The phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey is an upsetting one. For a time in 2012, everywhere I went, there were women fawning over what they saw to be a revolutionary 'feminist' novel, hoping for a Christian Grey to sweep them off their feet. With the movie coming out soon, the hysteria is set to return.
Whenever I try explain to someone exactly why I'm so against the novels, I become so tongue-tied and frustrated that I can't property articulate any of my points - so here's my solution. A chapter-by-chapter rundown of everything I hate about 50 Shades of Grey. Enjoy!
I'll start with a little backstory to flesh out the 50 Shades craze. The novel initially stated off as a piece of Twilight fanfiction called Master of the Universe. Christian was originally called Edward, Anastasia was called Bella, and the supporting cast is loosely based on other characters in the story.
The story (which was originally one long and winding story with no direction) was split into three parts and were picked up by a virtual publisher in 2011. The story was reworked for its publication with a physical publisher some time later, but the prose and the narrative remain woeful.
This is taken from the 50 Shades Wikipedia entry:
On 1 August 2012, Amazon UK announced that it had sold more copies of Fifty Shades of Grey than it had the entire Harry Potter series combined, making E. L. James its best-selling author, replacing J. K. Rowling, though worldwide the Harry Potter series sold more than 450 million copies compared to Fifty Shades of Grey's sales of 60 million copies.
Depressing, right? Without further ado, let's get to it. The first chapter of 50 Shades of Criticism.
The book opens with the protagonist, Anastasia Steele, looking into a mirror and bemoaning her own reflection. This is a standard fan-fiction trope, one which is utterly preoccupied with making the main character as forgettable and plain as possible. We all know it's what's on the outside that counts, right? It speaks volumes for what's to come in these novels that the very first thing the narrator wants us to know is what she looks like, and how undesirable she is, because that's really all that matters. Great start on the feminism front.
Anastasia, or Ana, is also annoyed at the fact that her housemate, Kate, is ill. The self-obsession in this book reaches some pretty dangerous heights, and already within the first page we have the lead character bitching and moaning because her housemate had the tenacity to be a little under the weather. That bitch.
It turns out that Kate was due to interview a big-time CEO for the university newspaper, and as a result of her sudden illness, has convinced Ana to conduct the interview in her place at the headquarters in Seattle. We’re treated to a description of how ‘gamine and gorgeous’ Kate looks, even when she’s ill, and Ana ignores her ‘pang of unwelcome sympathy’. So that's three pages down and already we've got the bombshell best friend (tick), the dull and forgettable lead character (tick) and a woman who is refusing her best friend sympathy because she's good-looking. Yay for stereotypes and general women-hating!
Ana heads off to Grey Headquarters to conduct the interview. We're repeatedly told just how grey the place is. I see what you did there. The author seems anxious to know that all of the surfaces are sandstone - she mentions it a good three or four times. Ana is greeted by a pretty blonde receptionist and spends another paragraph castigating her own physical appearance again. I can see a theme forming.
Ana also laments the fact that, just as she doesn't feel she fits in these opulent surroundings, she in fact, doesn't fit in anywhere. The middle-class white woman just about to graduate university is sad because she doesn't fit in. Pass me the tissues. "Nothing changes," Ana sighs. Given that all we've heard from Ana in the first five pages is endless droning about how dull and ugly she is, and how bad her life is, no wonder she feels isolated. Would you be friends with this person?
Ana waits in a (sandstone, obv) lobby, with a beautiful blonde behind a desk and another leaving Mr Grey’s office. The narrator affectionately refers to them as “Blonde Number One” and “Blonde Number Two”. Objectification of women – tick!
Here, we finally get to meet the enigmatic Mr Grey. Ana is nervous - which is fair enough, she probably hasn’t done anything like this before – and I understand that persistent clumsiness is a trait of Bella Swan, the character Ana started life as, but never in my life have I ever heard of anyone falling ‘head first’ into an office. Did she take a run up? Was there an elaborate swan dive? Even when I've tripped, I don't think I've ever fallen 'head first' anywhere. Nevertheless, that is apparently what Ana does, ending up on all-fours in front of Christian Grey. *foreshadowing alert*
She waxes lyrical about how hot he is. As if we expected anything less. The ‘unruly copper hair’, which I got so sick of hearing about all the way through the Twilight series, is back with a vengeance in 50 Shades.
They get down to the interview. Christian Grey spews some cheesy pre-written spiel about how he bases his decisions on logic and facts, and how he makes himself the master of any scheme in order to succeed. The romantic leads in all these novels don't talk like real people, they talk like men in perfume adverts.
We are treated to our first glimpse of sociopathic!Christian. He talks about assuring himself constantly, in his secret reveries (who talks like that?!) that he was born to control things, and goes on about how much power and money he has. Imagine if someone you'd just met started saying this to you? Ana forgives him for talking in embarrassing riddles because he's hot. Hot men can get away with being sociopaths.
Ana starts the interview, asking him questions about his company and his ambitions - the kind of stuff you'd want to put in a college newspaper about a local CEO. Ana quickly gets bored of all that interesting stuff and asks him what we all really want to know: is Christian gay?
I have literally no idea why this would be in a list of questions Kate has drawn up for a piece in a college newspaper - does she think she's going to get a nationwide scoop? I also have no idea why the author thinks it's appropriate to include the question within the narrative especially because Christian's response is to get weirdly angry about it, as though homosexuality is some kind of insult.
Once he’s established he is straight, Christian turns the tables and asks Ana what she wants to do now that she has finished her studies. “I shrug, thrown by his interest. Come to Seattle with Kate, find a place, find a job. I haven’t really thought beyond my finals,” says the narrator. Oh goody. Nice to know that those years of expensive education and hard work have given you such high aspirations and ambitions. I think it’s great that you’d allow your best friend to dictate where you were going to live after college simply because her parents are rich enough to buy her an apartment, and I am just crazy about the fact that you’ve already finished your final exams and don’t have a clue about where your future is heading, nor how you’re going to pay back those costly student loans. Brilliant. She might as well have said she’s waiting for some rich and powerful CEO to sweep her off her feet and give her everything she ever dreamed of.
Usually, by this point (not even at the end of the first chapter), those last sentences would have affirmed that this book was definitely not for me. It was only sheer morbid curiosity that allowed me to carry on.