A Play by Play Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey, Chapter One

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL JamesFor those of you who know me more than a passing acquaintance are likely familiar with my inability to turn down a challenge when pride is on the line. There was this one time my husband ordered fish curry soup at an Irish pub, and it was so bad that he couldn't finish it.

He loves seafood.

So my loving friends waved a few bills in my face and dared me to chug the broth. One of them, knowing me, made a comment about whether or not I could handle such a small bowl of soup.

The gauntlet had been thrown down, and I rose to the challenge.

If you want to see me look ill in the real life, just say curry and fish together in the same sentence. Next time, I'll make sure to get a better bribe for doing it. (I have some dignity. Not much, but some.)

So, what does that little story have to do with Fifty Shades of Grey? Well, I was challenged. Dared. There were no bribery involved beyond a copy of the book being loaned to me for the purpose of my reading and reviewing.

I have a few motivations for reading this book, however. First, I want to see for myself if it's as abuse and rapish as everyone says. I have pretty thick skin, and I have some familiarity with the bondage community. I'm not into it, but I know a lot of folks who are, and I've been friends with quite a few Dom/Sub couples.

I'm going in aware of the culture, aware of what constitutes as rape in one of these couplings (or scenarios, as specific instances are commonly referred to), and aware of the scene on a lighter level.

I'm also going into this wondering what the heck is so appealing about this story.

So, here goes. I will be quoting scenes from the book in small quantities as part of my play by play. If you're uncomfortable talking about sex, rape, relationships, or anything of that nature, you've been warned. It'll be here, and I have no interest in softening my opinion to make it easier to swallow.

I use affiliate links in this post. For reasons, involving earning money if someone clicks and buys the book. Greed, yo. I has it. Loads of it.

It begins. Yes, there will be spoilers ahead! ALL OF THE SPOILERS.

To be honest, I'm totally apprehensive about this book. I've heard terrible things about it–particularly about how poorly written it is. Poorly written books make me sick to my stomach, and I mean that in a quite literal sense. If this book is half as bad as I've heard, I'm going to need antacids before this is finished.

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair – it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal.

The opening paragraph has brought me to a complete halt. This might be a new record. I'm the type of girl who is as likely as not to wrap my hair in a bun without untangling my long, frizzy locks. My perm died out months ago, and my hair is so brittle I'm amazed I'm not bald.

Within two sentences, I've learned I have absolutely nothing in common with this woman.

Seriously, who has someone to do their hair every day?! What is wrong with this woman?

She's either really rich or really spoiled.

Oh, and it starts with a stare-in-the-mirror cliche. Sigh.

This is going to be a long post, and an even longer read. Well shit.

P.S.: I sleep with my hair wet almost every night, thank you very much. I like it. Go ahead and judge me and my messy locks.

Also, when I'm only two paragraphs into a book and have already found a plot hole/continuity error, it's pretty sad. There is not enough coffee in my house for this.

I have reached the end of the first scene. Ana seems to fit the ‘everyone walks on her' trope type so far. I don't have a connection with her at this point. She looks like she might be a nice person, and if this Kate chick is trusting her to go to this oh-so-important interview, she might be somewhat competent, though her internal monologue is about as flaky as a toaster strudel.

The roads are clear as I set off from Vancouver, WA toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early, and I don’t have to be in Seattle until two this afternoon. Fortunately, Kate’s lent me her sporty Mercedes CLK. I’m not sure Wanda, my old VW Beetle, would make the journey in time. Oh, the Merc is a fun drive, and the miles slip away as I floor the pedal to the metal.

I think I understand why people have been saying the writing is bad. Most people would either say “I floored the pedal” or “I put the pedal to the metal” rather than both in the same line, since it's saying the same thing.

Yeah, at this point, I'm sighing and making an effort to ignore the writing in this story. And the fact that a college student who is studying to be a journalist owns a Mercedes CLK, which is essentially an executive's vehicle for those who can't drive manuals but still want a luxury sedan.

If Kate can afford that car, why is she rooming with Ana?

I think I better stop trying to think too hard about this, before I hurt myself.

She hands me a security pass that has VISITOR very firmly stamped on the front. I can’t help my smirk. Surely it’s obvious that I’m just visiting. I don’t fit in here at all. Nothing changes, I inwardly sigh. Thanking her, I walk over to the bank of elevators past
the two security men who are both far more smartly dressed than I am in their well-cut black suits.

With the excerpt above, being totally honest, I could like Ana. She's self-effacing, yes, but there's a flash of humor here I actually like. There's a little spark of something here.

This is sort of how I end up showing up at fancy places–way too under dressed. Maybe if it weren't for the spoiled-girl introduction, I might find her likable.

