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June 18, 2012

The ESC Reads 50 Shades of Grey (so you don't have to)

WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers. But, of course, that's kind of the point.

We recently wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey (and the sleazy guys who use it to pick up women) but we admittedly hadn't fully read it yet so our criticisms while probably valid, weren't completely fair. So we decided to tackle the series, one book at a time and give everyone chapter-by-chapter summaries and critique. We're going to read Fifty Shades of Grey... so you don't have to.

Chapter One

Summary: College student Anastasia Steele goes to interview mega-industrialist tycoon Christian Grey for the school paper because her beautiful roommate Katherine got sick. Anastasia is clumsy and awkward and nervous and acts like an idiot. Christian Grey is rich and hot and kind of a dick. He shows her a little bit of attention which makes her bug out because she's an insecure moron. That's about all that happens in Chapter One.

Sexiness factor (scale of 1-10): 1

Nothing remotely sexy happens in this chapter. Despite the fact that the author wants us to believe that Christian Grey is so damn good looking that Anastasia literally feels electricity shooting through his fingers when they shake hands, there's nothing in there that sounds like an actual turn-on.

Number of insecure/self-deprecating thoughts Anastasia has: 16.
"I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up."

"I’ve never been comfortable with one-on-one interviews, preferring the anonymity of a group discussion where I can sit inconspicuously at the back of the room. To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a colossal glass and stone edifice."

Number of times Anastasia thinks about how hot Christian is: 5
"So young – and attractive, very attractive."

"He really is beautiful. No one should be this good-looking."

"He really is very, very good-looking."
Okay, we get it - he's hot.

Number of references to Christian's hands: 14

Number of references specifically to his fingers: 7
"He extends a long-fingered hand to me once I’m upright."

"He’s watching me, one hand relaxed in his lap and the other cupping his chin and trailing his long index finger across his lips."

"The way he strokes his index finger against his lower lip? I wish he’d stop doing that."

"His long index finger presses the button summoning the elevator, and we stand waiting."
...because when you think 'sexiest body parts', index fingers always make your top three, right?

Plot Holes, Fact Checking Fails, and Other Observations:

At the beginning of the chapter we're told that Anastasia absolutely has to fill in for Kate and do this interview for the school newspaper. So we have to wonder, does Kate run the entire newspaper by herself or what? It's established that Christian Grey is a very well-known and successful local entrepreneur who rarely gives interviews, and yet none of the other reporters and editors at the paper were able or willing to take this assignment when Kate got sick?

Of course, it's possible that Kate is just as clueless as Anastasia, since one of the questions on her list for the interview was "Are you gay?" Did we mention that this is all for the graduation issue of the school paper and that Christian Grey is going to be conferring the degrees at the ceremony? So naturally what all of the graduates and their families are just dying to read about is his sexual orientation. (There's also a fascinating question about whether he has any hobbies.) Insightful reporting, Kate.

Anastasia embarrasses herself about twelve different times while attempting to interview Christian, mostly because she was totally unprepared and literally knew nothing about him before meeting him. She blames this entirely on Kate for "not providing me with a brief biography", because apparently she was incapable of doing a quick Google search ahead of time or saying something like 'so, who is this guy that you want me to interview anyway?' If she hadn't spent so much time at the beginning of the chapter whining about her bad hair day and the "ordeal" of going to do the interview, she might have had time to get her shit together a little bit.

Some of the worst writing in this chapter:
The roads are clear as I set off from Vancouver, WA toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early, and I don’t have to be in Seattle until two this afternoon. Fortunately, Kate’s lent me her sporty Mercedes CLK. I’m not sure Wanda, my old VW Beetle, would make the journey in time. Oh, the Merc is a fun drive, and the miles slip away as I floor the pedal to the metal. My destination is the headquarters of Mr. Grey’s global enterprise.
Oh, the Merc is a fun drive. We had to Google "merc" to find out if that was even a real word anyone has ever said and apparently it's British slang. This is a perfect example of how the author gave the characters her voice, instead of their own unique voices. (E L James is from the U.K.) Instead of doing any research into the regional dialects of Washington state to see if the dialogue worked, James just wrote it in British slang. Seriously, if you re-read the chapter with a British accent in your head it actually sounds so much better.
She hands me a security pass that has VISITOR very firmly stamped on the front. I can't help my smirk. Surely it's obvious that I'm just visiting. I don't fit in here at all. Nothing changes, I inwardly sigh.
Nothing changes! What is she, 14? I just don't fit in here! Or anywhere! Wah! (And how does one inwardly sigh?)
Behind the leather chairs is a spacious glass-walled meeting room with an equally spacious dark wood table and at least twenty matching chairs around it. Beyond that, there is a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the Seattle skyline that looks out through the city toward the Sound. It’s a stunning vista, and I’m momentarily paralyzed by the view. Wow.
She's acting like she's never been in a building taller than two stories in her entire life. We've been to Seattle a couple of times and gone to the top of the Space Needle and all of that, and the views are beautiful. But...momentarily paralyzed? Yeah, wow is right.
His office is way too big for just one man.
Have we mentioned that Anastasia is a moron?

