Monochrome: 50 Shades of Grey

50 Shades of Grey: trees in fog: shot on the fly,
monochrome setting in camera + effects in Picasa.

Inexplicably, I found myself reading the notorious best seller on the same day this week that I decided to commit to using my camera’s monochrome setting. Coincidence? I wonder. Though I haven’t finished the book, perhaps you’ll allow me the luxury of a bit of a review.

Apparently, 50 Shades of Grey started life as a piece of Twilight fanfiction which went beyond regular vampiric bloodsucking into the more sadistic realms of BDSM, and was therefore deemed inappropriate for many of the younger Twilight readers – and quite rightly so. While Twilight was actually quite chaste (there was no bedroom scene until the couple reached honeymoon island, deep into the series; and even then it wasn’t explicit), 50 Shades is all about highly explicit bedroom dungeon scenes, beginning around the 100th page (just to make things easy for you!). The similarities to Twilight are immediately obvious: wan, Classics-reading, inexperienced heroine meets immensely powerful, attractive, dangerous older man, and he can’t leave her alone: he must possess her. She falls deliriously under his spell as willing captive; and yet their differences appear insurmountable. Can their relationship possibly survive the strain?

Not only does 50 Shades trail along humming the Twilight theme, but – as with the Twilight saga itself – there are references drawn to classic English Literature. Here there are references to Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (a text with which I am unfamiliar, though now my interest is piqued). There are even passages of Bridget Jones-esque email repartee between the couple, and you may recall that Bridget Jones’s Diary was based on another great classic, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

But such allusions don’t save the book from being rather dull – and before you become indignant, I might add that ice water does not run in my veins, and yes the frequent sex scenes are adequately torrid; but that isn’t enough to make this good reading, in my, er, book. For heaven’s sake, I couldn’t even find a decent description of the cars mentioned; whereas Twilight at least did justice to the bevy of beauties in the garage. Oh, and speaking of which, both heroines drive clangers (Bella a beat-up pickup truck, Ana a VW Beetle), which are replaced by their controlling lovers.

Another point of irritation is the awful frequency of Ana’s thought exclamation: holy crap! or holy shit! or even – forgive my uncouth language – holy fuck! FFS, STFU. There are other oft-uttered inanities thoughout, but this one really did grind my gears.

The winning edge to books like these is that, for all their lack of literary quality, they are fast and compelling reads which bring a touch of the Classics (and other interesting subjects besides!) within easy reach. And for a large demographic who are reading 50 Shades – time-poor women, who may not usually find time to read for pleasure – they are a Godsend for renewing an interest in reading.

I also recently read Jane by April Lindner, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. It was remarkably similar in style to the other books mentioned above, and equally readable-yet-unsatisfying.

My verdict: I’m bored. I don’t think I’ll bother finishing book 1, let alone complete the trilogy. Read the classics for themselves, and choose something a bit more original if you want to go over and see how things are done on the dark side.

What’s next on my reading list: Changeless: an Alexia Tarabotti novel by Gail Carriger. Werewolves, vampires, and a soulless heroine (who is slightly too swarthy, and her nose a tad too Roman, to be considered appealing to Victorian English sensibilities) promise a fun and witty romp that I’ll probably even read to the end.

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3 thoughts on “Monochrome: 50 Shades of Grey

  1. Well said! I’ve heard a full range of conflicting opinions on this book, which, if nothing else, accounts for great marketing and saleability. What keeps people talking will get them reading. The one consistent claim has been that its written in rather a plain and bad manner, something that the author freely admits (well, she admits she’s no writer, the rest are my words). I do like, however, the references to literature classics, particularly on the back of my latest unit of study! I highly recommend people to better acquaint themselves with the classics. ‘Classic’ doesn’t = boring. Quite the opposite usually. The language might be slightly different, but that’s part of the landscape and beauty of the text. One shouldn’t underestimate one’s ability to absorb and understand language that might at first seem impenetrable.

    • Absolutely – and it helps (for me, anyway) to have a freshly printed copy to read, rather than a musty old copy. Sacrilege! Well, I for one don’t like the smell of old books, they give me a sore head. A few years ago I read a fresh and quirkily illustrated edition of Jane Eyre, which was my first reading, and it was a great pleasure.

      I think you might enjoy Changeless, the first in the Alexia Tarabotti – the language isn’t impeccably of the era, but it’s pretty close, and very entertaining 🙂

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