Jane Austen? Jane Eyre? Please, leave them be! What has this 50 Shame  … ehm … Shades trilogy by E.L. James got to do with that greatness and depth? It is a vanity fair of shallowness and pettiness. How can these books be anyway connected with those great classics? And I wonder how could they become best selling works with millions of readers?
Do you think I’m prejudiced? I am not. Never thought graphic sex inappropriate when well written and justified in a gripping plot.
Do you think I’m too harsh? That’s exactly what I intend to be. And yes, I read those books, I’m not talking of something I know nothing about.

I read the first instalment  very quickly but then once I started the  second one, I felt I was really wasting my time and left it when halfway through  it . I couldn’t stand all that silliness one page more.
First of all it was so boring and repetitive. “O my! Holy cow!  Holy f**k!”, these are the most frequent exclamations the young heroine, Anastasia Steel,  utters or thinks every ten seconds. So irritating!
Steel.  Not a meaningful surname since Ana (stasia)'s personality  is nothing like steel nor iron, she’s more … butter. Insubstantial and  unshaped, she gets numbly caught in the net of a seducing, incredibly handsome, sadist tycoon.  Young and incredibly gorgeous Christian Grey has  an   enormous power on her will.  She timidly attempts to run away from him but she is not very convinced: she is in love after all. Love? Is that love?

Someone considered Christian Grey a  modern byronic hero, damned and romantic at the same time, a contemporary Darcy or even a Rochester type. Why not a Heathcliff?  But I can’t find anything of those heroes. None of their depth or  complexity.

Christian  like Anastasia  suffers  from a certain luck of fantasy in his actions and his speech. Poor  young man! It isn’t actually his fault. He comes out from the faltering, blabbering pen of a mediocre writer. He  has a tormented past and an ambiguous personality, sex with him is meant to be everything but dull. So, why was it so boring to read about all that increbible amount of sex after a while? My inner goddess (I haven't got one but Ana always mentions hers!) cried: “No, not again please! Make something else happen!” 

But not much more happened all the time. Nothing new was said, neither from time to time: ”Please, don’t bite your lip, Anastasia.  You know what it does to me! “ , “Eat Anastasia, please. You must eat.”  and then the same words and the same scenes again and again!

Anastasia  can’t think of anything different to comment what she sees, hears, experiences. Nothing more than O my!  or Holy cow!  repeated  hundreds of times all over the story.  She continuously bites her low lip and rolls her eyes (and both things have got very predictable - after few pages - effect on Christian)  while he always  runs his long fingers through his disorderly hair, bends his head on a side and frowns,  wears his jeans on his hip in a way that makes her lose her strength (what way is that?).

The language and the actions become hauntingly boring, nothing happens if not something that has already happened, described in the same monotonous way with the same monotonous expressions.
What do the millions of readers have found and still find in this story? I couldn’t see anything good. Does anybody need reading this kind of boring,  badly written stuff to learn about sex, be excited, escape a boring depressing life? I really can’t believe this story can help. They would be even more depressed and got a distorted  idea of sex. 

Still I can’t explain the reasons of such a great success, they are a total mystery to me. And that is what makes me sick. Not the fact that someone wrote this kind of stories but that they can answer such a great demand. 

I started reading the first book out of curiosity and, mind you, I’m really happy I didn’t buy none of the three! All that hammering advertising,  an invasion of posts in the blogosphere relating this trilogy to classic literature or successful modern fiction (Twilight) , bookshops walled with those greyish covers,  teenagers reading those books wherever I turned while  on holiday  in England (even boys!) :   I had to discover what all that fuss was about.
I borrowed the Fifty Shades of Grey  from a friend and read it,  while travelling on my tour of south-west England in a rented car or in bed at night. At the end of the first book I was pretty sure I had had enough of those two gorgeous young people, both Ana and her Christian, but I tried to read some more pages from the sequel. “O My!”,   just to quote HER, it was even more boring!
In  Fifty Shades Darker , instalment II,  Christian starts losing interest for sadistic sex ( well, not completely, of course, since she starts liking it) and becomes incredibly jealous and possessive, wants to marry her, have children with her, becomes almost addicted to his beautiful  Ana.
She  wants to know about Christian’s tragic past as an abused child. She was and is totally in awe with  this man. There I stopped. I’m reading other books now. I hope the two beauties get married, have lovely children and live happily ever after but I won’t be there with them.

Unacceptably poor diction (too high a word?) , insubstantial  characterization, irritating repetitiveness of the same events in the plot and of the same sentences in speech .  I was tempted to use my read pen, underline, correct and add a very disappointed “RATHER POOR”,  but it was not a work by one of my students, it was a best-selling book. Millions of copies. O My!

