E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has been the fastest selling novel for adults, of all time. It is the first book of the “Fifty Shades Trilogy”, a series that has sold 31 million copies worldwide. This “revolutionary” novel has been hyped and reviewed with mixed critical reception. Upon my own reading of it, however, the question arose, is James’ novel a literary masterpiece, or is it fortunate that sex still sells?
Although the novel developed an idea that would, and did, lure people into reading it (the taboo S&M relationship between a twenty-one year-old virgin, Anastasia Steele, and the sadomasochistic business magnate, Christian Grey), the execution of this idea lacks conviction. At times it feeels like the narrative is scattered as this confused young girl plunges into a cornucopia of wild unsettling desire.
Having said that, I wouldn’t immediately discourage anyone from reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Even though I disapproved of many aspects of this novel, it instilled in me a ridiculous compulsion to read on. In parts, the novel did remind me of a strange amalgamation between Judy Blume and a Mills and Boon read – a bad or good thing depending on who you are and what you like reading. In my opinion, it is great when viewed alongside existing erotica, but not particularly a ground-breaking work of literature in itself.
The key to reading Fifty Shades of Grey, in my view, is the ability to be patient. Personally, if I did not know what was coming, I would be highly demotivated to read beyond its weakly written opening scene. Already knowing the dark and erotic nature of story that was about to develop in the pages ahead, it was my only aid to reaching the end of the novel. But the further I got into the novel, the more racy and enjoyable it became – possibly a combination of the rather vivid scenes and the “how will it end?” curiosity. A few instances of good humour in the narration were read appreciatively.
The basic feeling that took over me, upon the completion of reading this novel, was confusion. I will never fully understand why Miss Steele, who is only recently introduced to sex, enters into a liaison with Christian Grey. But what I understand even less is why the end of Fifty Shades of Grey is not the end of the depiction of the relationship between Anastasia and Christian. Hopefully, the two proceeding novels allow a deeper understanding of the characters in the book, and do not just revolve around the intense sex scenes and other scattered bits of information reflecting on the general lifestyle of the characters.
As far as objectively recommending the novel to those who haven’t read it is concerned, I think the statistics speak for themselves. E.L. James clearly knows how to entice the general public with her work. Personally, I will be reading the complete trilogy to see what the storyline develops into; and even though I did not take an instant liking to the protagonist Anastasia, an attachment develops as you follow her journey into a world of crude sex.