The foreshadowing during the interview itself is so heavy-handed. Christian says that he "exercises control in all things" and that "immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things”. And that's before Anastasia even gets to the questions about what he likes to do for fun:
“I have varied interests, Miss Steele.” A ghost of a smile touches his lips. “Very varied.” And for some reason, I’m confounded and heated by his steady gaze. His eyes are alight with some wicked thought.

“Well, to ‘chill out’ as you put it – I sail, I fly, I indulge in various physical pursuits.” He shifts in his chair. “I’m a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive and absorbing hobbies.”
Okay, E L James, we get it! We picked up your very subtle hints. We'll keep reading, we promise.

Conclusion: Nothing interesting happened yet. We already hate Anastasia and Christian, so it's kind of hard to get excited over their brief and awkward first meeting. The parallels to Bella and Edward from Twilight are clear. Bella and Anastasia are both awkward and annoying and have no personality. Edward and Christian are both arrogant and aloof and total control freaks. Anastasia is actually observant enough at this point to realize that Christian is an arrogant control freak...but he's just so attractive and he has those sexy index fingers that gave her an "exhilarating shiver", so we don't expect her to hold on to that opinion for too much longer. We are dreading having to read another 25 chapters of this, but we're hopeful that at least once the sex starts we'll have something interesting to discuss.


Kelli Rose said...

Since it's a proven fact that this series was originally written as a Twilight fanfiction, the Twilight themes are pretty much the point. This is also part of why it's crap, because it's imitating crap to begin with.

Elodie said...

The foreshadowing during the interview itself is so heavy-handed. Christian says that he "exercises control in all things" and that "immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things

Honestly that all makes it sound like Christian's a lot more likely to be sexually submissive than dominant. It's a cliche that people who have to control everything and have a lot of responsibility outside the bedroom find submission in the bedroom relaxing and erotic. Obviously that doesn't mean it's always true, but it's true often enough that that's what I thought when I read that part.

RealityMonster said...

'Merc' is pretty common slang for a Mercedes, but you kind of have to be into cars. I'm Canadian, and I had no idea it was 'British' slang.

Still, there's a lot of bad writing in the examples you cited.

Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

Spacious twice in the same sentence and the phrase "very varied" both kind of killed it for me.

scott meek said...

Keep ripping it apart. I'm loving every second. As a writer, I have no problem enjoying watching shoddy writing and poor storytelling about an unhealthy relationship be ripped to shreds. As a man, I've been in enough kink relationships to know good kink from bad, and all I've heard/seen about this story is it's bad and should be outed as what not to look for in any kind of relationship, certainly not an S&M one.

Keji said...

Your review has been infinitely more entertaining than that hot mess of a book has or ever can be.

I can't wait to read more of what you guys write which is not at all what I said when I read the original 50 Shades (Masters of the Universe).

Anonymous said...

You forgot this gem in the crappy writing (I read a sample). I'm paraphrasing, but it was the word besieged that counts:

It was Saturday and the store was besieged by do-it-yourselfers. The other part-timers and I were besieged with customers.

Thanks EL, aside from the same word in rapid fire, we basically get the same sentence back to back.

Anonymous said...

Don't know why this is bothering me so much but "I set off from Vancouver, WA toward Portland..." Has the author ever looked at a map? Portland is south of the 'Couv so Ana would be inexplicably driving south across the Columbia River into Oregon only to turn around and go back north to reach Seattle. Everything else is utterly ridiculous also, thanks for sparing me from actually reading this drivel.