1. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    50 Shades of Grey

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by jazzabel, Dec 23, 2012.

    I heard of "50 Shades of Grey" a few months ago, and didn't immediately want to read it mainly because of so many scathing reviews. But something bugged me. How can something so terrible sell so well? Street cred of this novel increased markedly, to my horrendous surprise, when I read that Victoria Beckham is totally into it. Naturally, it had nothing to do with the visual of David Beckham in faded, ripped jeans. And of course there's that ongoing bitch-fight over who will get to play the female protagonist (Anastasia) in an upcoming movie. I got intrigued so I read one of the interviews with the author and then I read the first chapter. I scoffed it down and then I scoffed at it. I needed time to feel comfortable with the idea of reading it.

    A few crime thrillers later, I picked it up again. I don't want to give away the plot, but there is one, and it is this rather than the sex scenes that made me continue all the way into the third book. The sex scenes that are the main reason everyone is reading it, are initially excellent. Honestly, I haven't felt that excited reading a sex scene in a novel since I secretly read Danielle Steel when I was a teenager. The most appealing thing about Christian Grey (the male protagonist) is that he is every teenage girl's fantasy. I distinctly remember my friends and I describing a guy that looked exactly like him, all the way down to the ripped and faded jeans, barefoot and nothing else, although the undone top button was a nice contribution to the familiar image. In our fantasies he was also extremely sexually virile, incredibly good looking and so bewitched with us that his existence had no meaning unless he was with us. I must admit that copper blond hair was never on my list of turn-ons and that made reading slightly difficult because I kept imagining him with dark hair so every time she mentioned copper blonde, it jolted me out of my suspended disbelief, but there's no way of pleasing everyone. Also, in our girly fantasies we were tying him up but really, we wished it was the other way around. EL James explored that angle quite well overall, mixing sexual, emotional and psychological into a page-turning mix.

    Just a brief mention about the setting. To a British reader, it is clear that the book was originally set in Britain because the "Seattle" setting reads as a forced correction. This is a little disheartening because it communicates to the aspiring writer that his books won't sell unless they are precisely catered for American audiences, and I for one feel iffy about that. Are American audiences really that self-centred that they wouldn't buy this book if it was set in London or Cambridge? If not, than this was another marketing decision for which I feel the book has suffered because the setting of Seattle read rather false and tourist-brochure-like. But overall it is not a flaw that stopped me reading, so I suppose the decision paid off.

    I quite liked the externalisation of superego and id in form of her Subconscious and her Inner Goddess which behaved like a multiple personality disorder of sorts, but like every other good thing in that trilogy, by the time you reached the third book, it all read rather formulaic and roll-eye inducing.

    Speaking of eye-rolling, I could really "feel" Christian as a flesh and bones character. A little bit less so with Anastasia, and I think that's because the author tried to distance herself from her in order to avoid writing a Mary-Sue. She certainly succeeded in that because a character that at times feels extremely annoying and emotionally repetitive is anything but perfect. I see how that worked reasonably well especially if the alternative was the most self-indulgent author insertion, but I think the overall repetitiveness is due to something other than being at the core of Ana's character. I suppose the decision to distance oneself from the character you are writing (in first person!) even though sometimes unavoidable, can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, by making Anastasia a template character, the reader can better immerse herself in the story, but the downside is that Anastasia is a lot less three-dimentional than Christian, which can be disappointing at times.

    The first 3/4 of the book were a thrill, truly a ride I appreciated. Second book, I could just about stand to not skim over the pages, and not even to get to the sex scenes but to see what happens in the plot which involves a bit of mystery, suspense and an emotional and psychological journey (Christian's, of course). Third book, which I'm half-way through now, is becoming slightly torturous. It is nowhere near the first book in terms of quality but I want to follow the plot to its conclusion. It's as if what truly should have been two books (remove a couple of superfluous sex scenes from the first, about 40% of superfluous angst and sex from the second and distil the plot and sex scenes (there are still a few good ones) in the third book), you'd end up with about 1000 pages of pure bliss. This way, it feels like the publisher got greedy.

    I suppose that's one aspect of publishing I really dislike. My first contact with a publisher involved him getting carried away with re-organising my material, talking about spinning and defining and targeting and covering, and I ran away screaming before we even signed the contract. I know, that sounds very immature. Maybe I'm just being naive but I wish EL James didn't let them butcher her story like that. Still, I enjoyed reading it, even though at times it felt like masochism.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    did you write this for possible publication, or just for yourself?

    since it's posted in the workshop, do you want it critiqued?
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was trying to figure out where to post it, since it's just a review (I don't write many of those). But feel free to critique it, English isn't my first language and I didn't have any native speaker look at it so I'm sure there are a few mistakes :D
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it's in the Writing Workshop, it is up for critique.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a quick question Cogito, where else can we post book reviews on this site? I had a bit of trouble deciding where.
     
