Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Rating: 3.5, maybe 4 /5 stars
Number of pages: 528
First published: 2011
I got this book: bought it myself
Language: I read the Dutch translation (Vijftig tinten grijs)
Genre: contemporary fiction

I only read this book so I could make some derogatory comments about it. But now I can’t. I think it’s mainly that I had been so put off by other people’s remarks and reviews that I expected a badly written, totally unbelievable story with lots of sex. Well, it’s not. Not really.

Fifty Shades of Grey: What it is about

The book is about Ana who has just finished college and is about to find a work experience place. She meets an extremely rich man, Christian Grey, who is only 27 but very dominant and controlling. He’s also very handsome, and she can’t help being attracted to him. Turns out: he is attracted to her, too. But he’s never had a proper relationship. His previous relationships have all been on his terms with the woman either agreeing to these terms, or being dumped.

But Ana is different. He says he will drop her if she doesn’t agree to do things his way, but she isn’t sure she wants his sort of relationship, involving mainly S/M sex. She hasn’t really had a boyfriend before so what she wants is a normal relationship. The remainder of the book involves bargaining for the kind of relationship they might have. She has a taste of his idea of a relationship, and he gets a taste of what she wants. Will Ana be the woman who can make him change his attitude?

During the book Ana finds out about Christian’s dark past. A lot has happened to make him the person he is now. She uncovers only some of it, but it helps her understand him better.

Fifty Shades of Grey: What I thought

I found the book not so badly written as I expected. It’s not literary by any means, but as someone who has read absolutely loads of books, I can honestly say that the writing didn’t bother me, I didn’t notice it being bad. So, it can’t be worse than say, the average chick-lit. I must add that I read the book in the Dutch translation, and who knows, maybe that’s better than the original.🙂

The book did something to me: I was angry with Christian for his unreasonable insistence in having the relationship his way. Why not try something different for a change? Especially given that he found Ana to be different from the other women he’d been seeing. And by the way, his ideas were totally unacceptable to me. I almost gave up reading when I saw his full list of demands.

Ana, not having much relationship experience, is so worried that Christian will walk away, that she’s willing to go at least some of the way. That was SO bad! Dear Ana, if he would really walk away for that reason, what sort of boyfriend is he anyway?

So, my blood boiled. And that made me realise that the story became sort of real to me. While the premise is completely unbelievable, when you get over that, there is a story with real characters that do things that I have an opinion about. That made this a good book. Not brilliant, but good enough.

By the way, there are some very explicit scenes in this book because Ana and Christian cannot keep their hands off each other, but these scenes did serve a purpose on the whole. They were not just gratuitous sex scenes to spice up the story – generally what happened during those scenes was important in the next parts of the story, too. So, I think that was well done. I didn’t care all that much about these scenes, but I was happy to see they served a purpose.

Not good: the book ended too late, or too soon. A conflict was resolved, but when the book ends, a new one had started. It was just about OK, but I did feel the story wasn’t complete. I know there are two more books, but they’re not this book. The ending in this book wasn’t quite right, I thought.

I don’t think I’ll read the next books, but I’m not saying I definitely won’t. What I especially liked about the book was that it made me angry, and therefore, there was a certain suspense: will Ana give in to that horrible Christian, or will she be sensible? Recommended for anyone who is curious about the book.

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

50 Responses to Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

  1. Judith, I had a big smile on my face when I read your review. Like you, I was convinced you weren’t going to like this book and I was ready to defend my rather positive review(s) to you. And there you are, not loving the book but seeing the positive in it. Don’t you love the way books can sometimes completely surprise you?

  2. I agree! I doubt I’ll read the next two books but it was an okay story. In the English version, Ana continually talks about her ‘inner goddess’. Is it the same in the Dutch translation?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Sam, yes, the inner goddess also makes her appearance in the Dutch translation. I thought it was a bit silly and I just ignored it. What did you think?

      • Jlyn says:

        Hope you don’t mind me jumping in here about the inner goddess (I left an overall comment on the main post). I was quite annoyed by her initially, but I later (I read all 3 books) rather enjoyed her insight into Ana’s emotions and turmoil. She, along with Ana’s more level headed subconscious, became something of additional characters to me.

      • Leeswammes says:

        Jlyn, I like that idea, that the inner goddess gets a life of her own! In the first book, I found it a bit silly.

  3. Lizanne says:

    Judith finally i comment!
    I didn’t particularly like the book, it was Ok so I couldn’t wait to see your review. You surprised me by seeing the positives but I think the proof is in whether you read the other 2 books! I won’t – theres too much out there to read still!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Hey Lizanne, thanks for commenting! Finally.🙂

      A pity you didn’t like the book much. I agree, so many other books to read. If I need something light and the book is pushed into my hands, I’ll probably read the next one.

