First, I must apologize for assigning the author the wrong name two or three entries ago. Her name is E.L. James, and she has said she wanted to write stories people would love to read.
I'd guess she succeeded beyond her biggest expectations. A best seller, three movies, lots of publicity. Good for her!
The success of Fifty Shades does show that how well-written a book is or is not has little to do with its success. Content is the key.
I want to say before I start on the review that I have not read any other reviews. The only thing I have heard, and read, is that it was not well-written, but I haven't seen anyone else's explanations of why they thought so. Everything following will be original and, of course, subjective.
A brief summary for those that have not read it or paid much attention to it: Through an odd circumstance, Anastasia Steele meets Christian Grey. She is only days away from graduating from college. He is a very rich owner of his own business; he is a philanthropist and a mover and shaker of industry.
He is also a man whose sexual experiences are limited to BDSM. He is a Dom with specific demands and a very fancy "playroom" that Ana refers to as "The Red Room of Pain." He wants Ana to be his Submissive and put herself at his mercy. He wants her to devote herself to him sexually, physically, and spiritually. As he tells, her, "...I don't make love. I fuck...hard."
Ana is a virgin. And, as they both suspect, she doesn't have a submissive bone in her body. And that is the real crux of the story. The romance is also a conflict. Each wants the other very much, but each on their own terms. Both try to meet in the middle, but in the end (Ana's back end, after six merciless swats with a belt that she invited) Ana admits she cannot give Christian what he says he needs, and vice versa. She leaves him, heartbroken but resigned.
And now, the review:
The writing is annoying! It reads like the first attempt by a very bright and creative sixteen-year-old girl.
Having taught high school English, I've read a good chunk of writing by sixteen-year-old girls, both smart and creative and neither, and points in between. I was able to get through it. But it was annoying!
The most annoying thing is that she uses bold-face type frequently...and often for no apparent reason. These bold-faced type (bft) exclamations are always in her thoughts and it seems to be her means of emphasis. But sometimes there is no apparent reason for emphasis. Plus, of course, it's an amateurish (sixteen-year-old girl) way of emphasizing what's important. There are better and more professional devices to do that. Simply putting the important statement in a paragraph all by itself is one way. Yet there are places where she does this, yet still puts that whole statement in bft as well. Annoying.
And no serious writer should re-use already over-used clichés. I lost count of the number of times her heart was either in her throat or in her mouth.
Another thing she's done that seems cute and clever at first becomes tiresome as the book progresses.
Personification is usually a good tool for a writer to use, if used correctly. And not over-used.
E.L. James used personification to create two extra and ultimately annoying (there's that word again) background characters.
Anastasia has her subconscious and her inner goddess looking over her shoulder. The first is a snarky critical entity, doing her best to keep Ana grounded in harsh reality. Her inner goddess is some kind of hippie chick that loves the sex and the romance but is also easily frightened by Christian's moods—much like Ana is herself.
If I was editing this manuscript, I would have urged her to reduce the appearance of the subconscious just a little, and lose the inner goddess altogether. Ana can be more honest with herself and admit to herself that the reactions of the inner goddess are really her own.
I wondered why she did these things. Was she really that inexperienced at writing fiction? Or was there another explanation?
It occurred to me early in the book that perhaps she was writing as she felt her character would write. If so, I think she was off base. Ana is a twenty-one-year-old college senior when we first meet her and a college graduate about half-way through. Her love is reading, and especially reading the English classics of Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Shakespeare. This style seems at odds with her academic background and capabilities. Her GPA is impressive.
Ana is a very inexperienced young woman without much self-esteem. She is overwhelmed by Christian Grey from the very first meeting. Perhaps the author felt it appropriate to write down Ana's thoughts this way, with the bfts and those personified inner voices. Unfortunately she did not consider how mature adult readers might find these devices.
I'm going to include one more little thing, again as if I was editing the book:
Grey tries to explain to Ana some of his quirks with the declaration that he is "fifty shades of fucked up." Later on Ana uses the term to herself a few times, even referring to Christian as "Mr. Fifty Shades." That's good stuff.
My complaint is that that is the only time he uses the "fifty shades" label and it seems artificially employed to justify the title. I think it would have been better if he had used the term once or twice earlier in the story.
For example, he might have said, "Ana, I am fifty shades of smitten," or, "Anastasia, I'm fifty shades of wealthy and I enjoy them all." These would establish the saying as something that is a part of his normal expression and provide additional legitimacy to the title.
When I first went to the library to check this book out, it wasn't available. But the fourth book, Grey, was. This is the same story as Fifty Shades but told in first person by Christian Grey. It is a much better book. Not only is it lacking in the annoyance factor, but we get a good look into Grey's private thoughts and memories that help to explain why he is as he is. Also, this version of the story continues past where Fifty Shades ended. It is a little more hopeful.
James has given us a good story. If you want to read it while avoiding the poor writing, I recommend this version.