Fifty Shades of Twilight: a Fifty Shades of Grey Review

Over on the ERWA Blog, Donna George Storey commented that perhaps one positive aspect of the massive popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey was that women who liked it might then go and seek out books that actually fess up to being erotic fiction. My worry is that they’ll read Fifty Shades of Grey, identify it as erotica, and assume that all erotic fiction is as poorly written as this.

For those few of you who haven’t read it, the book charts the course of a 22 year-old ingenue’s relationship with an older, kinky billionaire. I’m not good at writing summaries, but this was easy because … well, that’s all there is. It has all the hallmarks of a mild BDSM romance without the mandatory HEA ending.

I really hate writing a totally negative review, so I’m going to first tell you what is good about the book: it’s not very long; it has a secondary school reading level, and nothing blows up. And, to be fair, I think this is a reasonably fair portrayal of the problems faced when a kinky person sincerely attempts and fails to date someone vanilla. Finally, I have to say that the sex, while not brilliantly written, is not too bad. For a mainstream novel, that’s refreshing.

Okay – check positive aspects.

I wasn’t surprised at all to read that 50 Shades started out as Twilight Fan Fic 1. What disturbs me most about the phenomenal popularity of this novel is that, like Twilight, it revels in the sheer mediocrity of Anastasia, the main female character, and presents us with a male romantic interest, Christian Grey, who is obsessively drawn to that mediocrity. Implicit in its popularity is the disturbing truth that so many women must feel equally mediocre in order to identify with her so strongly.

Anastasia is a 22-year old virgin who has never orgasmed, never masturbated – never gotten to 2nd base, in fact. She’s graduating with a degree in English literature but doesn’t own a computer. One would think that, alone, would make for an interesting, under-socialized, sexually inhibited and disturbing sort of girl. But she isn’t represented that way. She’s represented as entirely normal.

22 year-old virgins are pretty damn rare in the industrialized world. 22 year-old virgins who have never masturbated are downright odd and require some explaining. 22 year-old non-masturbating virgins who instantly turn into uninhibited fans of rough-fucking and grade-A cock suckers are simply a pornographic mythology. We need an explanation for Anastasia’s very strange sexual development and we don’t get one. (And hands up how many of you took to deep-throating like a duck to water).

In that sense, the critics’ description of Fifty Shades of Grey as ‘mommy porn’ are fair; it is ‘pornography’ in as much as it offers us a heroine who is an unreal and fetishized symbol of sexual innocence.

Admittedly, Anastasia has two inner personas who annoyingly jockey for attention in italics. There’s her ‘goddess’ who is an insatiable and feisty libertine and the Cynic, who keeps calling her a whore. Sadly, either of her italicized sub-personas would have made a more interesting and loveable character.

In the other corner of the ring, we have Mr. Christian Grey: the 27 year-old BDSM-loving, control freak billionaire. Despite the fact that he extolls his own virtues as a canny reader of people, the plot revolves almost completely around how pathetic he is at reading her. He is terminally impressed with her beauty, mental acuity, her snarky mouth and her wide-eyed innocence (charming qualities which are not in evidence in the actual text – maybe he’s in love with a character in another book and doesn’t know it yet).  He lavishes inappropriate gifts upon her that she supposedly doesn’t want but can’t stop mentioning. We’re told he’s a rule-bound control freak who, inexplicably, breaks all his own rules with a frequency that quickly gets boring. We’re given to understand that he has a long history of practicing BDSM but shows a jaw-dropping propensity for misjudgement. All in all, very much like Twilight’s Edward, it’s simply a mystery as to why he is so besotted with the heroine.

I’m not one of those erotica writers who insists that BDSM always be represented as a happy and healthy lifestyle choice. I’ve met too many people who were drawn to BDSM to fulfill needs that have their origins in a traumatic childhood.  So, it did not bother me that Christian puts his kinky propensities down to early childhood abuse. However, it does bother me tremendously that a character, who has supposedly been practicing BDSM for as long as Mr. Grey, can’t tell the difference between a Dominant and a Sadist.

Dominants enjoy controlling the sexual experience of their subs and will give them pleasure or pain – mental or physical – with a view to having an enhanced intimate experience. They don’t get off on inflicting pain when they are absolutely aware that it is a wholly unpleasant experience for the submissive. Yes, some dominants do mete out punishment that is not physically pleasurable, but they do it knowing that the sub is getting mental pleasure from the power-relationship.