  4. Ally says:

    I can’t wait to read my copy, which arrived today🙂

  5. Suzanne says:

    Well!
    I still am not convinced I should give this book a try, but if you enjoyed it …..

    • Leeswammes says:

      I can’t say, Suzanne. I suspect you may not enjoy it. I would normally never read a book like this, but it was “research”, so I could hype-talk about this book. And as I say in the review, it wasn’t half as bad as I expected.

  6. I read this series because I figured there was no way I could miss the “Fear of Flying” of this decade. And like you, I thought there was something about the main characters that made me care about the book more than I should have. I’d call it a really good piece of chic-lit that way. By the end of the series I was skipping the sex scenes to follow the plot line to the end, though. Good review!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Col, I didn’t realise this is the Fear of Flying of the decade (which I read in its own decade, I should add). I don’t read erotic fiction so the sex scenes weren’t for me, either. The plot was OK, I thought.

  7. Boekhapper says:

    ohh wat grappig dat jij het positief waardeert! zie je wel dat wij heel anders lezen🙂
    Maar ja ik vind chick lit ook vreselijk dus daar zal het dan wel aan liggen. En wat ik ook wel leuk vind is dat er nu opeens ook uit allerlei hoeken dames komen die het, met jou, helemaal niet slecht vinden.
    Leve de verschillen!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Joke, inderdaad – grappig he? Ja, chick-lit kan ik best waarderen, tenminste, een bepaald soort chick-lit. Niet dat soort met die hele domme meisjes.

      Het is inderdaad heel leuk dat er zoveel verschillende meningen zijn over dit boek. Ik ga nu helemáál alle reviews lezen. Eerst trok me dat niet zo, maar sinds ik het boek zelf gelezen heb natuurlijk wel.

  8. Thanks for sharing your review. I don’t plan to read it, but all of my friends keep asking me about it -assuming that I already have read it (four people in just the past week). But I do like reading all of the reviews about 50 Shades of Grey. There are so many varying opinions and that is the best part – a book that has so many people reading and discussing – there is value in that.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Joli, I didn’t plan to read it, but it happened… Funny how your friends think you’ve read it. The reviews differ widely, which is nice.

  9. I was curious about the book, Judith, but now that I have read your, great, review, I no longer am. So this one is not for me.🙂

  10. Interesting! I have only read excerpts and I thought they were very poorly written, but perhaps they chose the worst sections? Part of me wants to know what everyone is talking about, but another knows I wont fall in love with it. Perhaps I’ll pick up a copy in the library.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, maybe if you dwell on the writing, it can be bad in places. But I read the book without thinking about it, and I didn’t really notice anything off. Having said that, I am more likely to notice good writing than bad!

      A library copy is a great idea – I’d love to see how far you get with the book…

  11. Rikki says:

    Interesting! I didn’t plan to read it but now you made me curious. Just that I dislike stories where the plot is mainly trying to resolve differences about how something should work. Plus, I don’t like SM sex scenes. I’ll think about it. I was very surprised to find you being so positive about the book – really!🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Rikki, I think you might like this book. Maybe more so than me, even! I liked the plot because I wanted things to be good for Ana, not just for Christian. I wonder if I’m the only reader who didn’t like Christian, actually!

  12. Laura says:

    I definitely can’t read this because there’s this tumblr (http://50shadesofsuck.tumblr.com/) that basically just picks out the most cringy parts of the books and makes fun of them, annd I’d definitely be thinking of that as I read- which actually, sounds like fun, so maybe I should check them out… Hmmm.

    Anyway, I’m glad it surprised you and that you found it ok!

  13. Erika says:

    Interesting review. I saw this book come up a few times but I had no idea just how popular is was until I looked on Goodreads just now. Based off your review and the fact people keep calling it erotica I’m not sure if I would read it or not. On the other hand you make the premise sound really intriguing…maybe if I borrowed it from a friend. Definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to get a library copy or buy it though. (Unless I went into hoarder mode…it’s been known to happen.)

    • Leeswammes says:

      Erika, yes, this book is very popular. When I saw it in my book shop, I decided I just had to try it. I mean, Eat, Pray, Love was a hype and I loved the book! Same with The Help.🙂

      I don’t normally read erotica. In fact, when I tried a few years ago, I didn’t get far. It was… boring!

  14. viczye23 says:

    This isn’t the kind of book i normally read, i tend to stick to horror and crime but had to read it as everyone has read it and it’s all any female is talking about.

