Friday Reading: The ten most distracting words/phrases in Fifty Shades of Grey

Every Friday, I will post a pseudo-review of a book I’m reading, or have read, that week. I know it’s not a Friday, but I read this last Friday and I was at the beach. So there!

Fifty Shades of Grey amidst bags of potato chips. I should’ve gotten myself some beer too. (Taken using Instagram for iOS)

In hindsight, it should have been very embarrassing and pathetic when I asked two bookstores in my usual hangout for a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James and, finding it out of stock, went to another mall to finally get my hands on the book. All I knew then was that it was a New York Times bestseller and that it’s supposed to be steamy. But I had to get a copy — I was intrigued (I was thinking, is this the contemporary Lolita?), it seemed to have a good premise, and I needed a light read to bring with me to Caramoan (my “light” read to Boracay/Guimaras was by Ronald Barthes — I didn’t finish it).

It should have been a warning when I started reading and thinking that the main characters, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, were very much like Bella and Edward of Twilight, with Anastasia stumbling flat on her face upon her first meeting with Christian and Christian being described with words in the fifty shades of “perfect” and “freaking hot”. The writing is dragging and cheesy, and Ana’s first-person narrative voice does not sound like that of a Brit lit major. And there’s a lengthy BDSM contract!

I slogged through, thinking that maybe everything would change once I reached the sexy times. It didn’t. It’s filled with cheese, ellipses, and cliches galore, and I felt like every minute gesture had to be written down. I was thinking that it read painfully like fanfiction, even the automated per-chapter publishing kind of writing in which fans would cry out, “OMG cliffhanger! More lemon plz!!!11 ^_^;” and therefore the author has to bring both characters together in each chapter even though they are thousands of miles apart. (I know this, as I used to be a prolific fanfiction writer — though I kept my writings PG. Go me.)

And who knew? Fifty Shades used to be a Twilight fanfic! Why didn’t anyone tell me this beforehand? I am outraged. :>;;;

I want to talk about strange turns of phrases and misused words before I go to my overall reactions again. See, while I wanted to lose myself in a novel that requires not much thinking, I was terribly distracted by the writing. Here are a few examples.

1. Anastasia “panting” during sex or in anticipation of it. Seems to me that the use of the word “panting” is better reserved for moments after great physical exertion, or for dogs. This word appeared sometimes thrice in one page.

Reaching forward, he trails the tip of the crop from my forehead down the length of my nose, so I can smell the leather, and over my parted, panting lips (Ch. 14). (But lips don’t pant, I tell myself.)

We lie there, panting together, waiting for our breathing to slow (Ch. 16). (I get the mental image of both Ana and Christian with their tongues out.)

2. Ana’s “Holy sh*t!”, “Holy crap!”, “Holy f*ck!” and everything else that’s holy whenever Christian tells Ana what he wants to do to her, and whenever else it’s convenient.

Holy sh*t. His words. He’s so seductive. He takes my breath away (Ch. 8). (How sad that when you’re seduced, the only thing you can think of is “Holy sh*t.”)

Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow… (Ch. 8) (Okay, this made me laugh.)

3. Granted, “phlegmatically” was mentioned only once, but while it means “apathetically”, it is more of a temperament than an emotion. Also, Hippocrates described a person of this temperament as abounding in phlegm (instead of blood or bile). It was strange seeing Christian being described this way.

“After you passed out, I didn’t want to risk the leather upholstery in my car taking you all the way to your apartment. So I brought you here,” [Christian] says phlegmatically (Ch. 5).

4. “My scalp prickles” was mentioned several times. It got me scratching my own scalp as to what it means. I know my hair stands on end, especially the hair on my nape when I’m scared. But my scalp…hmmm.

My scalp prickles as I sit in palpitating anticipation (Ch. 22). (Even the use of participles are weird…)

My scalp prickles as adrenaline and fury lance through my body, all my worst fears realized, crashing through me (Ch. 22). (So here we see that the formula is “My scalp prickles as I ____.” I’m starting to get used to this.)

5. Ana’s “inner goddess”. I’m not quite sure what an inner goddess is, but I’m sure she/it doesn’t dance. If it’s meant to be a metaphor, it’s distracting.

Oh, he’s affected all right – and my very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba (Ch. 5). (I know we find the real us deep within ourselves, but this is silly.)

I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves (Ch. 9). (This is in the middle of a naughty scene! I simply CANNOT.)

6. Likewise, Ana’s “subconscious” that either “hides behind the sofa” or “screams [at her] like a harpy” is distracting. Why is Ana conscious of her subconscious? Freud would be disappointed.

