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50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James – An Honest Book Review (and a Bonus Peek at Christian Grey’s Condo)


I just finished reading E.L. James’ wildly-buzzed-about-and-speculated-upon erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Look, don’t judge me, it was for book club. And I only reread a few specific passages. No more than three or four times.

The truth is, the book is completely, almost inarguably ridiculous. The main male character is a perpetually-single, unattainable, billionaire playboy with both a helicopter AND a private jet. We learn he earned his money through “mergers and acquisitions”, but little else about his business acumen or clear, obvious genius – after all, this billionaire with haunted eyes and a predilection for pain is 27 years old. Stop laughing. This is serious business.

Anyway. It’s an inexcusably bad book, but it does have some pretty great saucy bits in it, if you 1) don’t mind a bit of spice with your sugar; 2) can get over the extreme discomfort felt by the reader upon realizing that our heroine, the unfortunately-named Anastasia Steele, does not want to be doing most of what she is doing, and is instead being untrue to herself in the feeble, desperate hopes of changing her paramour into someone who doesn’t revolt and terrify her; and 3) you can get past the hideousness of the writing. Massive points off for repetition alone – if I read the phrase “foil packet” (I get it, they’re practicing safe sex, kudos, let’s move on), “stop biting your lip” (maybe she’s hungry – she refuses to eat in front of Grey for most of the book), or “so and so gasped” (do these people have a waking form of apnea?) one more time, my head would have exploded.

What breaks my heart is that there is a lot of good erotica out there. If you are looking for books to float your boat, you need not to resort to one-dimensional, cliched fluff in order to find it. Sure, 50 Shades of Grey might have introduced a ball-gag or two (spoiler!), but I’d argue it’s still your basic, run-of-the-mill romance novel. Man is haunted and can’t be tamed, woman yearns to tame man and falls all over herself crying and trying to please him while talking about her inner goddess, man’s eyes widen in alarm and arousal every other page. Yawn. In short, it ain’t great. But it was a quick, easy read with some nice thrills, and I’m happy people are reading at all.

Now what’s this I hear about the potential of a film adaptation starring Ryan Gosling? That sounds like it would have some cultural worth and, um, artistic value. ‘Scuse me.

***Bonus! For those who have read the book (I’m sorry.), did you know that Christian Grey’s opulent, over-the-top and in-no-way-ridiculous-for-a-27-year-old condo was loosely based on a real building? Yup. It’s the Escala Building, a luxury high-rise in downtown Seattle. You can see photos of it at the Zillow blog, here.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

10 Responses to “50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James – An Honest Book Review (and a Bonus Peek at Christian Grey’s Condo)”

  1. Would you mind recommending any erotica that could also be mistaken for literature?

  2. Beth Carswell
    Beth Carswell May 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Sure, Tim – Delta of Venus by Anais Nin, Little Birds by Anais Nin, Vox by Nicholson Baker, some of the stories in “Aqua Erotica” were quite good, and Do Not Disturb: Stories of Hotel Sex, to name a few.

  3. That was the most honest review i got for a god damn third grade rip-off illegally-copyrighted fanfic-based plagiarism bulls***.
    How amazon.com reviewers give a 4.8 something rating out of 5 is over my head.
    I thank you for at least putting enough effort(at the very least more than average book reviewers, not counting exceptions) to analyse giving this written piece some decent, justified, and deserving praise for something that so grossly insults entire term literature.

  4. Beth Carswell
    Beth Carswell May 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Well, I’m glad you got something out of the review, Diva. The book was certainly not much to my tastes either. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Thank you for the review and the recommendations. I’ve been looking for erotica for years that I don’t hate, honestly.

    I also really dig Louisa Burton’s Hidden Grotto series.. it might be a bit Romance Bookish, but at least no one is being humiliated every other page and the stories were interested to me… ohh and there is no repetition.

  6. I agree completely. This book was TERRIBLE and nothing new. It’s very similar the the millions of ridiculous romance novels that have been written and published many, many times before.

  7. Whenever I think of this book and its characters, I think of the author and her husband.

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  2. A '50 Shades of Grey' movie without D is a load of BS - buzzcarl - November 4, 2014

    […] likely reacted to “James’ often alarmingly purple prose” or found it to be “an excusably bad book.” I personally just found myself drowning in clichés that were unfortunately repeated to […]

  3. A '50 Shades of Grey' movie without D is a load of BS - Buzz Ryan - November 4, 2014

    […] likely reacted to “James’ often alarmingly purple prose” or found it to be “an excusably bad book.” I personally just found myself drowning in clichés that were unfortunately repeated to […]

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