50 Shades of Grey; it’s not all black and white

I hope you won’t judge me too much for having read 50 Shades of Grey. In my defence, it came into work; and curiosity got the better of me. That’s the problem with me, anything reportedly really shit, and I want to have a look for myself. 

So I read the book, primarily, as mentioned, to see for myself, if it was really all that awful. In many respects, it was, but in others, it actually wasn’t. 

Controversial opinion I know. What’s that? A female saying it was problematic but also not so bad? It can’t be! The thing is, if the judge of a good read is in a book you can’t put down, then this is arguably a good read. I found it compelling, interesting, and I wanted to know what happened next. I would like, (heavens forfend) to read the remainder of the trilogy to see how the story unfolds. 

Is Anastasia a wet blanket? At times, yes. Is Christian a freakishly controlling man? Also yes. Is there however, more to it than that? Yes. I only wish I had to hand, a copy of the book that I might provide quotes to back this up. Wikipedia must suffice. 

Let us begin with the most common opinion expressed in this book, that the relationship is “abusive” (quotation marks mine). I cannot begin to imagine the parameters of what one might call a “normal” versus “abusive” sub/dom relationship. It’s not an area I have any experience or indeed interest in for myself. So i’m going to have to take an educated guess at what google has shown up.

So, in the very beginning of the book, long before anything happens Grey tries to effectively warn Anastasia off, despite the fact it is made abundantly clear he fancies the proverbial pants off of her. Even after this, he isn’t exactly coy about his being a little less than “normal”, for want of a better term. Eventually he does reveal all, and there is talk of contracts. A quick google for sample sub/dom contracts reveals that the one detailed in the book is, whilst perhaps quite detailed, not overtly odd or unusual in it’s requests. He is also very sensitive to her being new to the idea, as is detailed over and over in him saying “we could maybe try it and if you don’t like it i’ll stop?” or things to this effect. We must also remember that these are two consenting adults, and if this is what they want to do (were they non-fictional) then there would be precisely nothing stopping them.

“But no!” the feminist lobby cry, “he’s pushing her into it”. To them I suggest, reading the text. And I mean actually reading it and taking in the words, not reading what you want it to mean. As far as I could see, he gave her nothing but clauses to get out. Yes, she became upset, but she could’ve chosen to walk away or terminate contact at any time. And CHOSE not to. I’m sure many people would argue that this is often a hall mark of an abusive relationship; they would be right. But the way that this normally works is with the abuser making the victim feel too trapped to leave, like they are worthless or somehow in the wrong. At no point does Anastasia ever appear to express such feelings, it is more that she is confused by Christian. She fancies him, but would find things so much easier if it was a regular relationship. She is in short, being a typical young woman. Panicking that her boyfriend doesn’t really love her and being otherwise jealous. 

It should also be noted, that the compromise within the book is two way. Yes, she agrees to try a BDSM relationship for him, but he does bend to her requests for “more” as it is often referred to, ie the trappings of a proper relationship. How much this is explored in later books I don’t know, but the synopsis’ suggest that it will all have a happy ending.

Another point to address briefly is this, there are complaints that it’s “unrealistic” for her to go from virginal to sex mad in such a brief space of time. Let me try to elaborate on why this is bollocks without revealing too much of my own sex life and horrifying you all. An ex once said to me, (and i’m paraphrasing) that having good sex as your first time made you want lots of it, and bad sex made you wonder what all the fuss was about. We can see from the writing that Anastasia has “good sex” so therefore wants lots of it, no problems there. The other point bought up is how one can go from practically asexual to spread eagled so fast. I won’t go into detail, let me just say that it happens.  

I’m not going to argue it’s not quite badly written. There’s lots of “down there” and “I bit my lip” but if you imagine this is being narrated by a sexually inexperienced 22 year old girl, suddenly the language makes much more sense. It fits with the character, who yes, is a bit of a wet blanket and at times I did want to give her a slap around the face. It does work tonally and linguistically, even if it’s not a staggering work of literary genius. 

Finally, all this book is, all it really is, is wish fulfilment. I don’t care what you personally thing, for some people; the idea of being found attractive by a handsome and rich man is appealing. He is the dark and tortured soul that you, by proxy of Anastasia get to fix and to love. If it didn’t have the BDSM element it’d just be another chick lit, or a Mills and Boon and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. This is the thing, it’s not a great book. I just don’t feel it’s as bad as people have been trying to make out either. 

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One Response to 50 Shades of Grey; it’s not all black and white

  1. Wit of the Staircase says:

    You’ve mirrored a lot of my thoughts on this. I even wrote a similar (but unpublished) review/rant! Just like you, I went into this book actively expecting to dislike it, but despite myself I was completely drawn in (and have read the rest of the trilogy…)

    I agree with pretty much all your points – i’ts not perfect, but it’s very readable and I think a lot (but not all) of the criticism it had received is undeserved.

    In particular, I have a massive problem with the dismissive term of ‘mommy porn’ it has been given – as if a book that appeals to ‘bored young/middled aged women’ (which this term suggests) is immediately of no value.

    Now THAT seems like something worth having a feminist rant over, rather than a book that’s not too everyone’s taste.

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