Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James

E L James’s novel Fifty Shades of Grey has caused something of a stir in the literary world. First published as fanfiction called “Master of the Universe” under James’s pseudonym Snowqueen’s Icedragon (and, really, fanfiction writers need to give their pen names a lot more consideration before they choose them!), the original story was set in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight universe. Yeah – there’s your first problem.

For those of you  unfamiliar with fanfiction, writers (of varying degrees of proficiency) pen stories based on characters and situations created by other writers.  Wikipedia has a competent explanation of its origins here. Really good fanfic writers can make their stories seem almost like canon. And really good fanfic is out there; but so is really, really bad fanfic. Back in the day I read (and wrote) a lot of it – so I can actually say this with some degree of authority.

Anyway, E L James publishes this wicked long Twilight-based fic – which I suspect is long gone from places where it was originally posted…although fans of the series can still be found gushing about it online. Someone (many someones, probably) suggest that she change the names of the characters and publish it – which James did, in eBook format and print on demand in June 2011 using  The Writers’ Coffee Shop. Word of mouth (ahem) fanned the flames and the rights to the book were purchased by Vintage. Suddenly, everyone was talking about Fifty Shades of Grey and weighing in on its subject matter. I talked a little bit about that here.

If you are a fic reader, I suspect that you’ll find Fifty Shades of Grey relatively tame.  Seriously. I’ve never read Twilight fic, but I’ve read the first two and a half books (and could barely manage that) and I’ve seen the movies (I have a 14- year-old daughter, although her literary tastes are, thankfully, more advanced than Twilight). Despite the name changes, there’s enough of Bella/Edward in Anastasia/Christian that even a casual reader will recognize them. They are, at the very least, completely derivative characters: she the winsome, beautiful-but-doesn’t-know-it, feisty yet innocent virgin and he is the over-the-top rich, fantastically beautiful (and like Meyer’s Edward, the reader has to be reminded of his beauty virtually every time he appears) control freak with a sad/complicated – or, as Christian himself says “fifty shades of fucked up” past.

Bella Ana does her roommate a favour by going to interview the reclusive Christian for the university paper. She  literally falls into his office – she’s kinda klutzy – and we are to believe that Christian is instantly smitten. He tries to stay away- unsuccessfully. But does he really like her, or does he just recognize in her a submissive personality?  Because one of Edward’s Christian’s dark secrets is that he likes to tie women up. And other stuff. Stuff that requires a contract and a safe word.

If you’ve read fanfic, you’ve read this scenario a bazillion times. If you’re going to pay for it, it wants to be good. So, is Fifty Shades of Grey good? For me, it was okay. The writing is okay. The sex is okay. The characters are okay. It didn’t particularly shock me, nor did it, you know, rev my engine.

Ana is prone to saying: Holy fuck! and Holy shit! and Holy crap! a whole lot. A whole lot! She also channels her inner goddess in what I suspect is her way of trying to decide whether or not the amazingly mind-blowing orgasms make up for the occasional spanking. Ana and Christian say, “laters, baby” to each other.  It’s weird. Noticing this stuff is always a sign that I am not really invested in the story. Oh come on, who reads a book like this for the story anyway?

I suspect that lots of people will find Fifty Shades of Grey shocking. But, truly, it’s pretty tame. If you want the really good stuff, you can read it online. For free.