See? It can be dangerous, contagious. I've started speaking like Ana! Anyway, I'm sure I’ll soon forget this unfortunate experience and bury it under thousands of  beautiful words from other books. But  reading these kind of fiction can ruin and spoil young readers, their  taste for beauty and their language skills. These books were not meant for them  but I’m sure many of them will end up leafing through those pages.  The trilogy has been translated into Italian too and I bet I’ll hear some of my students giggling for Christian and Ana’s bravados  very soon .

Is there anyone who liked this trilogy? Could you please tell me if there is anything good that I missed?

I'll leave you with something to think about: 

 “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features . This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more thruthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more "literary" you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies” (from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)


Laura said...

I completely agree with you. I couldn't make it past through second or third chapter. And like you, I don't know what everybody finds so amazing about it. Any of the "so-called" romantic novels that most critizase has more depth and impact than this.

But you know, Marketing is a powerful gun and it seems they had the best campaign ever. It's our choice how we spend the money but it's so sad to spend it like this.

Cat Winchester said...

I haven't read the books but I do object to the sentiment that al books must be high-brow literature. Nothing wrong with an easy read, just like there's nothing wrong with a bad horror movie or a soap opera.

Having said that, these books are incredibly sexist and set back the feminist movement by a century.

Seeing how people slammed a fantasy author recently for being racist, I can't believe how few people have a problem with the sexism in these books! I'm damn sure that in the 80's we have staged book burning protests against them.

That's why I hate them and flat out refuse to read them, no matter how many of my friends do.

P.S. I have discussed these books in depth with 4 people, 2 who are professors, 1 who is a psychology professor. I may not have read them but I understand their content backwards by now. None of the 4 really liked them, but one did read the whole trilogy from some need to finish what she started. I can tell you how it ends if you want, but it wont shock or surprise you in the slightest.

Alexa Adams said...

Here here! I love that "he wears his jeans on his hip in a way that makes her lose her strength (what way is that?)." Well said. And what a relevant Bradbury quote! Perfect indeed.

Ally said...

I read the first part of the trilogy out of curiosity. Besides being really easy and superficial, which seems to be what most people who only read one or two books a year are interested in, I can understand people's interest. Sex still sells, and sex in a book may make you look smarter... The series was meant to be a phenomenon, and it worked, plus they are turning it into a movie series as well, which I am sure it is going to break records... Anyway, de gustibus...

Maria Grazia said...

Well @Laura what I found really astonishing was that such an awfully written book could have sold so many copies. I have no moral issue with the content. I agree with Oscar Wilde: "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are either well written or badly written. That is all." It's just that I've read such beautiful books which have sold so much less!
The power of advertising is frightening.
Hence, I came to think of Bradbury @Alexa. I always think of Orwell, Bradbury or Huxley when something in nowadays world's dynamics makes me very anxious.
I hope you understand my points, @Cat. No prejudices. I always approach a book with a sense of respect, looking for what good there may be in it. But when something so mediocre is proposed as a phenomenon, I can really get furious. As for the end of the story, the friend who lent me the books was so kind to let me know that there was nothing surprising in that either ;-)
Thanks to the 3 of you for contributing to the discussion.

Maria Grazia said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Ally. You probably did it while I was answering the first three comments.
I don't think I will be able to stand a TV series based on Fifty Shades. That's really too much for me. Talent should be rewarded in mankind not slyness :-/

Danielle said...

Maria Grazia, you made me laugh out loud because I have been so dismayed by the popularity of this trilogy. It felt cathartic to read about your indignation even though I have no plans to ever pick up these books:-)

On the other hand, I feel truly sorry for the readers who genuinely enjoyed the book (as opposed to sheep-reading) and who feel defensive about the ridicule directed against them.

One blogger whose tastes tend to the distinctly literary even in her romance reading caused me to question my assumptions about the readership of these books when she noted in her blog that she adored the trilogy, giving it five stars out of five. Perhaps she and others like her register a quality in the story that taps directly into a fantasy or longing or a point of curiosity, allowing them a powerful experience that makes the shell – features such as word choice – irrelevant. Doesn’t escapism follows its own rules? In the popular romance genre a premium is placed on the emotional experience, in erotica a successful story will probably include its ability to arouse. Sensory and emotional responses are not necessarily connected with the part of the brain that responds to literary texture or intellectual merit.

