Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Krispy's sister is 50% to blame for this because her curiosity about the book infected me like a zombie plague. Unlike a zombie plague, this book wasn't kind enough to turn me into the shambling unthinking unfeeling undead. Like a zombie plague, the book destroyed my brain.

We're going to do this a little differently than normal—this book is 95% Twilight fanfiction and everything in it is godawful baaaaad. So I'm just going to summarize bits with doodles because I lack the ability to coherently aslkfja;ldfja;dfa when it comes to this supreme piece o' crap. There are no spoilers because there is no plot as such but I mean I guess if you think finding out about Grey's deeeeep daaaaark past (which he summarizes to Ana in literally eleven words) is a spoiler, then be forewarned.

I'm partway into the second book which isn't really a second book since it seems like the way-too-long story just got chopped up into a book-sized pieces. So there may be Fifty Shades Darker info mentioned here because I can't keep them straight. Book 2 is just as bad, btw.

Fifty Shades of Failure Grey by E. L. James

Pros: Sharing the horrible hilarity with Krispy and her sister.
Cons: Having to actually skim the book in order to share the horrible hilarity.

Intellectual Rating: 0 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: F

Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind - until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time.

The unworldly, innocent Ana is shocked to realize she wants this man, and when he warns her to keep her distance it only makes her more desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her - but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey's singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family – Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a passionate, physical and daring affair, Ana learns more about her own dark desires, as well as the Christian Grey hidden away from public scrutiny.

Can their relationship transcend physical passion? Will Ana find it in herself to submit to the self-indulgent Master? And if she does, will she still love what she finds?

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Alz's Take: To backpedal, Krispy's sister wanted to know why the book is titled Fifty Shades of Grey. Krispy and I assumed that this probably had to do with the layers of the guy's personality at best or was random at worst. Something or other had led Krispy's sister to believe that this was some kind of codename or codeword or at any rate had something more to it.

Which impetus set me to reading this travesty of a book.

Long story short, Krispy and I were right. It does have to do with his personality since the first mention of "fifty shades" has Grey referring to himself as "fifty shades of fucked-up" (Ch. 16) and later Ana refers to his "fifty shades". And later she starts calling him Fifty Shades in her head. Repeatedly. Like at least twice a chapter. Sometimes more. STOP TITLE DROPPING.

Ahem. Let's move on and meet our protagonists! Meet Anastasia Steele, a naïve clumsy senior college student virgin majoring in English Literature at Washington State University and yet who does not own a computer, have an email address, or own any clothes except t-shirts, jeans, and "Converse shoes" which any normal person would simply call Converses. (Normal American person, anyway, the author is British and yes this shows itself very clearly in the writing. This will be touched on later.)

Anastasia Steele is completely and absolutely totally without question
entirely wholly unlike Isabella Swan. I mean, it's not like
their names even have the same number of syllables!
And this is Christian Grey, an entrepreneur of lots of stuff that is rarely specifically mentioned, president and CEO, makes $100,000 an hour, is not into BDSM because he considers himself a Dominant and wants Ana to be his Submissive because omg there's just something special about her because her blood smells so good.

Except he should have gray eyes.
And an abusive childhood.
And a taste for bondage.
 For sanity purposes, I'm going to represent Ana and Grey like this:

Complete with Converses and gray tie, respectively.
 So Christian is just totally stalker-obsessed with Ana from the moment they meet—which is because her college-newspaper-journalist roommate is sick and can't make it to the Christian interview. Rather than get one of her fellow journalists or someone actually competent to sub for her, she asks Ana to do so. Like any good interviewer, Ana goes into the interview completely blind without even doing a token Google search or bothering to ask her roommate what, exactly, the interview is for. Nor does she bother to read beforehand the list of (completely inappropriate) questions her roommate gives her, which results in her blurting out questions, much to her mortification.

For no particular reason, Christian decides that Ana is totally hawt and he wants to spank her senseless in his Red Room of Pain as soon as she signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement and Dominant/Submissive Contract. Of course, he does not mention this immediately since he has more of a sense of appropriateness than Ana.

Blah blah Ana works at a hardware store and her boss likes her and her boss's son totally digs her and Jacob in this story is a Latino boy rather than Native American and his name is therefore José and of course he's into poor plain mousy-haired Ana too. Later on, when Ana finally gets a job at a publishing house, her boss there hits on her constantly too. Because the only men in this story either want into Ana's designer panties (worn courtesy of Christian) or are friendly "avuncular" figures.

The text uses this word a lot to describe the non-sexual/non-threatening men in this book. You read that correctly: all men who are sexually attracted to Ana are skeezy threatening guys who don't know how to stop when a girl says "no" or "I have a boyfriend." Including Christian—oh wait, except Ana never actually tells him to stop during their kinky sexytimes, and he gets legitimately angry later on when she starts crying and whining and breaking up with him over it because he reminds her that hey, THEY HAVE SAFEWORDS, why didn't she use them or just tell him to stop?