    I love it, I don’t think it is particularly well written but the story itself is great. As someone who is into the ‘scene’ it has a lot of promise and terminology is correct.
    Due to the fact that I am of a submissive nature I really love Christian. I don’t agree with all of his terms but then again I don’t think many subs would, that is why there is a contract, which a lot in the BDSM world do actually use.

    As for people saying it’s erotica, it is mainstream erotica. I have read a lot of writings by unpublished people that have a lot more sex, bdsm, violence etc in them than this has, to me it is tame but I love the fact that my imagination is being used and I can picture it. I also love the fact that as I’m a submissive (quite open about this fact as it is a part of me so I should not be ashamed) I can relate to Ana in a way.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your honest comment, Vic. You are yet another person that doesn’t read this type of book, and enjoyed it a lot. I think that’s maybe the strength of the book, that many people somehow can enjoy it even if they normally wouldn’t read something like this.

      I didn’t like Christian, for his dominance in general – I didn’t like his controlling manner also when he bought her a laptop, a car, just because HE wanted her to have that. The relationship was too unequal. Not something I would recommend a young woman to go into.🙂

  15. Jlyn says:

    I was hesitant to read these books myself but a friend told me to go ahead and to keep an open mind. I have to agree that the writing was not nearly as bad as I expected (based on internet reviews I’d read). I actually found the writing to be easy, fun and quite humorous (as appropriate).

    I’ve read all 3 books and I strongly encourage anyone who at least liked the first, to continue. The real story doesn’t even unfold until Book 2. Book 1 more or less sets the stage of what’s to come. Books 2 and 3 really delve into Christian and Ana’s relationship — she stepping a bit into the dark side, leading him toward the light. What unfolds is a beautiful journey of love and transformation.

    Side note: I think a lot of people may have been put off by the “contract” early in book 1. But that’s really only to plant the seed of what COULD happen and make us worry about it.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Jlyn. I was indeed put off by the contract (wasn’t it more near the middle? with all the details). As a scare tactic that totally worked for me! I could imagine the second book delves more deeply into Christian’s past/character. That could be interesting.

  16. HArvee@BOok DIlettante says:

    NOw that I have read your review, I think I,ll skip the book. Was curious about all the hype but I now think the book may be overrated. THere are lots of books with steamy scenes, so I would not read it just because of that!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Harvee, I would indeed not pick up this book (just) for the steamy scenes. But I personally thought it was better than the (one) erotic fiction book I’ve read. There was a proper storyline and I was interested to see how it progressed. I’m not sure, but I have the feeling (some) erotica is merely a story build around some sex scenes. I didn’t feel that was the case here.

  17. I have read a lot about this book on Twitter lately. Many people are reading it and talking about it. It doesn’t sound like something I would read though. I will never say never, but I am not going to buy this one.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Roxanne, the book isn’t really something I would normally read. I read it more out of curiosity and to be able to say, *see, terrible book!*🙂

  18. Maybe the translation reads better? For me the English version included vocabulary that no one uses, it felt like she used the thesaurus a bit too much. Book two is actually better and book three… if you can overlook the words Mr and Mrs being used every other word…. it’s not bad. A plot is there, similar to N Sparks novels.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Leeswammes says:

      I wonder if the translation is maybe a little better, Mari. I didn’t notice many odd words. So you read all THREE books? I didn’t realise. Yes, that Mr/Mrs thing is nice but not 3 books long.

      There was more of a plot than I thought, so that was a bonus.

  19. I bought this a few weeks back, but have not picked it up yet. I rarely read a book that has so much hype surrounding it, although I appreciate any book that gets people buzzing about reading. I have been curious about Fifty Shades of Grey since it is one of those books that change the industry itself. Less often are people walking around hiding the book that they read.
    I had heard that the writing wont blow anyone away, but it is decent. Thank you for your review.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Steph, I decided to read it while the hype is still going so I could have my own opinion about it. I’ve read all of this book at home – not sure how I would have felt reading this on the train, I probably would have started a different book just for travelling!🙂