There are some terribly bad or silly or simply so-not-my-genre films that nevertheless contain one or more elements that speak to me on a level where watching the film becomes surprisingly satisfying or comforting. As a result, my analytical/critical faculties switch off and my own negative feedback does not reach that part of my brain where it would matter.

Aren’t books written and read for a variety of reasons, only one of them being to improve minds? Is the ability of books to fulfill a range of other functions less important? I love literary fiction as defined by your Bradbury quote, yet I would be devastated if popular fiction were to disappear, even those books I wish I could erase from my memory or personally think would serve humankind best as fireplace kindling. One never knows which story will be a lifesaver or a door to new worlds, full of beauty and opportunities, for another person. For example, as a child my brother was considered a problem student, lazy and mentally backward and defiant, by his teachers, who complained about him non-stop. At the same time, at home, the only thing he would read were Donald Duck comics. What few people realised until years later was that something in those comics had appealed to the subversive, satirical questioner in him. He went on to become a professor in philosophy!

A Scattering said...

There's no excuse for poor writing and this is poor writing at its zenith. Lust and edgy lust can be well done and keep you turning the pages - I read part of the first book and all I wanted to do was close the cover - I was bored. To each, his or her own.

Brooke said...

I have not read the books and do not plan to. As a writer, I value quality writing. Therefore, I do not like literature that could be a negative influence on my development.
Like others on here, I am wondering what is amazing about it.

Cat Winchester said...

@Maria - I understand and agree with your points completely, I was just adding another dimension and a personal pet peeve.

On your repetitive (the book, not you) comments, my sister finally bought the first one of these books (but hasn't read it yet) and we were discussing it on facebook the other night. I told her that the 'holy' thing was probably the most likley to piss her off, and that the author must have been channelling 1960s Robin when she wrote it.

"Holy literature, Batman, look at this awful book!"

aurora said...

I didn't read this notorious book but judging from the cover which is tacky in my opinion. I suspected that something similar hides between the pages, and you proved this with your excellent, funny and hilarious review, Maria Grazia.

Mrs. Higgins said...

I like that quote at the end by Ray Bradbury. I won't read Fifty Shades of Gray, but my 25 year old daughter has read all three books. She defends them to no end and takes it quite personal if you say something against the trilogy. I would rather read all the funny reviews.

Maria Grazia said...

If you noticed reading my blog/s I read (study, teach, love) literature but I like trying new genres. I often review books which are popular fiction (romance, historical fiction, fan fiction)and that's great fun. I read those books only for pleasure, pure escapism. They aren't all excellent or unforgettable (many of them are very good though!)but none was as badly written as FSOG.
My worst disappointments so far have come from best selling books.
@A Scattering
"Lust and edgy lust can be well done and keep you turning the pages" . Well put! I agree with you.
There's nothing amazing, I can assure you, except the selling figures. Unbelievable.
@Cat Winchester
LOL! Love your Batman and Robin ancdote.
@Mrs Higgins
I'm glad your daugther liked the 3 books. I was so bored after a while, I couldn't go past 1/4 of the second instalment. There must be someone who liked them out there, otherwise how could this trilogy become such a success? Thanks for finding my review funny. That was exactly my purpose. I had fun writing it :-)

Vava, A country dreaming mum said...

Oh my! You had me laughing out loud! :-) I really did enjoy reading this review. I also was wondering if these books were worth all the fuss, but had little curiosity for reading them, and now my doubts are confirmed. I am not at all prudish, but all that I had heard about this trilogy just didn't appeal to me. I was looking for books to take on holiday with me, but these definately will note end up in my suitcase, holy cow! ;-)

Maria Grazia said...

Ciao Vava. Thanks for visitin and commenting. I hope your suitcase will be full of wonderful reads. Enjoy your holidays :-)

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I already knew I didn't want to read these books but now I am convinced! There are too many good books in the world to waste my time with these.

Maria Grazia said...

You're right, Sam! i saw your incredible list of great classics. i'm sure you'll have a great time?

Danielle said...

You being a teacher and reading and enjoying many genres are two of the aspects of your blogging that have made Fly High! so interesting for me. If something I wrote upset you, that was the farthest from my intention, and I apologise.

Maria Grazia said...

Why? No, not at all, Danielle. I was just happy when I read your thourough long comment :-)
Thanks for taking the time to read and leave such an interesting contribution!

Danielle said...

@ Maria Grazia

Thank you, that is good to know :-) I only became worried because it suddenly occurred to me that discussions about this particular book have had a tendency to generate quite a bit of huffing and puffing elsewhere, and I really would have hated to cause discomfort at your lovely blog.