She also "forgets" to use the safeword after she
insists that he go ahead and beat her with a leather belt.
Afterward she cries and goes ballistic and breaks up with him...
...for less than a week. Then they're back together!
All right. Clearly I can't manage to keep anything chronological in this not-really-a-review because GOD the book is so horrible and I cannot possibly see how Christian is remotely attractive aside from being a physically hot billionaire. The fact that he's a stalker and a creeper and a control freak does not apparently factor. And the disgusting thing is that Ana kind of acknowledges that he is a stalker-creeper control freak (in fact she repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly calls him a control freak) and kind of thinks it's creepy, but then d'aww he's so sweet sometimes and makes her melt and he only wants to protect her. ♥

As for Ana, she couldn't beat a potato in a battle of wits. For the first half of the first book, she's always tripping over things and knocking things over and falling on her face because she's Bella, but like Bella, her extreme look-at-this-cute-character-flaw-I-have-in-lieu-of-personality quirk eventually vanishes. What is left? Her "harpy" of a subconscious and her "inner goddess", which seem to be two separate entities living in Ana's head: the former is a prissy little prude while the latter is an overused metaphor (or maybe it's literal for all I know) that performs acrobatics such as backflips and pirouettes as a sign of excitement at forthcoming "kinky fuckery"—which is another of those overused phrases that gets kicked around in this book.

I think there could be an actual legitimate paper written about the representation of the subconscious repressing female sexuality and how social conventions have ingrained that sense of shame into the female subconscious. Except that I don’t think the author put nearly that much thought into it, especially since the word "subconscious" is used incorrectly, considering that Ana's subconscious is more of a superconscious since it's very vocal and at the forefront of what little mind she has. (Another part of me notes the irony of her subconscious being the only inner voice with a sense of self-preservation while Christian wants Ana to be his "Sub." Unlike Ana, I was a real English major and did analysis to write essays on my computer.)

One of my favorite parts was pretty early in the book, after Ana and Christian have coffee at a shop, during which time Ana is severely attracted to him and Christian is broodingly mysteriously warning Ana to stay away from him. They go for a walk and then! Something happens!

This is the quality of scene and plot you can expect throughout the fanfic book. There are even better things later on in the second book, like how one of Christian's crazy ex-subs is stalking Ana and is potentially armed and dangerous and even breaks into Christian's apartment to stand over Ana's bed watching her sleep and slashes the tires of Ana's Audi (a grad gift from Christian) and throws paint on it. Ana naturally asks if they should go to the police. Christian in all his wisdom replies thusly:

(Ch. 8, Fifty Shades DarkerI

That totally makes sense, Christian. It's okay though since he has his own security team and everything and his proposed solution is to lock Ana up until they catch the crazy girl. Everything Christian does make sense! Including how he speaks:

(Ch. 8, Fifty Shades Darker)
Since, you know, normal people talk like that in casual conversation.

Oh, and about the author being British—it shows. Especially since it's first-person narration and Ana will frequently bust out some very non-American turns of phrase:

But enough of all that. You all really want to know about the sexytimes and the Red Room of Pain since this is after all erotica and the sexytimes is what's making this book such a big deal. If you are of a delicate constitution or are just plain embarrassed, you may wish to skip the next section. On the other hand, you may just want to satisfy your curiosity since from all the hype I was expecting some seriously screwed up and hardcore stuff and…well, my expectations far exceeded the book.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.  (Scroll to the next bold red text to skip the next section.)

Christian does indeed have a Red Room of Pain full of whips and chains and floggers and ropes and etc., but the majority of the sexytimes in this book take place away from this sanctum. They only do it like twice in that room: I can't even remember if he just spanks her the first time and they do it or if that was in her room, and the second time he ties her to the bed and makes her wear a blindfold and ear buds to listen to music while he (gently) flogs her.

Which is not to say that there's a lack of erotic acts in this book! Oh no. They do it all the time, although much of the time it is "vanilla" by Christian's own admission—he's never had vanilla sex before! Only with Ana! Her first time was his first vanilla time—but it was okay because it was with her! Because she's so special! Oh yes, Christian deflowers Ana vanillaly because he was shocked to discover she was a virgin and wanted her to know what a normal experience was like before he started Dominating her.

Dominating her includes her signing that contract, which despite the flack I've seen around in other reviews I have to say seems like a good idea—in that it lays out the groundwork for exactly how screwed up their relationship is going to be, what to expect and not to expect, what each partner will and won't do, etc., and the terms are negotiable. Though I have to say that having a section that specifically says that Christian is not interested in, detailing such things as "[n]o acts involving children or animals" (Ch. 7), would immediately ring alarm bells—like, for example, if you list such screwed up things, what are you not listing?

On the other hand, having a list of pre-approved foods and being unable to snack between the three specified meals a day "with the exception of fruit" (Ch. 7) does seem a bit much. Just a bit.

But yes. All the time. They do it in bed, and then they do it again, and then in the morning they wake up and do it, and then they go take a bath together and do it. Then they spend their time at work productively by emailing each other all day long, which we the readers are gifted with reading verbatim, every. Single. Freaking. Email.

Then! They squabble over silly little things like Christian's stalking Ana or Ana biting her lip and sending Christian into a fit of lust. Seriously, the book mentions every other page how Ana bites her lip and Christian ends up a mad drooling beast of desire.