Sadists are a very different matter.  They do get off sexually and mentally on inflicting physical and mental pain and their ability to be aroused by witnessing or inflicting it it is not associated with the masochist’s consent or fulfillment. Now, if you’re a sadist reading this and are about to accuse me of defamation, please read that first sentence carefully again. I’m not saying that principled and disciplined sadists don’t set limits of consent for themselves and their partners. Many do. But they do so because it allows them to practice their sadism in a safe and ethical manner.  They may be sadistic within consensual bounds and enjoy it. But, if they allowed themselves to inflict non-consensual pain or humiliation, it would still arouse them – even if they felt guilty about it.

This is a major problem I have with the success of E.L. James’ novel.  It really does spread misinformation about the subtle but important differences between dominants and sadists. There is no question in the readers’ mind that Anastasia is not going to get off, either mentally or physically, on the final belt whipping. And it would take a massively incompetent dominant to think she would. Mr. Grey is a sadist and, for all his pretense at consent, a very inexperienced and unprincipled one. Now, don’t get me wrong. A novel about an inexperienced and unprincipled sadist might be very intriguing. But this is not that novel.

It would be fair to say that, in most aspects, this reads like a very mediocre erotic romance. The characters are either uncannily perceptive or staggeringly stupid depending on what the plot requires.  It uses the same tired and annoying plot devices of improbable misunderstandings to artificially heighten the tension. It is a litany of contrived conflicts that beggar the suspension of disbelief of any intelligent reader.

So, I’m going to say something that is probably going to piss a lot of you off: if you thought this novel was entirely brilliant and smokingly erotic, I do have to question your ability to be a discerning reader. The writing is flaccid, the characterization is appalling, and the plotting is downright pathetic.

I can’t begin to explain why, with so many brilliantly written erotic novels about BDSM out there, Random House chose to pick up this one.  You have a right expect much more of your kinky erotic novel that this.

You really do.

We’re better than this, I promise.

  52 comments for “Fifty Shades of Twilight: a Fifty Shades of Grey Review

  1. April 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    AT LAST! A review of 50 Shades that is negative, and yet still honest, thoughtful and insightful! Can’t tell you how sick I am of the snarky, sour grapes smart ass reviews flooding social media. Fair enough if readers don’t like the book. Fair enough if the review is negative, but a little substance, please! Lots of substance here! Thank you, RG, for your even-handed, refreshing review!

    K D Grace

    • April 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      You’re very welcome. To be honest, I sort of knew what it would be and I felt compelled to read it because I’m about to embark on a PhD on the death of transgression in modern literature, so this seemed apt.

  2. April 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    So it’s “Naked Came the Stranger” without the intentional irony?

    Though I do see a pattern: amazing Alpha guy is hopelessly attracted to mediocre girl. If we reverse the genders, we get a lot of low end male porn. Smoking hot bi babe is hopelessly attracted to average guy (and doesn’t mind if he collects a harem of hot bi babes that she has to share him with). I can see the draw of the story line even if I seriously wonder about it.

    That said, I’m seriously disappointed to hear that the book confuses sadism and dominance so badly. But I’m also not surprised that it got bdsm wrong. My observation is that far too many people want to be able to pretend they’re kinky because they’ve tried ‘bdsm’ when they really haven’t. They put on the black leather and call it ‘dominance’ without having a clue what it’s really about. When the propagate the idea that they ‘did it’, it annoys those of us who actually have.

    As for Random House picking it up–it feels very much like a frenzy or media bubble result. It’s popular because it’s popular, like the Kardashians. Quality has nothing to do with it.

    (Heck, I don’t get Twilight’s popularity. Edward’s not a vampire, he’s a fairy taking advantage of the meme that vampires are cool. And someone with a soul and mind that old is attracted to a teenager? Huh? I’m a third of his age and there’s no way I’m falling for a teenager.)

  3. April 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you for posting this. Thanks to your nailed-it insights, I don’t need to read this book all the way through (I’ve read segments), but I can take lessons from it (marketing-wise). You’re the first person to note that it’s “Twilight” fan-fiction, btw, in my circle of reviewer/writer friends. (So, again, thanks.)

  4. April 22, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I have to say, with all the hype about “50 Shades” I have yet to see another author review it, much less an erotica author, and it’s interesting to see that many of the negative aspects are, indeed, why it is so popular.