I'll say this much: EL James's descriptive skills need a visit to boot camp. The telling here is so rampant, and her descriptions so poor, that I think I need a seeing-eye dog and a cane, since I'm definitely not getting any imagery in this book. That's a a shame.

Confession Number One:

I have a soft spot for men who catch ladies when they trip over their own feet. I'm a tripper. I can trip over a stray hair shed by my cats. My husband has become a master at the one armed ‘save the wife' grab. Except that time I spun around a door to pounce hug him and brained myself on the wall.

Not even he can save me from my stupidity.

Point to you, EL James. Point to you.

At this point in the novel, Ana is meeting Grey for the first time. Ana is a ditzy clutz, who makes me look coordinated.

“You sound like a control freak.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.

The foreshadowing begins, I see.

At this point, I've come to the conclusion that Christian Grey is one of those unobtainable men; looks perfect, expects perfect, and wants imperfect so he can make it perfect–for him.

Personally, at the time Ana says the above gem of dialogue, I would have been planning my escape routes from the building, determined not to get involved with this guy any longer than necessary.

Ana is even flakier than the toaster strudel I mentioned above. Since he has dark copper hair, I'm going to go with rust.It's plenty flaky.

It's like watching an imminent train wreck; I see the trouble coming, and I'm bracing for impact.

I'm reading this interview, Ana is a bumbling so-and-so at it; can't blame her there, I suck at those things as well. They're scary, and she has every right to be nervous. That makes her pretty real in that regard. Grey is toying with her like a mouse.

Ana, however, is being painted as a very shallow person, with a very animistic need for Christian Grey.

I don't like it.

That said, while he's a jerk, and while he's very obviously toying with her and her emotions, there's nothing here yet that's crossed the line for me.

Ana's snarky, and in some ways, she really earns the verbal sparring from Mr. Grey at this point in time. I can't say I wouldn't do the same. I tend to get snarky during interviews, too. It's a defense mechanism.

“Until we meet again, Miss Steele.” And it sounds like a challenge, or a threat, I’m not sure which. I frown. When will we ever meet again? I shake his hand once more, astounded that that odd current between us is still there. It must be my nerves.

My reaction to this startled me a bit. I was actually alarmed. I sat straighter, did the whole eyes narrowing thing, and tensed up.

After his behavior, his aggression, and toying with her like she's prey, challenge or threat used in this way set off most red flags I have.

But, I think I get why people are interested in this. I know a lot of women (and no small number of men) who want to find that ‘love at first sight' thing–and we're being told, repeatedly, that Ana has instant chemistry with Mr. Christian Grey.

I will not speak about the writing quality, I will not speak about the writing quality, I will not speak about the writing quality…

I made it to the end of Chapter One! I survived!

At this point, I'm frighteningly curious to see just how Christian worms his way into Ana's life–and why the hell she is challenging the Alpha predator when she's obviously below him in rank.

She's weird. Actually, she's just flaky, and I'm not really sure Ana has a solid characterization yet. On one hand, I think she's a smartass, on the other, I think she's so sheltered that she wouldn't know how to tie her own shoe strings–or brush her hair–without help.

How the hell does a piss poor college student get to be so sheltered? It's the antithesis of being poor. Poor folks learn to rely on themselves, because they have no choice. This Ana is behaving like the rich girl… probably the rich girl many of us wish we could be.

I get that. A lot of us read to escape our own lives, and it's pretty damned easy to slip into Ana, in the sense of idealistic desires. This is actually a pretty good psychological exercise in understanding people.

Women and men often desire what they can't have, and Ana is in a position to live out those fantasies–however twisted they might be. Or unhealthy.

I dislike Kate. She threw Ana to the wolves. There's absolutely no reason Ana should have been picked for this job. She could have wrangled someone competent for it, easily.

My general thoughts and opinions:

Chapter One, not the worst thing I've read, but by no means anywhere near the top of my list of good books. It's tolerable. I haven't thrown up in my mouth yet. The only character with any sort of actual consistency is the one secretary and Christian Grey, however, which worries me quite a bit.


Leave a Comment:

Lindsay says February 18, 2015

This is SO random, and I haven’t read the book- but in the opening paragraph she curses Kate because Kate was sick and couldn’t do the interview, so she begged Ana to do it in her place, hence why now Ana has to try to get her hair to behave. She’s not cursing Kate for being too ill to do her hair.

    RJBlain says February 18, 2015

    The hair thing goes on for a bit, since Kate always does her hair–every day. So, to me, it pretty much reads that way. She’s upset at Kate for being sick and making her do this interview, which she has no business doing in the first place–and rants about the hair too.

    But the book is so poorly written that clarity is a pretty fleeting thing. I’m just completely taken aback that this character can’t even handle brushing her hair.

Add Your Reply