If this was supposed to be a joke, it’s a damn good one.
To provide some context, I should tell you two things. First of all, I actually enjoyed Twilight as a guilty pleasure and didn’t consider Bella a remotely annoying narrator on first reading. Its appeal has since faded, and I’ve come to see what bothers everyone else about Bella, but I tell you this to contextualize how forgiving of a reader I can be. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I went into this with more than an open mind. All I knew about Fifty Shades of Grey was that it featured a dominant/submissive relationship and a lot of people were very nonspecifically critical of it. Call me crazy, but I thought there was an outside chance that American readers were being intolerant about a kind of relationship they couldn’t relate to. (I know, I know: very farfetched.) Turns out… not so much.
For those unfamiliar with this Fifty Shades of Grey‘s origin, it was originally going to be Twilight fanfiction, but the author decided to make it an original story instead. The awkward relationship with Twilight is relevant for two reasons. Some of you will find this hard to believe, but Twilight is a much more well-written book. Stephanie Meyer’s writing style actually has quite a few redeeming qualities, most notably evocative descriptions that make her excellent at establishing both setting and tone. James, on the other hand, has perhaps the most infuriating writing style I’ve ever seen in a bestseller. (More on that later.)
More personally frustrating for me, when we consider the book’s origin and relationship to Twilight, it becomes transparently obvious that the central conceit of this novel is that being into BDSM is as dangerous as being a vampire. I’m not joking. At first this just made the novel pretty unintentionally hilarious and hard to take seriously, but eventually it got much less innocuously frustrating.
As previously alluded to, this novel is not well-written. I badly wanted to shake the author by the shoulders and inform her that adjectives exist, and describing things as “all [noun]s and [noun]s” is not a suitable substitute for same and should certainly not be applied constantly. Furthermore, James is either doing a poor job of writing a character with serious psychological problems or she has no idea how human psychology works. Your subconscious, as it name implies, is beneath your conscious mind and therefore quite unlikely to speak to you in complete sentences. Finally, at least pretend your narrator is interesting enough to have reactions other than “Oh, my!” and “Oh, shit.” Although that might be realistic for some people, in a novel it’s going to make you want to brain the narrator with a frying pan about two chapters in. (These are just the most egregious/repetitive examples. I’m not even going to try to go into more detail, just… this is not well-written.)
If only being poorly-written were this novel’s only (or biggest) failing. As you may recall, I started reading this novel with the intention of defending it and its depiction of dominant/submissive relationships if people were being stupidly intolerant about them. The thing is, this novel actually grossly misrepresents dominant/submissive relationships, but because of its vast popularity it is likely how large segments of the population will view dominant/submissive relationships from now on. So, instead of continuing to talk about how poorly-written this novel is, I would like to end with a public service announcement of sorts.
Dominant/submissive relationships are nothing like what this book wants you to think they are. They aren’t pathological and they aren’t the result of abuse earlier in life. They’re perfectly healthy and fulfilling relationships that look a little different than what you might be used to seeing. That’s it. Really. That’s it.