I frown and return to my now cold food. I’m too excited to eat, Christian. Don’t you understand? my subconscious explains (Ch. 5).

I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious – she’s doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his (Ch. 5). (Oh, I forgot that she/it dances as well.)

7. The “current” that flows through Ana’s body, or the “electric” atmosphere. I’ve seen this in other romance novels, and it’s a cliche I don’t like. While I know the term isn’t supposed to be taken literally, I think there’s a limit on how to use it figuratively.

As I touch his hand, I’m aware of that delicious current running right through me, lighting me up, making me blush, and I’m sure my erratic breathing must be audible (Ch. 3).

Our fingers brush very briefly, and the current is there again, zapping through me like I’ve touched an exposed wire. I gasp involuntarily as I feel it, all the way down to somewhere dark and unexplored, deep in my belly (Ch. 2). (That’s got to hurt, really.)

I can feel that pull, that delicious electricity between us charging, filling the space between us with static (Ch. 12). (Bzzt bzzt.)

8. The “situation”. I am bothered and appalled that Ana’s virginity is a “situation” that needs to be resolved.

“We’re going to rectify the situation right now.”
“What do you mean? What situation?”
“Your situation. Ana, I’m going to make love to you, now.”
“Oh.” The floor has fallen away. I’m a situation. I’m holding my breath (Ch. 8). (Christian later calls Ana “one brave young woman” for letting him “rectify the situation”. What the hell! If it were me, the brave thing to do would be to employ a muay thai move to Christian’s groin and run away. Ana is not being brave here; she’s just being horny. In my humble opinion.)

9. “Eat.” So apparently part of Christian’s dark, tormented past is being hungry, so he “has issues with wasted food”. I don’t know what my feelings are for someone who forces me to eat, though. The book bears no subtlety on the trope — unlike, say, The Hunger Games. I’m not sure what the motif symbolizes in the book, either.

10. Christian’s “long fingers”, among other things (like the way his jeans hang off his hips) which could be mentioned twice in one paragraph.

His long fingers stroke the length of my arm once he’s finished. Oh! His touch elicits a delicious, tickly shiver. I hear him move slowly round to the other side, takes my right arm and cuffs it. Again, his long fingers linger along my arm. Oh my… I am fit to burst already (Ch. 25). You know what too many mentions of long fingers remind me of?

The aye-aye.
(Image from avaxnews.com)

#

To be fair, the narrative is not all bad. As mentioned, the premise is interesting, and I think there are conversations and email exchanges (why don’t they just text, though?) that are quite amusing. And anyway, I finished the book, right? Though despite wanting to know what happens next, I knew I was not going to slog through another page of kink.

Aside from the awful writing and lack of plot though, I think most of my problems with the book stem from the characterization. Why does Anastasia have such low self-esteem? Why is she so innocent, to the point of being dumb? Why is Christian a walking mass of contradictions? How exactly does he get rid of a whole life’s worth of baggage in less than a month, even if it’s due to a girl he’s inexplicably attracted to? And while I do not know anything about BDSM aside from what I’ve read in Fifty Shades and Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes (a mercifully way better book), I still find Christian overly jealous, abusive and controlling, and I wanted to be Ana’s subconscious and scream at Ana because she still wants to “change” him in spite of it all. It’s not even Christian’s predilection for BDSM that bothers me — it’s more of his “mercurial” personality that seems more dangerous.

Maybe a better question to ask is why lots of women like the novel. Do we, the haterz, just not get it? Does it tell us that women want to cede control to men again? Or are fans just not reading too closely? Just some questions I wanted to throw out there.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5) and totally not recommended to my students.

8 thoughts on “Friday Reading: The ten most distracting words/phrases in Fifty Shades of Grey”

  1. My dad read this book and said the story was good, but not the writing. I haven’t even tried and now thanks to your blog I won’t. You had me at panting, must she make the girl completely naive and then turn her into an animal. BLEH. It’s like the anti-feminist erotica from what I can see in blogs.

    1. Hmmm, some feminists would say that the only ones who can dictate what women want are themselves, so if they want to be “submissives”, then it’s okay! But I don’t know, I don’t buy it. I still think the male protagonist is controlling and yes, anti-feminist. And there’s not a lot to read anyway, as there is very little plot :))

      1. That’s what my dad said. He was like the plot is practically non-existent. So, what is a book without good writing and without plot…I suppose it’s a best seller?

      2. It’s #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List! The three books in the trilogy are in the top three. :D News sites think it’s a combination of its marketing and the titillating scenes. Can’t be too sure, but probably. :))

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