But then they have makeup sex so it's okay. They go to visit his parents and do it in the boathouse, and later in the next book they do it in his old room at his parents' house. Oh, Christian has a custom-designed-and-built yacht in book 2 and they do it on the yacht. They do it at Ana's condo (after college, she lives in her rich roommate's condo and still wears her roomie's clothes, or does until Christian buys her a designer wardrobe) and they do it in the elevator of Christian's baller apartment, although at least he had the sense to hit the "stop" button first.

Let's see, where else do they do it? They haven't done it in the car yet, much to my surprise, considering there were plenty of opportunities in Christian's Audi SUV or Ana's Audi. They haven't done it in public yet. But I bet they will. I don't know if I can continue reading this crap, even though all I'm doing is skimming.


Uhh, what else. Christian was apparently abused as a child before he was adopted and his mother was a crack-whore. Seriously. That's about all the info you get in the first book. There's even this whole section of Ana being like Oh Christian I want to know about you and he's like, No baby I don't want to tell you, and then she agrees to let him have his kinky way with her if he'll tell her about his Deep Dark Past.

Afterward, when she asks him to keep his end of the bargain, he says, "'The woman who brought me into this world was a crack-whore, Anastasia. Go to sleep.'" (Ch. 20)

And she goes to sleep.

Christian's got this seriously creepy weird thing going on with food, by the way. He's always asking Ana if she's eaten, insisting she eat, and scolding her for not eating, and getting all creepy glaring and angry when she doesn't finish her food. This was the sole reason that pushed me to keep on reading past the first book because I wanted to know WTF was up with that—and by this point, it could very well be just his weird vaguely abusive childhood where his mom's pimp beat him sometimes and in general he was neglected and maybe didn't always have enough to eat.

Ana is the Vanilla Sun to Christian's Sparkling Vampire Skin Dark and Tortured Soul. And Fifty Shades of Grey is Mace to Alz's Dark and Tortured Eyes.

A creepy controlling stalker makes the best boyfriend
as long as he's also a billionaire and hot.

Alz's Conclusion: It is so not worth your time. If you must, don't spend money on it and don't bother reading it. Skim. Or better yet, get someone to tell you what happens. You can ask me! I'll tell you! At long and bitterly-complaining masochistic length!


Lori M. Lee said...

I was secretly hoping you would review this book XD This is brilliant. Unlike the book.

Anonymous said...

as always, your reviews are brilliant. :)
and the doodles? so charming.

Yahong Chi said...


(In a non-creepy way that does not involve vanilla sex but does involve complete admiration over doodles and excellent reviews.)

Julie Dao said...

HAHAHAHA!!!! I love this review. I never planned on reading this book, but this post confirmed it.

Sophia Chang said...

So I kind of want to sic you on all the Twifanfic canon that the diehards love. There are some pretty famous ones...

Gennia said...

I didn't realize that she literally just took her Twilight fan fic and changed the names. Is that even legal? Thanks for linking to that Wiki page. I can't believe this woman is making millions every single day off of a bad fan fic.

Oh and your review is amazing. Thank you for suffering through it so that we don't have to.

Golden Eagle said...

I've been morbidly curious about this book for a while, but didn't want to read a random opinion or (the horror) take it out of the library. Excellent review. I have to say that the book seems more like comedy now. LOL.

Lydia Kang said...

What could be better than an Alz review of this complete with stick figures? I bow down to you.

Emy Shin said...

I was never going to read this book because of the fanfic thing* -- but I couldn't help but read your review, and I'm glad I did. Your review is so much more hilarious than the book could ever be.

* Nothing against fanfic in general. I love it. Used to write it and still read it. But taking a fic, changing the characters' names, and selling it to fans of that fandom? So totally not on.

linda said...

I am in awe that you actually made it through the entire thing (also, your doodles are amazing as usual). I actually skimmed the first few pages and just couldn't bring myself to submit to all the torture (har har). And I'm with everyone who said that your review >>>>> Fifty Shades of Grey. Like, times a million. At least.

Miranda Hardy said...

This is by far the best review I've read on 50 Shades. Too funny, and summed up so well.

Barbara Ann Wright said...


Connie Keller said...

I'd never considered reading the book, but now I know why.

BTW, loved the drawings!

Angela Brown said...

I rarely pass judgement on a book that I haven't read. I may hop on an "I'm not so sure" train of thought, but having had a difficult time reading Twilight (nearly tossed the damn thing into my wall but couldn't afford the cost of repairs), I've decided I just can not read these Fifty Shades novels. I wish the author continued success, but I just can't do it. And your review is spot on with some of the other complaints I've heard and read.

How did you actually make it through the novel without a series of unfortunate dry heaves and gags from the abuse of words?

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

That has to be the most hilarious review of the book I got to read so far! Your doodles certainly added a great touch to it! For sure this book isn't for me. I wasn't planning on reading it, and this is obviously not changing my mind hehe!

KatyRochelle said...

This totally cheered me up, and I needed to be cheered up badly. A totally fun read! Thank you!