  20. Angelina says:

    **** SPOILERS ***

    Leeswammes,
    I have never read a book that captivated my whole being like this book. First of all. I never knew about S&M. I know, I went to Catholic boarding school, married young and raised a family. So, this subject was knew to me. Second, I fell in love with the characters. I developed a deep sadness for Christian. What on earth happened to him as a young chlid for him to not be able to love another human being. He was smitten with Ana, and yet he did want to change and even said he would try when Ana said she wanted more. He said ” I’ll try.” I believe he meant it. Again, that dark side of him just kept coming back at him. Ana, loved him and tried to understand the darkness that engulfed him. Was it his biological mother, whore, crack addict, Mrs. Robinson, being adopted into the perfect family and trying to fit in ? I must say that I was surprised when he told Ana that Seattle is full of place to go to to learn about S&M and that he only had had four submissive in the past, that he paid to have sex. That was pretty sad. Or is there much more that has not been disussed. Ana tried to get Christian to talk and he did to a certain extent; but then he would clam up when it got to painful for him to express. I know he did care deeply for Ana, and yet he couldn’t love her the way she loved him. We never did find out what those scars on his chest were from. I agree the erotic sceens did serve a purpose in bringing to light Christian unrelentlng need for dominance and self pleasure. I have to say he, also gave Ana pleasure too. But mostly it was he would derived pleasure. I thought in the begining that he was concerned for Ana’s well being and that’s why he wanted her to eat more, and work out three times a week with a personel trainer. Had an OB/GYN come to his place and make sure Ana was placed on BCPs because he didn’t want her pregnant. Bought her a new car,lent her a computer and Blackberry. I realized that all of the things he did for Ana was really for himself. If Ana was not eating properly she would become weak, and if she didn’t exercise enough to build up stamina, she would not be able to keep up with all of his erotic sexual demands. Of course he wanted her to drive a safer car because if anything happened to her he would have to start all over again with another submissive.
    I cried at the end, when Ana spirit was broken, she came to the realization that she had no furtur with Christian, that she could not bring him out of the dark place he resides in. That bascailly he is damaged goods. It was sad. I was hoping for a better ending. I hope there is a sequel and tha somehow they get back together and Christian realizes that Ana was the best thing that happened to him. I think both of them have redeeming qualities and would like a better ending to Christian and Ana’s story.
    Angie

    • Leeswammes says:

      Angie, thanks for your thoughtful comment. The book made a great impact on you. I was also interested in Christian’s past and how he became the person he is. I didn’t like him particularly, though. I didn’t think: handsome rich man: hand him over, please! Apparently, some women like the book because of Christian’s controlling behaviour, well, not me!

      The good news: there are 2 more books in this series so be sure to pick them up! I’d love to hear what you think of the others (although I haven’t read them myself).

  21. Leslie says:

    Perhaps the Dutch translator was generous and made it better, but I thought the writing wasn’t very good. I don’t mean the story, I mean the writing itself.

    I listened to the audio and that was a problem too. The audio production is awful, plus listening to bad writing is way worse than reading it.

    I tried again to finish it and got about half way, but I can’t listen to that narrator try and do a male voice for one more second! I will have to finish the book in print because now I want to know how it ends. But you say it doesn’t really end and I’m not reading books two and three. Arrrgh.

    • Leeswammes says:

      What a pity the audio experience was so bad, Leslie. I didn’t notice the writing being particularly bad, but then, I didn’t look out for it. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the rest of the story.

      The book ends “enough” in some sense, but it also sets a clear step into a continuation of the story and that, I didn’t like. But I think if you don’t want to read book 2, you’re still be OK with just book 1 – there isn’t a cliffhanger or anything like it.

  22. cbjamess says:

    I love your recommendation at the end of this post. Abraham Lincoln once wrote in a book review that the book was “The sort of thing that appeals to people who like that sort of thing.” 😉

    • Leeswammes says:

      James, you’re right. That wasn’t much of a recommendation. I guess what I meant is, if you’re thinking of reading it, just do it, it’s not that bad.🙂

  23. Trish says:

    Very balanced thoughts Judith. I don’t have a lot of interest in this one but I fear that eventually the curiosity will weigh me down. Ha! I’m wondering if there is some reason why people are going on and on about the writing being so terrible–are they expecting this to be a work of literary art? It can’t be that bad if millions of people are reading this book. Just not sure it’s my cup of tea.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Trish, I like it when lots of people start reading just for the hype. Or read a bit more than normal. It’s nice. And if it’s this book, that’s fine too.

      I don’t know if it’s your cup of tea, it wasn’t mine, really, either. But still I enjoyed the book.

  24. Great review. It’s lovely to see somebody give this book a ‘fair review’. So many people slate it because it must be terrible because it’s popular. I completely agree with you regarding the ending. It did force me to go on Amazon and order the other two books though which was perhaps what she wanted.

    I think you have tapped into the reason this book is so popular – it makes us feel something. You felt anger, I think I identified with Ana – I’m not sure I would have behaved differently in her situation.

    I’m curious to see what this author does next – whether she can engage me in this way again.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Morna, so you fell for it and got the other two books? Well, in the end I borrowed them because I wanted to read them before going to an discussion evening about the book.

      You had a totally different reaction to the book than me! Isn’t that funny? But, yes, we were touched by the book in some way, so it can’t be that bad! I sincerily doubt James will write anything like it again, but who knows?

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