Bottom of the bookshelf: Fifty Shades of Grey

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So, February has arrived, traditionally known as the month of love in which couples worldwide celebrate their unity. Love is a real pulling factor for every industry, with literature being no exception. There is no shortage of romantic stories on our bookshelves, and some of the most famous and successful of all stories are about love. Any utterance of Charlotte Brontë or Nicholas Sparks may fire up to reminiscing readers legions of memories about how “that” novel is the best love story ever written.

However, today I am not discussing works of great talent or linguistic capability, which took years of planning, writing and came from a genuine conviction to tell a compelling and interesting story. Today, we’re here to discuss a story that holds few of these qualities, yet has managed to be as commercially successful as these other romantic novels: Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps there’s nothing new to be said about the travesty of a series, but it still has managed to be arguably one of the bestselling series of books (and now movie trilogy) of the romantic genre in recent years, which beckons the question: why?

The answer to most seems simple: obviously, it’s the sex. Yet, having agonised through the 514 pages of the novel its selling point is actually very sparse, taking up only 68 pages, a mere 13% of the book! So, what exactly is there to entertain you for the rest of the 446 pages? Well, that’s entirely down to the insane internal monologue of our misguided protagonist: Anastasia Steele.

Steele is perhaps the most baffling character, and without her psychotic internal monologue relating this story, it wouldn’t be half as entertaining as it is. Of course, this book was derived from a Twilight fan fiction by E.L. James who then went by the name of “Snowqueens Icedragon” (which honestly didn’t need to be altered, as it matches the book quite well in its hilarity), and it shows. Her protagonist’s thoughts are hyper-descriptive but lack any sense of depth, as well as sometimes being outright bizarre with lines that seem comparable to the likes of sitcom characters such as Peep Show‘s Mark Corrigan:

“I must be the colour of the communist manefesto”

“It feels like I’ve time-traveled back to the sixteenth century and the Spanish Inquisition.”

“The Earth shifts slightly on its axis, the tectonic plates sliding into a new position.”

Not to mention the incessant motif of Steele discussing her “inner goddess”, a personification of her hormones – which itself grants such beautifully disastrous lines as:

“My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”

“My inner goddess is doing back flips in a routine worthy of a Russian Olympic gymnast.”

“It’s been swept under the rug that my inner goddess is lying on, eating grapes and tapping her fingers”

This leaves me wondering more about the mental stability of our protagonist due to her visualising such oddly specific scenarios than what is actually occurring in the story itself, which is inevitably quite dull once you strip away the insane writing holding it together. In some ways though, Steele’s crazy voice almost makes the story more viable – it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that a woman who personifies her hormones 52 times during the course of the novel would be crazy enough to hopelessly return to a man who constantly warns her to stay away from him.

Though Grey himself, of course, seems to be a contradiction in himself, saying these things but then pandering to her with excessive gifts and attention, all in the very romantic action of attempting to emotionally manipulate her. He himself has a plethora of serial-killer-esque lines along with an unhealthy obsession with Steele, which somehow we are supposed to pass off as loving affection. I myself am not sure in what world a line like “you really have the most beautiful skin” can be seen as seductive and tempting but somehow our protagonist is completely taken by it multiple times in the book.

So, just from these brief glimpses at what the book has to offer, surely there’s no wonder as to why it was such a success? Simply, it is very entertaining if nothing else, and as you are baffled by the mentality of the characters and the choices they make it becomes a page-turner, if not for all the wrong reasons. It will never rise above its self-built reputation of smut fan fiction, but it is the ridiculousness of the writing which makes it a book I will not forget soon (no matter how hard I try).