My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this book because I was curious what all the hullabaloo was about. Why is there a run on grey neckties in New York City department stores? Why are women claiming that this book has put some pizzaz back in the bedroom? Mommy porn? I am still curious, but not so curious that I am going to read the remaining books in the series.
Personally I like how the first book ended. The only thing I would change is that it would have ended this way soon after chapter 1. Ana would have run away after the first peek into the playroom or that ridiculous contract. At this juncture, I am delighted with the ending of the first book, so why read books 2 and 3 and get angry again?
“Oh this is not my normal read, I am just curious.” Oh bullshit! I have nothing against a good hot sex scene with details, and crude language doesn’t bother me...if it did I would be speechless. Romance is not my genre, but I like a little romance in a normal read. So let’s dispel the idea that I am some nice old man who fell into this book by accident. I will say however that I did read this out of curiosity--what is it that has all the ladies at our book club chirping about the naughtiness?
So what is with this book? Well it is a Cinderella story with a lot of good hot sex, then again it is perhaps Beauty and the Beast with a lot of good hot sex. I am not sure. There are plenty of books out there that turn an archetype fable into a modern romance with good hot sex. So why is this one causing a shortage of grey neckties? Why in a world of a zillion erotic romances does this one go viral?
My guess is that it is not just because it has good hot sex, but because it dips one’s toes into the taboo of BDSM without wallowing in it.
Prince Charming is very charming indeed, a billionaire, cultivated, handsome, young, educated, refined, sexy and for the most part he allows Ana to introduce him to normal vanilla sex. So most of the sex scenes are not employing spiked black leather collars and leg shackles in a sweaty dungeon with whips and chains. No, the BDSM occurs in a relatively civilized “playroom.” There are only three trips into the playroom and as far as BDSM goes, I imagine that it is fairly tame. Most of the sex is just the good old fun kind, free of pain, with a slightly veiled authoritarian threat in the background. On the other hand Prince Charming is a damaged beast. He becomes sexually aroused by humiliating and hurting women. So no matter how gorgeous and refined he may be, and no matter how many cars, clothes, and computers that he may shower on Ana, the fact remains that he gets off by causing Ana to suffer pain. He becomes highly excited and aroused by hitting and hurting women.
I don’t believe that this book is about BDSM, if it was I doubt that it would attain mainstream popularity. I think the book uses the taboo of BDSM as a metaphor. In trying to understand what the big whoop is about, I have read several articles that compares Fifty Shades of Grey to the Twilight phenomenon. I was a bit befuddled by popularity of Twilight also. I read someplace that the drop dead gorgeous Edward’s potential bite in Twilight was an exaggerated metaphor for the old time tension of desire for sexual union off set by the fear and the cultural taboo of losing one’s virginity. In our cool worldly modern times, the loss of one’s virginity is no big deal. All the cool beautiful kids shed it with glee and talk about it on Facebook. Yet somehow I suspect that to many young people, the not so cool kids like you and I, who still lead examined lives, and who question the role of love and sex and their place in it, the gift of one's virginity remains a very big deal, especially for girls for whom sex remains risky business. Yet in the popular imagination, the loss of one's virginity has become commonplace--no big deal. Hence the strange appeal of being bit by a vampire to teenage girls, and to be bit by one that looks like Robert Pattinson, oh my! Alright, that makes sense in a pop psych sort of way. But what exactly is the metaphor that the BDSM represents in Fifty Shades of Grey? Why does it appeal to mature and sexually experienced women? Is it also simply an exaggerated metaphor for the loss of one's virginity? Or is there a bigger issue? Is the BDSM a kinky exaggerated metaphor for a fear of the subjugation of marriage and perhaps the angst of the marriage bed?