    I know a lot of erotica authors figure that “50 Shades” will bring in more readers, but I’ve been forced to wonder if it won’t have a similar twilight effect in that said readers will either seek out the same thing (“50 Shades” fanfiction: is that a thing yet?), or just not read anything else. Perhaps I’m wrong but every “Twilight” reader I’ve known who wasn’t already prone to reading has not picked up another book.

    Either way, it’s been interesting to read about it’s success, and I appreciate seeing an honest, well-reasoned review of it!

  5. Adam
    April 22, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    You can’t understand why Random House picked this up??? I can. I can also understand why James Patterson got picked up.

    • April 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      I’m sorry, but James Patterson’s plotting is better

      • April 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm

        Sometimes, Patterson is guilty of resorting to putting in bits of information that he should have included earlier in the narrative. The hero will prepare for an assault on a heavily guarded home in great detail. When he arrives at the house, he suddenly has an item not mentioned in the story. It’s as if he’s too lazy to go back and put it where it should be. But when you’ve sold as many books as he has, hey, who cares? Right?
        Well, I do and for that reason have stopped reading him.

  6. April 22, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Well, we certainly agree that the books were bad. I thought that not only was the writing poor, but the way the BDSM relationship was handled was very poor. I don’t deny that there are unhealthy BDSM relationships out there, but if you’re going to write a fantasy about one, why not choose a healthy one? You could even have an inexperienced sub brought into the scene by an experienced Dom and they have a GOOD relationship. Oh wait though — this is America where sex is evil.

    Oh well.

    • April 23, 2012 at 7:15 am

      Well, I have to disagree there. I don’t think books should ever have to be ambassadors for a lifestyle. I do, however, really despise inaccuracy. And if you’re going to write anything, I think it’s important to get to know the paradigm you’re writing in well. I don’t have a problem with setting up conflict within that paradigm. So someone having a bad experience with BDSM doesn’t necessarily make for a bad novel, but it needs to be accurate.

      • April 23, 2012 at 8:08 am

        Well… I won’t agree with the ambassador thing, but I won’t disagree either. Since BDSM has such a negative reputation in the religious/hypocritical country that is America, I try not to pose the lifestyle in a negative light. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more than enough real life examples of BDSM relationships going very wrong, but you get that in any lifestyle. I’m just tired of the stereotype and she played right into it for all three books.

        • April 23, 2012 at 9:16 am

          On a personal preference basis, I agree with you. As a writer and a teacher of writing, the big problem is that a wholly positive and happy BDSM relationship is simply not going to provide enough conflict to be a compelling story. Usually.

          I say usually, because, for instance, I just finished Cecilia Tan’s The Velderet, which, because of the setting, allows for a very nice exploration of BDSM and provides compelling and credible conflicts.

          But quite frankly, Cecilia Tan knows her BDSM, and she has a really good grasp of the greater, theoretical implications of power exchange – both between people and within society as a whole. The Velderet makes a point of contrasting personal, individual and consensual power imbalances with socially imposed and universal ones. She wrote it quite a while ago and it is not without its flaws. But Tan was, from birth, going to be able to write circles around the likes of E.L. James. She’s sees broader patterns in the world and they become subtextual to her stories. And… well, she’s just a better writer.

  7. April 22, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Good review. Thanks!

  8. April 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I noted some of the reasons for the hype in a TV interview a few weeks ago, it is posted on my website. As a suggestion to erotica writers, be part of the hype. Market your work to these women, some have been exposed to these writings for the first time and the door has been opened for you to take advantage. View it as a positive and find your way to their Kindles. e.g.. “If you thought 50 Shades of Grey” was hot/a page turner, wait till you read… or something along those lines. Don’t say anything negative, you will turn them off especially if they loved the book, just slowly win them over to good writing. Good luck to all the erotica writers. If ever in Philadelphia, do come and share your words at the Salon. Susana

  9. Deliriumtree
    April 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    I enjoyed this review. I’ve only skimmed the portion Amazon presents for free. Skimmed, because the writing is quite bad. I suppose, no one has ever read good fanfiction, even though there’s a lot of it out there. Your review is the first I’ve seen that didn’t just deem a 22yr old virgin who has never wanked unbelievable. Since, I was once was that myself that made me happy. It does require explanation, you are right. For me I was scalded in a shower or locked in a dark closet as punishment while my grandmother read the bible to me for any minor early curiosity. I’m also really clumsy and lost when it comes to sex, even frightened of it. I wish I could deep throat like a duck in water. hehe I’d like to be good at sex, and also not terrified of it! Anyways, thank you for your review and that bit especially. Anastasia should have been weird like me. It’s the mediocrity that isn’t believable.

