeated reference to Icarus flying too close to the sun. But other than that, the writing is tasteful.
50 Shades of Grey has caused quite a sensation. It hit number one on the New York Times' bestseller list at the beginning of March. It has been suggested that the book's popularity may be because it can be downloaded to an e-reader, away from prying eyes. The book has also elicited some hilarious knee-jerk reactions from the usual suspects. Here are a few headlines:
Racy, disturbing novel '50 Shades of Grey' gains cult following Fox 31 KDVR.com
'50 Shades of Grey': What is the appeal? Christian Science Monitor
Erotic novel '50 Shades of Grey' unites gals, unnerves some guys Fox News
It's all porn to me: One man's review of '50 Shades of Grey' New York Daily News
Man Proclaims 50 Shades of Grey 'Deeply Unappealing to Men' Jezebel (Poking fun at the previous review.)
Other book reviews:
The Return by Dany Laferrière
Meet Revolutionary Mother
Review: Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter
Interview with Carmen Aguirre, Chilean Resistance Fighter
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien
Going Down Swinging by Billie Livingston
Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
The Girl Without Anyone by Kelli Deeth