My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve had Fifty Shades of Grey as an ebook on my phone for quite a while, it was in fact one of the first ebooks I ever bought, I think I got it when there was the original furore about it but I never got beyond the first chapter because I thought the writing was cringeworthy awful but what with the movie coming out my interest was piqued again and I thought I’d try it as an audiobook, as I thought maybe listening to the words wouldn’t make me critique them so much. And I was right, thanks to the audiobook I soon got past the writing style and into the story and I quickly got hooked, so much so that I redownloaded the ebook onto my phone and would switch between listening to it and reading it.
When I say it was the movie coming out that got me interested in the story again, that wasn’t completely accurate, it was the furore around the movie coming out that got me interested, there’s a big campaign that if you strip away the romance and the glamour, Fifty Shades of Grey was essentially a story about domestic abuse and I don’t know, I’m getting tired of social media storms and a big part of me wondered “Have half of the people campaigning against this story actually read the book?”, I suspect not. If you take some of the quotes from the book that have been circulating around the internet, yes just from those quotes it does look like domestic abuse but I wanted to know if there was more to it than that.
Fifty Shades of Grey starts with the about to graduate Ana Steele going to interview a mysterious billionaire Christian Grey as a favour for a friend who edits the student newspaper. Ana is expecting a crusty old guy but is faced with an enigmatic, extremely good looking man not that much older than herself. She is both bewitched by him and put off by his arrogant attitude. When he turns up later at the DIY store she works in, it becomes clear that he’s interested in her, however it turns out that what he wants from her is a little ….. unconventional. There’s helicopters, extremely luxurious apartments and a contract that he’d like her to sign to become his submissive. Christian has had a tortured childhood and it appears he only wants sex that way, whilst Ana wants more.
A relatively substantial amount of the book is devoted around the contract and their discussions around it, it is made clear to both Ana and the reader that if she were to go ahead with the BDSM aspect of their relationship it will be her choice to do so, she can say no or stop at any time and in fact there is a scene where Christian is upset and wants to punish her, she says no and he doesn’t do it. Although yes, in an ideal world, both fictional and non-fictional no one should want to punish, physically or otherwise, their partner when they’re upset, but when should books stick to people behaving nicely / as they should all the time because they don’t in real life. This is a story and there is plenty of explanation in the book as to why Christian behaves as he does. There is one aspect of control that is a bit unsettling though, at least early on in the story, Ana has fallen in love with Christian and it becomes clear that she’s prepared to go ahead with some things she’s a bit uncomfortable with because she’s scared if she says no, ok he won’t do whatever she’s saying no to, but it would also mean the end of their relationship. But Ana grows throughout the story and does move out of that thought process but that aspect of the story does demonstrate how domestic abusers can potentially control their victims, what with that and the victim’s belief that they can change their abuser (which is another aspect of their story).
However Ana finds that she actually likes some of the BDSM element and is deeply aroused by it and I did wonder are some of the people protesting against this book just because they just can’t get their head around the idea of someone enjoying it? Just like some homophobic people just can’t get their head around someone enjoying gay sex? I suspect there is an element of that in their campaign.
This book should not be read as some sort of guide about how to get your billionaire, yes it’s erotica but it’s also an interesting story about two people coming together with baggage / misconceptions etc etc and how they negotiate (sometime badly) how to become a couple in a way that works for them. As I was reading this book I couldn’t help compare it to the Twilight series (Fifty Shades was originally written as fan fiction to the series) and I often use the Twilight as a sort of litmus as to whether I’d be happy for my daughter to read the series / book when she’s older. I would not be happy about my daughter reading Twilight (although I wouldn’t stop her if she wanted to read it when she’s old enough, I don’t believe in banning books), as Bella is an awful role model, she basically meets Edward and all thoughts of herself as an individual seem to go out of the window, if Bella had fallen for Christian Grey a week before her final exams she wouldn’t have given a toss about her exams and shacked up with him immediately and would have gone even further than Ana did for fear of loosing him, whereas Ana has her head screwed on far more, she may have fallen head over heels in love with a wildly unsuitable man but at least she still finishes her exams, gets her own flat share, gets a job and even flies across the other side of the country to spend time with her mother away from him! And when the relationship gets too much she doesn’t stay, she does leave. So may my daughter not want to read Fifty Shades of Grey for many many years to come but if she wants to, as someone in her late teens, I think it would give her a much better grounding about how ****ing complicated relationships can be and the power of saying no.