    • April 23, 2012 at 7:24 am

      Actually, I think acknowledging the oddness of a 22-year old virgin who has never masturbated would have made her a far more interesting character. Because people who come to an experience of sex that late in life come to it very differently. It provides an opportunity to challenge readers to REALLY think of sex from a different place.

      Having a main character who had had your experiences… frankly, it would have been literature.

      Truthfully, I think the vast majority of people find sex frightening when they first contemplate indulging in it. When you come to is as an adult, you don’t have the benefit of an absence of rationality. So it’s going to be MUCH scarier.

  10. April 22, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Anyone who follows BDSM/sex positive blogs has had a wide variety of reviews of 50 Shades to choose from…but I admit this is the few I read all the way through.

    One quibble. You write: “I’m not one of those erotica writers who insists that BDSM always be represented as a happy and healthy lifestyle choice. I’ve met too many people who were drawn to BDSM to fulfill needs that have their origins in a traumatic childhood.”

    Not quite sure if you meant for us to read it this way, but it sounds like you might be saying that anybody who has a history of childhood trauma and is in a BDSM relationship is automatically in an unhealthy relationship.

    I hope that’s not what you really mean. However, it is a sadly common sentiment. As someone with a history of childhood trauma, one of the lingering effects is being treated like damaged goods for life. A brief trawl through Fetlife yields many such casual comments, mostly focusing on the idea that people with a history of abuse shouldn’t engage in BDSM or can’t do it in a safe and healthy way.

    Our society is remarkably efficient at getting around to forgiving our perpetrators. If only they were so efficient at forgiving the victims!

    • April 23, 2012 at 7:34 am

      God no! That’s not at all what I meant. Please let me clarify: I think there are a minority of people who come to BDSM as a way to resolve issues of early experiences with a misuse of power. I think that revisiting that state of power imbalance as an adult can be a very beneficial thing, because BDSM offers the opportunity to give or refuse consent in a very formalized and hyper-conscious way and, in a way, forces everyone who practices it to think very deeply of how power is used, given, taken.

      • April 25, 2012 at 12:28 am

        Thanks, RG. I got the impression from your other writings that we weren’t supposed to read it that way, and I’m glad you were willing to take a moment to clarify it. Your willingness to come out and say this really means a lot to me. Thank you.

  11. ironicbarbie
    April 22, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    While I agree wholeheartedly with many of your comments I have to tell you that there are several things you criticize here that are explained (with some degree of satisfaction/accuracy) in the remaining two books of the series. The biggest, most overriding problem with this series is how and where it is split into three novels. You’re correct, book one has the opposite of the classic HEA ending, the series however is as HEA as one can get. Book one should never have been introduced as even the pretense of being a stand alone novel, as it is not. Many of the things the author is attempting, including the portrayal of a messed up psuedo BDSM/Dom/Sadist are actually explained in pretty explicit detail in the remaining books. While the writing remains at the same level/quality throughout the series and many of the other flaws still exist, examining the series as a whole is entirely different than examining book one alone. I’m not advocating for reading all three books, particularly if you hated book one, because the other two will not likely change your mind. What I am saying is that reading all three books leaves you with a completely different impression of the characters and an entirely different story arc than you get from reading book one and stopping there.

    • April 23, 2012 at 7:39 am

      Hi Barbie, I think this is a real problem with the way publishers are cutting up books. nonetheless, it was the authors choice to end the first book where she did, and it was the wrong one. If she became a better writer in the 2nd and 3rd books, that’s marvelous, but as a reader, I’m not obliged to watch this person develop their writing skills.

      Book one is offered up as a standalone and I have therefore critiqued it that way. I feel this is a fair thing to do.

      And I’ll be honest, I don’t think I can wade my way through another. On a very personal level, it simply bored me.

  12. April 23, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I read all three. Am I a masochist? *grin*

    I read all the Twilight books too. Although I had a teen reading them, so that was my excuse at the time. For this… I guess I read them to find out what all the hype was about.

    I think you’re spot on.