For 10,000 years women have been trapped in often loveless marriages, where they were nothing but chattel whom had no legal rights, had to obey their husbands, and were often raped, savagely beaten, and disciplined. In the past two centuries, women’s rights within marriages have gradually improved. In the past 50 years women’s rights both within marriage and within society have drastically improved. Yet at this time, women still often get the poopey end of the stick in both marriage and the wider social milieu. So is the metaphor of the BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey for the fear of a damaged marriage and sexual boredom? Is Ana going to become a heroine by curing Christian of his sadism through a woman's strength, wisdom, tenderness, and love? Will they ride off into the sunset, making love, and convert the playroom into a nursery?
To be quite honest, I have no idea what exactly the appeal of this book is. While the BDSM is tame compared to how it could be, I still found the episodes of where Christian physically assaulted Ana to be revolting.
Book 1 ends with Ana leaving the sadistic bastard. Good. The book ended the way I wanted it to. Ana leaves him. There is no need for any additional books. Ana go find a nice man who loves you without hitting you and live happily ever after. Somehow I doubt that occurs in books 2 or 3.
When considering social effects, there is one way in which Twilight differs significantly from Fifty Shades of Grey. After reading Twilight, no one has to worry about getting bit by a vampire. But at the risk of being overly melodramatic, is there not a reasonable concern about the possible aftermath of a book that somewhat romanticizes and moves BDSM to the mainstream? Being loosely tied up with a grey necktie and getting a playful slap on the butt may be deliciously kinky, may put some zing back in the bedroom, and is harmless. However, as thrilling as that tender moment with the riding crop in the playroom may have been, in the hands of an inexperienced, too exuberant, or somewhat inebriated lover, a riding crop could wreak some real devastation, not to mention what some over excited dominant feeling his macho oats could do. Some how I think BDSM is best left to a knowledgeable and skilled subculture. I just hope that there is no run on the emergency rooms like there was on those grey neckties.
Aside from the BDSM, which I thoroughly despised, the book was fairly well written. However, I was disappointed in Ana’s character. She was a very intelligent and capable young woman whom I liked and could easily regard as a daughter. Yet she maintained an internal mental litany of a 13 year old. “Holy crap! Her muscles clenched in her belly with desire, but her scalp prickled with apprehension, while her inner goddess did somersaults for joy” at the mere sight of Christian...over and over. As a another reviewer mentioned I wanted to punch her stupid internal goddess in the face. A spanking in the stars for you Ms. James for displeasing me.
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Here are some interesting commentaries, I especially liked the 98 year old grand ma piece.
Open Salon, 50 shades of grandma: A 98-year-old’s take on ‘Grey’
Open Salon, Mommy Porn: Fifty Shades of Bad Writing
Open Salon, Fifty Shades of Say Wha?!
Aha! The last link Fifty Shades of Say Wha?! may have solved the riddle:
"Now, to its credit, there are moments when the book is kind of hot. It’s pretty hard to read a book with so much sex and not get turned on. I lost count but I think there’s at least 15 sex scenes, compared to 3 in other romance novels I’ve read. The downside is that it’s so completely unbelievable you're thrown right out of the story. How they hope to make a movie out of this, I don’t know. Then again, people liked Twilight. "
Newsweek has an article this week on this whole phenomena:
Newsweek/2012/04/15/Spanking Goes Mainstream
The article implies that women are now in control of so much, their careers, their homes, the finances, the family, the children that they are using sexual submission fantasy as an escape mechanism. Apparently submissive fantasies are nothing new, they just seem to come to light every now and again in the popular culture. Feminists are alarmed....don't fantasize that. But fantasies seem to have life of their own and defy logic or rules. I very much agree with the feminists. We men have a poor track record when it comes to battering women and we are not equipped with a numbered setting dial. When you start walking down the path of female submission, you are also walking up the path of male dominance and male aggression. Sorry but I do not trust that path. There is no on/off switch and when one is tied up to a four poster it makes one extremely vulnerable. I don't find that sexy, I find it frightening.
With the release of the movie, The Atlantic has an interesting article regarding the Fifty Shades phenomenom: