50 Shades of Grey: Review

Here at More than a Mum, we like to keep current issues and comment on things which are relevant to our readers and at the moment there seems to be a lot of talk about ‘MummyPorn’ and 50 Shades of Grey.  I usually avoid reading books which zoom up the best-sellers list, as I am a self-confessed book snob.  But, my mummy book club chose it as this month’s read and I also thought I ought to know what all the hype was about.  Unfortunately, 50 Shades of Grey did not make me horny, it made me angry.

When I first brought 50 shades home (borrowed: I drew the line at paying for it) I knew it would be poorly written.  My friend wrote this review and when I told her I was reading it, she simply said “Did you not read my review?” and Loretta was ahead of me in the book and by page 40 had already said it read like the Sweet Valley High books of childhood. All in all I didn’t have high expectations.

So, I knew the characterisation was going to be shallow (it was), that the plot would be thin and unbelievable (yup) and that the dialogue would be unrealistic and underdeveloped (again, this was born out).  I also knew that there would be sex, and that this sex would be on the kinky side.

What I didn’t realise was that I was going to be so angry; that this book, which is being read by so many women (and apparently enjoyed by many) and has been branded “Mummy Porn” would make me furious. Not for the poor writing, or because I am prudish about sex, but for much darker and altogether more alarming reasons.

Jeanette Winterson, author of, among other things Oranges are not the Only Fruit tweeted “Re. 50 Shades. Please explain why submission + humiliation is a turn on button for Mummy Porn? The only thing making me wet is the downpour”.  I’d have to agree and I’d also question further the role of women portrayed in the book as a whole. How can it appeal to a mass, female market, when  the two main female characters are completely ensnared, changed and dominated by their new partners.  Ana (the lead young lady) is a naive, virgin who has never had a boyfriend or been drunk and yet within a week she is regularly drinking wine, having kinky sex and, against her will, being beaten by a controlling older man who insists that he knows where she is ever minute of the day.  The other female character, Ana’s house-mate Kate, is supposed to be the less naive, stronger and perceptive woman and yet within moments of meeting Elliot she becomes gooey and all consumed by him. So that’s the strong, inspiring female role models in the book…

As for the sex, in principle, if bondage, kinky sex and a sub/dom relationship is what turns you on then that’s fine.  What goes on in the privacy of people’s own relationships is their business, within the rule of law, but what made me angry was the way that this book glorified not a sexy, kinky relationship, but an abusive one.

I have come across domestic violence too often in my work and as you know, we are keen supporters of Refuge.  You only have to look at their current advertising campaign to know how prevalent domestic violence is. I am aware that Christian Grey has clauses in his contract (which incidentally Ana doesn’t sign) which prohibit the leaving of any marks, but domestic violence is not just about physical abuse, it is about control and intimidation.  Ana’s fear of Christian’s reactions to normal things like having a drink with friends or visiting her mother definitely show she is intimidated and his control of her every movement, from buying her a car and upgrading her flight to ensuring she is never out of his contact with her Blackberry and Mac is in her own words “stalker-ish”.  They have a relationship built on fear and control, and even if she did want to have the kinky sex which is not clear, the control and fear are not OK.  This is not harmless erotica, it’s abuse. If you would like to argue with me about this being a controlling relationship and suggest that Christian is being generous and caring, please first read this blog by @savvywendy.

The Christian character has a dark past, which is not subtly hidden (the writer is incapable of nuance) and yet it is not explored.  I am aware that this is a trilogy, but I am not prepared to entertain the next three to find out more. Christian’s character has been abused as a child and obviously suffered both physically and mentally.  To link this with his current predilection to physically punish others even against their will is either to give him an excuse for inexcusable behaviour so that Ana and therefore the reader have sympathy for him and allow him to continue the abuse, or it is to link sexual violence with childhood abuse.  Whilst this may not be an unreasonable link in some cases, it is surely not an acceptable subject for erotic titillation.

Anyway, if you hadn’t already gathered 50 Shades is not a book I’d recommend.  Not because it is poorly written.   Reading is about pleasure and escapism and you should read what you enjoy regardless of someone else’s opinion of it’s literary merit.  I would not recommend this book because it does nothing for the cause of women or our view of ourselves, our relationships and our self-worth.  How are we to help charities such as Refuge support women, and men, in abusive relationships if this is entertainment?  How can we support people trapped in abusive relationships to see that they don’t deserve that treatment, it is not their fault and it is not acceptable when this book is considered ‘Mummy Porn’?

Rant over.

 

30 comments

  • Fantastic review. I just don’t understand how this book ever got published. I used to counsel women who’d bravely left their brutal relationships.

    • morethanamummy

      Indeed. I am not in favour of censorship, but a book dealing with abusive and controlling relationships should discuss and highlight the issues, not glamourise them and use them entertainmemt.

  • Oh my. My mother has just started reading this book. I now feel that I should warn her about it. Great post x

  • I didn’t even try to read it as I knew it would make me too angry. Awful, awful book and I agree with Older Mum – no idea how it got published!

    • morethanamummy

      Just discovered that they are apparently turning it into a film. The cause of womens’ rights is obviously not as important as making a buck…

  • I had no interest in readingthe book beforehand because, I too am a bit of a snob. Reading this excellent review, I am convinced that it would anger me also. There is never an excuse for sexual violence towards women of the type that is apparently contained in the book and I find it incredible that a female author would exploit it in such a cynical way. And all the women on my FB friend feed who boast of an early night with a glass of wine and Christian Grey…. Well… Good review!

    • morethanamummy

      Thank you for this. The sex in itself doesn’t offend me if that were genuinely what both parties want, but a) in this story it is not what both characters want and b) the control outside of sex is much more frightening.

  • That is exactly the kind of review I would have written (if I didn’t know that my mother in law is reading my blog 😐 ).
    I was left very disturbed by that book to say the least…

    • morethanamummy

      My mother-in-law also reads the blog sometimes… eek! Seriously though, the book just left me worrying about the state of the collective female subconcious and our own self-worth. Have also been reliably informed that it even gives BDSM a bad name.

  • Fiona

    Thank you for this – the first sane response I’ve read (apart from Winterson’s tweet!) I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it as that kind of relationship sounds terrifying to me, and I don’t understand why it has attracted so much positive attnetion. If the roles were reversed (if Grey was a woman, and treating a man like that) I wonder how people would react…

  • Christine Kelly

    My name is Christine Kelly and I enjoyed #50shadesofgrey. There, I said the unthinkable. I consider myself a well-read, highly-educated, world-travelled mother, wife and self employed entrepreneur. I’m the first to admit to being a book snob and only succumbed due to the rave reviews of my esteemed lady friends and acquaintances. I get the point – it’s not going to win any Booker prizes. The female protagonist ain’t going to be Germaine Greer’s latest protégée. Christian Grey couldn’t possibly possess the sufficient level if sexual prowess to make the recently deflowered Ana come with a lick of her nipple. This is unadulterated fantasy and escapism. Who hasn’t momentarily imagined a life with no financial worries and a hot lover? #50shades provides a legitimate and socially acceptable vehicle for these ruminations. Let’s just judge this fir what it is – whatever you’d like to label it – #mummyporn, escapism, a romance novel. Cast your minds back to the ubiquitous Mills & Boon – doesn’t it follow the exact same formula: inexperienced girl meets powerful man – inexplicable attraction – break up – passionate make up = happily ever after…manage your expectations, ladies….

    • morethanamummy

      Thank you for a succinct counter argument. I would however ask why this is an acceptable female fantasy. Why do women want this life, even in fantasy? Is this.not just another example of how society has conditioned women to be? Would men ever want the opposite fantasy and if not, why not?

      Also you say you are well educated, well travelled and obviously mature enough to see this for what it is: fantasy. I agree that is what I see it as. But, what about those who aren’t and don’t. This book came out of a fanzine site from Twightlight. Twightlight is teen-fiction. Is this the sort of fantasy and aspiration we should be encouraging in our teenage daughters?

  • Pingback: Story and responsibility: 50 Shades (again) | Sophie Hannah's website

    • morethanamummy

      Thank you for linking to us so that I can read your interesting counter argument. I have responded in your comments section.

  • Neets Whelan

    Right. Here goes…
    I’m a 36 year old mum of 4 who is a ‘stay at home mum.’
    Until I had my last 2 children, I held down a responsible job within the banking industry and would consider myself a well read, professional woman.
    I love to read. I recently read the 50 Shades trilogy ; I read them totally because of the hype surrounding them and the many recommendations of the majority of the ‘playground mafia.’
    It was, as expected, unbelievable and tacky. The stereotype rich and powerful guy and the virginal, beautiful all American girl.
    I enjoyed them.
    I absolutely understand though why people would veiw the relationship as dangerous and unhealthy. The story starts with control and trying to control someone IS unhealthy.
    However, I also saw a love story & a happy ending, with 2 people who were not doing anything that they didnt want.
    It’s not going to win any literary awards, granted, but for me it was just a few days of escapism.
    There’s so much guilt involved as a parent, as a wife and as a human being !! I can’t feel guilty for enjoying a book. Writers for generations have succumbed to the stereotypes that 50 does. Enough women appear to have read it and enjoyed it so I imagine there will be more to come.
    It’s fiction, for me. It’s a book. Would I want to be in that relationship ? Well, that’s a different matter.

  • LJBW

    Golly ladies this is quite a rant. And although i can appreciate your experience of 50shades of grey, are you not all over-reacting? Again the opinion is , of course, subjective.
    Yes the writing is basic, and quite possibly the quality one used to pick up in school holidays -virginia andrews alike, but is that not comforting and a nostalgia trip in itself. And as for the subject matter, well yes it is a porny sorry ‘thorny’ subject, overshadowed by the dominant-submissive layers gathering pace by the page, but what is refreshing about this is it’s ability to remind us all of how naive, how easily influenced, how madly and passionately we fell in love when we were young. It is the nature of a developing woman who is exploring herself, and all the intoxication of far reaching, mega racing emotions. A learning curve, no more and no less.
    Finally she finds herself and what she is worth, ditching the adrenalin buzz and lustful abandon. She comes to realise she is worth so much more
    I am not at all prizing Ms EL James’s book, but what i am saying is that if you can overlook the ridiculous hype it is given it has a few nuggets of psychology and reminiscence for all us yummy-mummy (now that’s a contraversial title) ladies.
    Poorly written ‘yes;’ badly written ‘no;’ strong griping yarn ‘no;’ demi enjoyable for its novelty matter ‘yes.’

  • Dare I say I really enjoyed the books, and they were just what I needed at a really difficult time in my life. They allowed me to dump my brain for a week and go into another world and that I did; I read all 3 in 7 days.
    Sorry to say I disagree. I think Ana “ensnared, changed and dominated” Christian to use your words.
    She totally mesmerised him and HE changed for her.
    I actually found the books quite romantic and really don’t understand all the criticism.
    Liska x

  • Mine

    Someone made the comment that HE changed for her… Isn’t that just showing the way that abused women think the man will change…he won’t abuse anymore. This just sells that illusion and sets back the fight against abuse back!

  • Melanie Jones

    The book angered me too, but rather than review or blog about it I felt like the best way to comment on it was to satirize it – if you are interested, my parody version, which deals with a lot of these and other criticisms, is at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008QNE5S6/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B008QNE5S6&linkCode=as2&tag=modernistdepot-20

  • lee

    its a book people. it is no more realitic or important than a tom clancy novel. please just calm down and keep repeating its just FICTION

  • michelle

    my boyfriend bought me this book. Not because he had any clue what is was about. He was oblivious. It a gift. Anyways, I read about half. I decided to review as – surly I was reading this wrong, what do others think about this err, book. And. -Wow. I don’t even blog or whatever you call it. I had to reply to more than a mummy. You are spot on. I used to find the idea of b d s m fascinating and I’ve read some online. But this book, this book – wow. It’s turned me off it. It’s not even the subject matter, it’s the writing that destroys the appeal. It twists things, innocence with understanding in the tackiest way possible. And IT IS A SCARY THOUGHT that there are gonna be a few people who get the wrong idea about this particular lifestyle, and it won’t be practiced safely. Or in a respectful manner. God damn if ever a book should be burnt.
    Sorry for rant.
    I really had to get it off my chest I think anyone who has read may understand.

  • Katie

    In agreement to your amazing rant/review I admit, when I first read the book, I expected a thrilling, unique plot but instead, I got the predictable, overused ‘Naive shy girl falls for the dark, cunning millionaire.” Not only am I fed up of these familiar, gooey books that seem intent on ruining the name of good books everywhere but I am utterly shocked that this book, which was actually a Twilight fan-fiction actually made the “Top best selling.” Book in a matter of weeks/months.

    Said book has no plot, and the characters are barely built. I feel as though I was dropped in the middle of a random, highly unrealistic book, and soon found myself fuming at the behavior of the two main characters.

    I mean no offense to anyone when I say I was utterly humiliated by Anastasia when she bent to his whim every single time he asked her to. She claims to have a subconscious and an inner goddess, but it was as if everyone forgot. Every. Single. Time!

    Now, their submissive and dominance relationship disgusts me (No offense.) and to know that Anastasia is fine with a man, she has known for what, a few weeks, a month at most, hit her and (Excuse my language) fuck her when ever he pleases.

    If this was a realistic situation, I would have called the cops had I not punched Christian out. This book tarnishes the name of all good books out there by merely being published, and for those who disagree please take into consideration the teenagers. Kids are reading this, and such a book is merely influencing them with sexual and extremely idiotic behavior.

  • Beauty

    This is not a love story. Christian Grey is sick from the head. This is not a BDSM relation. A real BDSM relation is about respect and trust and throughout the books Ana is afraid of Christian. She is afraid he is going to hurt her like he always does. Honestly, I worried that so many women defend him by saying “he has an ugly past” or “he changed just for her”. NO ladies, an abuser will never changed. Love doesn’t fix a psycho. I know this book is fiction but sometimes fiction books reflects society problems. Domestic violence is real is not a fantasy for many women.

  • Anna Jacobs

    Didn’t even make it have way.Booooring!And yes it is obvious it is fiction,which woman has an orgasme when a guy basiccaly just looks at them .It’s not just fiction it is a f*****
    fairytale!

  • Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

  • The IN2G show has reviewed Fifty Shades of Grey in a little video. Do you reckon it’s 50 Shades of porn? Our two Christian presenters have divided opinions…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRjoeHYA7jU&feature=youtu.be

  • leelee

    i am a happily married 22 yr. old nurse. i love the fifty shades books and am not afraid to say it. theres nothing wrong with being turned on by kinky sex. my sexxxy 28yr. old husband and i dnt make love, we fuck, fifty shades of rough, and we love it. how is it degrading to women when the books are about two people who love to have fun. the girl love it like i do, having a gorgeous man giving you sensations of pain, pleasure and orgasms. its yall haters that need to stop bitching. just because yall have a sucky sex life get over it.

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