Fifty Shades of Grey – Is It Black & White?

I decided pretty early on that I would never do book reviews on my blog. The simple reason is that books, as with any type of art, are subjective. Whether someone likes them or not depends more on taste rather than the skill of the author.

Also, I’m a writer myself, and I don’t want to come down on other writers in any way since I know how hard it is to finish even the shortest of stories. For that reason, I had decided to stick with the adage “if you can’t find something good to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I also pride myself on not buying books just because they’re trending. Not that grossly popular books are necessarily a bad thing. I like to wait until the hype has died down a bit, check out reviews from what I think are reputable sources, and decide whether I’ll jump in and see what the rest of the world is talking about.

And so it was that last week, when looking for something a little different, I finally relented and decided to see why everyone was making such a fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey. Apart from searching for something to read, I also like to download samples of big sellers to see what they’re doing that I’m not to see if I can learn anything from them.

Anyway, I read some reviews on Amazon for Fifty Shades – a lot of them singing its praises, some of them ho-hum and a lot that were quite scathing. At risk of being unpopular, I’d be in the latter camp.

Since I read most of my books on the kindle now, I took advantage of the sample feature so I could decide whether to plunk down $9 for the full electronic version. I’m pretty glad I did – safe to say, I saved that $9 for a more worthy book.

It’s no real secret that this book (and series) began life as Twilight fan fiction somewhere on the interwebs where people flock to read that stuff for free. It would, after all, be a major copyright headache for people to write about their favourite characters (who they did not create) and make money off them without the original author’s permission. There is a whole other discussion about the ethics and legality of making money from fanfiction on the interwebs as well, but I’ll save that for another post.

Seems there’s not too great a change needed in order to avoid a copyright suit these days. While I also didn’t read any of the Twilight series (at the behest of some good friends, who said not to waste my time), I did get talked into watching the movies. I have no idea whether the movies stayed true to the books or not, but usually the movie versions tend to be more dramatic than the books. If that’s the case with Twilight, I’m glad I didn’t read the series. However, I digress. My thoughts on Twilight are for another post, but my point is I have no idea how much of Fifty Shades (formerly known as “Masters of the Universe”) is similar to the Twilight series.

Anyway, after struggling to get through the sample chapters, I was not happy to go ahead and purchase the full version of Fifty Shades because, for me, the writing was (as Ana would say) “triple crap”.

It came across to me as a fifteen year old writing an erotic fantasy about hooking up with her unattainable crush in the secrecy and safety of her bedroom. Even from the start, the character of Ana seemed naive and not in control of her life.

The dialogue was stilted and overly formal, and the author seemed to have a very limited vocabulary when it came to cursing (crap, double crap, holy cow) and description (lips and eyebrows “quirking up”, Ana biting her lip and rolling her eyes). Apart from that the author is British, and the setting is the US. Nothing usually wrong with that, except that the whole book is really written in British language, despite the American spellings.

Apart from that, the whole thing just didn’t really make sense to me, even in the very little I read of this book. Granted, I never got to read any of the erotic stuff because the sample only ran to two chapters, but I was ready to give up after the first page. The whole scene in chapter two when Christian comes in to the hardware store, where Ana works, to buy rope, cable ties and tape is just a bit weird for me. Having read the reviews and knowing what the whole deal is with the series, I know it’s not a romance, but come on. He just happens to decide that Ana is someone he wants to bring into his seedy world of BDSM after meeting her once?

I must admit though, I was disappointed that the sample ended where it did, and I was tempted for a second to download the full version just to see how bad it got – you know, like seeing a car crash and despite feeling queasy you just can’t tear your eyes away? But I told myself that, in reality, erotic fiction isn’t really my thing anyway, no matter how good it is, so even I would have questioned why I didn’t like it in the end.

So, rather than try to discern why it is people are raving about this series so much, I’m going to ask you. If you’ve read Fifty Shades, or Twilight for that matter, what about them made you enjoy them? And if you’ve read both sets of books, are there any major similarities between them? Anything that made you get that de ja vu feeling of having read it before somewhere?
I ask these questions, not to scoff at you for reading tripe, but in order to discern why it’s such a phenomenon despite it’s short-comings. I am, afterall, still learning my craft, and part of that is finding out what things work in other fiction, and why.

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