    For me, the sex was incredibly vanilla for a BDSM novel. I mostly finished to see what was going to happen (even though I knew it had to have an HEA… so I kind of already knew…) There was nothing ground-breaking or earth-shattering (or, for me, even toe-curling) here. It was kind of like eating cotton candy. Really sugary and sticky and sort of yum, but it doesn’t last long and you don’t really remember it after, except for a vague sort of emptiness in your middle when you’re done.

    It basically just brought me back to my hardcore romance-reading days (my mom read them voraciously and I did too, when I was about fourteen…) and made me nostalgic for the girl I was then, looking for Prince Charming. I’m always interested in burgeoning sexuality and the coming-of-age story. But this… it was a little too unicorns and rainbows (in spite of all the pretense of the naughty BDSM stuff) for my tastes.

    • April 23, 2012 at 8:13 am

      You make an interesting point about the sex being very ‘vanilla’.

      Thinking about that a little more, I think it is interesting that for sex to be BDSMish, it’s not so much the act as the headspace that really makes the difference. And the only headspace we’re reading in this book is Anastasia’s – and she probably is going to perceive the sex in a vanillaish way, because she’s very vanilla.

  13. April 23, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Thank you for a thoughtful and refreshing review. I think this is part of a wider trend of self-published novels becoming, in many cases, more popular than traditionally edited and published novels. It’s an interesting phenomenon because it reveals aspects of the zeitgeist which traditional publishers aren’t picking up or responding to – but the price is badly researched, badly written, badly edited novels. Personally, I can’t enjoy a book unless the quality of all three of those is high. I find it a little baffling that so many people apparently can.

    Also, thank you for describing the difference between dominants and sadists – very enlightening!


  14. April 23, 2012 at 2:19 am

    Thank you, RG, for writing such a good review of this book. I admit, I have not read it, nor will I. I did read a discussion of “is it fanfic” when the furor first hit Twitter and that experience of the quality of the writing was enough for me to decide that I would not read the book itself.

    You have my respect for taking your valuable time to read a book that is pretty universally acknowledged to be poorly written. Not only did you do that but you also wrote a quite thorough book review that looks at all the aspects of it.

    My hat is off to you, my friend. I wouldn’t have had the patience to read the book, let alone write the review.


  15. April 23, 2012 at 2:26 am

    I’m so pleased to read your review, the first I’ve read that actually reviews the book as a book. We needed that.

    Sadly, Random House didn’t set out to publish a good erotic novel. Random House saw an opportunity to cash in on a ready-made following of fan-fic readers poised to buy the “real book” and countless other adult Twilight fans who had yet to hear about it. They heard cash register bells miles away. As a business person, I don’t fault them for this. As a reader of erotic fiction, I’m annoyed.

    As for the portrayal of kinky sex and the subsequent authoritatively quoted blather all over the media, I am irate. If you’re going to publish a breakthrough mainstream novel on a taboo niche subject (and then hit the talk shows), you should do some research and know what you’re talking about first. The two moron characters in this book do not speak for me or my sex life. The misinformation spread by this stupid story is going to be a big pain in the ass for some people to deal with in their real lives now that their Aunt Sophie in Topeka thinks she understands.

    • April 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      You are right. RH would never have taken the book on their house list had it been submitted a couple of years ago. It is simply too badly written, too unlikely and, as much more knowledgeable people who understand BDSM have pointed out, the sex is contrived and unedifying on so many levels. If you want to go there, go there in filthy pitch black darkness, not a pale shade of light grey!

  16. Mara
    April 23, 2012 at 5:07 am

    Have you read the second or third book? Probably should have thought about it before posting this. Christian reveals that he beliefs himself to be a Sadist.

    Unimpressed by your lacking review.

    • April 23, 2012 at 7:50 am

      The first book was offered as a standalone. If the author wished me to take all three works into account, then she should have published them in a single book. It’s not as if it would have made it a door stop. None of them are that long. So, offered as a standalone, I feel perfectly justified in criting it as a piece of fiction.

      Perhaps she became a better writer in the second and third books. Perhaps she found out more about BDSM. That’s great! But in the first book, Christian is represented to us as a man who has had 15 prior BDSM relationships. And ask anyone who’s been in the lifestyle – 15 is a LOT.

      Similarly, if the characterization got better in the second and third books, that’s fantastic. And if she stopped using very clumsy plot devices to create tension, that would be great too.