  6. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Thank you for your review, it shed some light into the book I know only by hearsay.
    Sill, I'm afraid I would need some spoilers to get into trouble of spending money on it :D
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just can't bring myself to talk spoilers :D But there are a few very good scenes I can think of. Maybe you can get it at the library? I got mine on kindle and it was much cheaper than the actual book.
     
  8. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Yeah, I might get it either from the library or from online e-book store, but I'm afraid I'm not going to get to it,
    'cos my final thesis is haunting me in my sleep, so are the books I have to read for its purpose :D There are so many
    interesting books I sometimes get depression from the fact I'll be able to read a fraction of them, at the best of times.
    I eavesdropped a conversation of two shop assistants, one of them said it was just a porn, the younger flushed and and
    peeped "yes" :D
     
  9. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't worry about reading, it took me a while after University to rekindle my love of the written word :D Well, I suppose there are scenes which could be considered porn, albeit quite well written (at times) and entirely from the female perspective, all of which is quite unlike classic porn. Personally, I see it as a romance novel in which not too much was left to the imagination. Overall I have to say I am glad I read it, even though it has it's flaws, mainly on the writing and characterisation side.
     
  10. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    ...I'm rekindling my love of written word at the moment, historical moment of my life, I would say :D
    ...from the female perspective, you say ? Might be a fair probe into woman's perception of sex. I'll consider reading it, after all :D
    Does it work ? Having said the female MC behaves sometimes as templated, would you say her perception of them sex scenes is credible ?
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the first book it works mostly quite well. Then in each following book, you'll run into more scenes that are just copying previously successful ones, and that becomes annoying after a while. But she spaces out good bits so it kept me reading.
     
  12. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I see. I wonder if book follow-ups are ordered by the publisher to the author, or if the follow-ups are published on his or her own accord. I've been
    wondering about the relationship between the two for quite a time. Cos, naturally, after some time, repetitions are inevitable.
    That's why I like Neil Gaiman and King - they don't write follow-ups to their books. To me as a reader, it feels convenient; on book, one story. Period.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like trilogies, but only when the author feels the story needs it. Peter Hamilton's "Void Trilogy" was excellent and full of content. Here i think it was publisher greed, and it shows :(
     
  14. Frog
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    Frog Member

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    I've heard some pretty disturbing things about that book. I'm not exactly a libertine, so the mere fact that it's incredibly graphic would disturb me a little, but then I read this;
    For those of you who don't feel like following the link, the author is basically contending that 50 Shades is child pornography. I don't have any intention of reading it either way, but I am interested in your thoughts on that, @jazzabel, and the thoughts of anybody else who's read it.
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Frog, thanks for your input! To be perfectly honest, there's nothing disturbing or "incredibly graphic" in the book, it's simply an honest description of sex from a female point of view, and a half-decent plot. There are no children in whatsoever. The main character Anastasia, 22 years old, happens to be a virgin in the beginning. That is all. The male character (who is 27 in the book) was sexually abused as a teenager, by a dominatrix, which left him messed up, on a background of being abused and neglected as a baby, before he was adopted, but that is explored for what it is, I thought that was done in a good way.
    I can only imagine that people who were severely traumatised in abusive relationships would find the whole playful sub-dom thing triggering, other than that, only a prude could call this pornography. I see more humiliation and demeaning of women in an average rap video, let alone on the internet.
    It's just a romance novel, but written with due attention to female experience of sex. The (in reality rather vanilla version of) bdsm theme might not be a turn on for everybody but there's nothing more sinister to it than that, methinks.

    ps. I just read the letter in the link. That looks like a good example of a person who was triggered by the bdsm theme. But I would have to completely disagree with what they said, it's just an overreaction and misunderstanding, imho.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're posting just to have it read, then 'the lounge' is the proper place to put it... being in the workshop means you want the writing quality critiqued and to not have the content discussed or debated, which is not allowed in the workshop sections...

    you should probably ask a moderator to move it for you, so the discussion of your opinions can continue 'lawfully'...
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, I see. Ok, next time I know where to post. Since I don't mind the content or the writing being discussed, I'll leave it here and if anyone else wants it moved, I won't mind :) Thanks for the information maia!
     
  18. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Book discussion should go in the Book Discussion subforum. Hence the move.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you for the information.
     
  20. Tanner05
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    Tanner05 New Member

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    Yeah I tried to read it, but couldn't get over the main character's name. Anastasia Steele is possibly the worst name I've ever read.
    From the beginning the character was whining about her appearance. Which as a woman I find nearly offensive for an author to portray a woman who is supposed to be attractive as so cliche and weak. As if being insecure is the only way to find a man. From other reviews it sounded like Anastasia Steele resembled Bella Swan (Twilight) in the fact that they had no outside interest other than the man she was with. I'll admit I didn't try very hard to get into the books. My negative review could have easily been colored by the people I know who read the book.
    I know the sex scenes are the driving force of this book. However, it isn't worth it to me to read sex scenes in a book like that when there are plenty go good written sex scenes to be had elsewhere.