      But it’s not in the first one. And that’s the one I’m reviewing.

      • April 23, 2012 at 8:03 am

        I read all three, and trust me, the writing didn’t get any better. He does say that he’s a sadist though and for all we know, he might be. Just not with her. Still not impressed by the books though

        • April 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

          It makes you wonder if the author knows the difference!

  17. Jim Lawrence
    April 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    The panel on Loose Women loved this book, which tells anybody all they need to know.

  18. April 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    The more I read about the content of the books, the more annoyed I get at the sheer thoughtlessness of the characterization. She is so sexually unaware that she doesn’t jack off, but leaps into a sexual relationship with consummate skill. (And a 22 year old who doesn’t own a computer? WTF?) He has boatloads of money, has had 15 previous relationships and a Red Room of Pain, or whatever he calls his playroom, yet he still does his own shopping at Home Depot, picking up shitty materials like plastic tie downs.

    I wrote a sort of spoof on this “new shiny” example of media-generated hype, depicting what I’d have to write in order to fit the style. I did it without having read *any* of it, and to my surprise, managed to capture several actual tropes James uses. The heroine musing to herself in the mirror, the complete unawareness of a large and public BDSM scene, repeated words for emphasis, popsicle = fellatio, and the hero’s previous 17 relationships. (Off by two!) That is only possible if the original work is a pastiche of old stereotypes and plot devices.

    I don’t insist on hyper-realism in the smut I read; hell, I don’t *write* hyper-realistic smut. But when I find myself wondering, “has this writer given five minutes to even imagine what someone in this situation might have/do/think?”… that’s just sad. And even sadder are the thousands of readers who accept & embrace that sort of lazy writing with such enthusiasm. Mommy deserves better porn. Just sayin’.

    Laura Antoniou

    • April 23, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      Well, it just goes to show you that you shouldn’t call what you write ‘erotica’. Apparently major publishers will pick up any old shit as long as it doesn’t have that genre title attached to it.

      • April 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm

        I’d better remove my tags then!

  19. April 24, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Thank you for this review. It is, by far, the most thoughtful one I’ve read.

    As both a marketer and an erotica writer, I’ve been fascinated by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. My thoughts are very similar to yours, personally (I won’t articulate them here since you’ve done it so well). From a marketing and publishing perspective, I can see why Random House chose to pick up the book. It continues a trend of talking down to readers, women especially, and of presenting female characters who are ciphers. Publishing a bland, “safe” exploration of sex by a woman, aimed at women is excellent business but terrible politics.


  20. April 24, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Agreed! This is so poorly-written, it made me very sad for the GREAT writers who haven’t been picked up.
    I am saddened that the gist of the second installment seems to be that Anastasia is going to ‘cure’ Christian. I hate that the author has turned his desires into pathology.
    Actually, I hate a lot about these books.

    • April 26, 2012 at 9:43 am

      I suspect she has turned his kink into a pathology because the author actually believes it is one.

      There is nothing in the sex descriptions in the book that lead me to believe E.L. James has ever really felt the pleasure of being either the submissive or the dominant in a sexual encounter. There is a real absence of that visceral and overwhelming sense of awe that comes with one.

      • April 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm

        That was my suspicion as well. I felt that James didn’t REALLY know what she was writing about…that there MUST be something wrong with this guy from his traumatic childhood.

        Thanks for the great review!

      • Sam
        May 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm

        I totally agree with your review. Frankly, it was poorly written and the plot was too shallow. Some parts of the book made me feel they were just copied and pasted from different erotica stories. Thanks for your enlightening analysis RG. From a fan here in the Philippines =)

  21. April 26, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Love your review RG. Much more thoughtful, as I would expect from you, than the flippant one I did today at over at UCTMW.

    I had trouble getting past the notion that the “Dom” used such fragrant body wash.

    What’s wrong with Dial or Irish Spring.


    • April 26, 2012 at 9:44 am

      Hehe. Thank you. But yours was a good deal funnier.

      • April 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm

        It was hard not to read that book thinking that it was really intended for our teenage daughters, and getting creeped out at the thought.


  22. SL
    April 26, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Your review echoed all of the sentiments I had. Artistic licence is one thing but my biggest concern was misrepresentation, which is so easy to do. While there are some questions that are answered in the other two books I think it has encouraged a flippant regard for something that is much more complex.