    Take my review with a grain of salt. I have never been much of a Romance reader.
     
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tanner: I don't read Romance at all either :D Your asessement is fair. I went through the same dilemma after reading the first chapter and didn't pick it up again for 3 months. Anastasia is exactly as you described her, but the book was worth reading for Christian's character development.
     
  22. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read all 3 books in 3 days. I had fun reading them, and what mostly kept me going was to see what ends up happening to Christian. I agree that the sex scenes got repetitive, and especially by the end they were boring. And the book required a huge suspension of disbelief.

    What irks most people is that the 3 books, which are really just one long story, were basically her first draft of the story, never edited (at least not professionally, and I really wonder if she did much self-editing, because if this was edited, I can't imagine how much it dragged on in a prior state.) People tend to forget that this never went through the traditional publishing process -- had it been edited, the story would have been cut by at least 1/3, maybe half, or maybe even more than that. This story began as fan fic, and I believe the author had somehow self-published. It became a huge hit, and people were trying to buy the paper book, but it was backordered. It became very popular in e-format, and then RH, I believe purchased the rights to it -- it was a no-brainer for a traditional publisher, because there was already huge demand for the books, which almost never happens. So there wasn't any real editing, which largely explains whey we have so many repetitive scenes, and some pretty unrealistic elements in the story.

    The Anastasia character was at times annoying. I don't know how much it really says about sex in general from a female POV -- it talks about this one scenario, and the BDSM stuff is pretty light as far as that goes. I will say that most of the things this character seems to like don't appeal to me in the least, so I'm not sure you can use this story to infer much about women in general. Also, she ends up changing Christian as much or more than he changes her, so some of the criticisms about him being dominant and her being weak are, in my opinion, misplaced.

    There is nothing about the books that could be considered child pornography. The link above has been removed, so I can't speak to the point in the original article. There is reference to sex acts that happened when Christian was 15 or so, but I think it is a huge stretch to claim that is child porn.

    I've never read any other romance novels, so I can't speak to how much it represents that genre. From what I understand of them, this story is not really typical. Although I did enjoy reading them, I can't say I really felt good about myself after having done so. I felt the same way I feel when I get sucked into some kind of cheesy made-for-television movie that I end up watching all afternoon on the couch. I was genuinely entertained, but afterward felt slightly stupider for having read it and shook my head at the time I spent on it. But, my feeling is that every once in a while you need an afternoon on the couch with cheesy tv and some chips. Hard to justify afterward, but oh so nice every once in a while.
     
  23. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't realise it wasn't significantly edited! I can't imagine selling so many books and not trying to bring it up to scratch. How strange... But it explains a few things. With Anastasia, I meant that the book offered a better than usual insight into the female point of view. Even though I kept thinking how I'd have been out of the door if I was in her shoes, and it did take huge suspended disbelief initially, but once I bought the premise (because the actual plot hooked me), it was better :)
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    She may have thought it was fine --sometimes when you've spent so much time on something, you don't even know what it says anymore. And obviously a lot of people were quite content with it the way it was.

    I constantly thought it was odd that she placed it in Seattle and wondered why it didn't just take place in London. The characters used so many British words and phrases that Americans don't use, and given that none of them had spent significant time in Britain and had no particular connection to Britain made it especially jarring. I kept picturing them with British accents, which made no sense, given that they were Americans, and Anastasia had never left the country.

    And there simply are no 27 year old real estate moguls/stock broker "Master of the Universe" types anymore. It would have made much more sense for him to be some kind of internet/techie billionaire. Her (EL James') age really showed, since Christian's type of rich guy existed about 25 years ago.

    Those are the types of things that a professional editor would have caught. Also, can you just imagine the query -- "I have a 1500 page (however many words that translates to - 300,000? romance book, heavy on kinky sex. This is my first novel and I envision it as a trilogy."

    But that just shows that the traditional publishers don't always know what's going to succeed. I think that's why there's such a dichotomy of opinion in the public as a whole, versus people in the writing business. And even within both of those groups, there are pro and anti-FSOG camps, for very different reasons.
     
  25. twohappymonkeys
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    To be fair, I haven't read the books yet, but I have read some reviews and interviews with the author. From my understanding, the author started the novel as a fanfiction story from Twilight, which is why it was set in Seattle. I've been putting off reading the books, since it seemed a little too obtusely sexualised, but you're review has my curiosity piqued. I may have to pick up the books sooner, rather than later. I'm a Washington native, so after I read it I can comment on whether or not it feels authentic to the Puget Sound or not.
     

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