  23. April 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    I couldn’t get all my thoughts about this book into one review at first but when I do, I hope it is as well thought out and as fair as yours. You have absolutely hit the nail on the head I think. I had no idea the book wasn’t standalone and feel quite frankly cheated by the fact. I’ve spent the whole of the book wondering why Random House didn’t subject it to the rigorous editing that would go into tidying up any other book. And honestly, if it weren’t already so popular I don’t think an editor would have touched this as is. It could perhaps be alright if it were seriously reworked, with the elements of fan fiction taken out and some semblance of plot woven all the way through, but it’s just not ready to be published as is.

  24. Jen
    May 3, 2012 at 2:01 am

    I haven’t read all of the comments here (there are a lot of them!), so I apologize if this has already been pointed out. You question why Random House chose this novel over better-written, more accurate depictions of BDSM relationships, and I can say with near certainty that it’s because mainstream America isn’t mature enough to “get it.” We live in a society of idiots (sorry, my fellow Americans) who crave a love story, crave a flawed character who sees the light and changes his/her ways. Ms. James was all too happy to deliver that pedestrian love story, rather than surfacing the true complexities and eroticism of BDSM. It’s milktoast erotica, IMO, but that’s the only kind of erotica that would truly appeal to the tightassness (pun intended, + just coined a new term!) of mainstream Americans.

  25. Christa
    May 3, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Great review. I started that book as my first foray into erotic fiction. I was a very naive 18-year old who could in some senses, identify with the main character. At 30, I’ve fixed a lot of that. (Like you said – coming out of that shell could have made for a compelling character line) Even THEN I had to put down the book – it just was not good. Still, it was a platform and I found your website doing some google of better erotic fiction. Read some of your short stories, just bought one for my kindle last night. You write some seriously great stuff. Thank you! I need to write some positive feedback on your short stories…but you should seriously keep going on the Mumbai Coven. Will catch up on my commenting. Have been devouring your website rudely, without comments. Will fix that. Thanks for your work!!

  26. kitkat9000
    May 5, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Your review was both thorough and thought provoking. I admit that I’ve not read any of the series, frankly the media hype surrounding it made me suspect. Having them refer to it as Mommy Porn made me cringe in consideration of its contents. I’m actually sorry to hear that my trepidation was warranted. This reinforces my inital reluctance to read it with a determination not to. I like my erotica to be realistic and I prefer my authors to know whatof they write and to do it well. James evidently fails on all counts.

    • May 5, 2012 at 11:34 am

      Hello Kitkat. If you would be willing to write a review of my book, ‘It’s Been a Pleasure’, I would be happy to send you a copy, just for the review!
      It has been on sale on KDP for a month and sales are very slow. I need some reviews to post alongside it.
      If you like realistic porn/sex, then I have a feeling you will love this story.
      Let me know and I can send you a .pdf or .doc file, as you like.
      Regards, Robin

      • May 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm

        Robin, I very rarely review books, and when I do, it’s more a sociological study than a critique of the book. You really DON’T want me to review your book. I promise.

  27. rmpltskn
    May 7, 2012 at 6:43 am

    I read your review and every comment. All true…but there was one sentence that totally stuck out to me and really wrapped it all up “Thinking about that a little more, I think it is interesting that for sex to be BDSMish, it’s not so much the act as the headspace that really makes the difference.” You are sooo right RG. THAT is what makes me read and reread what you write. That is what draws us in and keeps us reading.

  28. Elizavetta
    July 7, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Though I came to this comment party late, I had to take the time to thank you for this review! I hated this book, but even more than that, hated all the factors that went into making it so stupidly popular. From my viewpoint as a sexually complex female creature living in an impossibly complex culture (as well as one who has dabbled in erotic writing and much more than dabbled in BDSM), this book just made me feel sad in too many ways to count.

    There are so many levels of “wrong” in this whole situation. It’s not just the Dan Brown-ish quality of the writing itself, but the associated vapid sensationalism and clueless sexuality of this culture (and publishing industry) that somehow managed to shove this book up to the heights it reached. Ah well… you pretty much said it all in your review.

    All 50 shades of wrong aside, I’m overjoyed to revisit online Erotica Land after an extended time away to find that you’re still here, still writing some of the best erotica I’ve ever read. And for that, I thank you as well. May you live long and prosper 😉

    Be well, dear.

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