Women as Writers: Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James: The Review (AKA It’s Not All About the S Word!) (SPOILER ALERT!) (WARNING: CONTENT UNSUITABLE FOR ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 16) (June, 2013)

Okay. So I know my posting has been a little erratic lately, mostly due to university and my bad habit of skipping between books as I read them. But I’m here, I’m back, and boy do I have a review to give you.


As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I recently read the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy by EL James. It was two months ago I read them but I needed some time to digest it all, and the only reason I read these was because my mum told me about the psychology element to them. As a third year psychology student myself, I figured it could be interesting and went ahead with it. So here are my views.



I’ll start with the first one, Fifty Shades of Grey. EL James’ writing style is simplistic, yes, but I feel this does good justice to the book. It lets you as the reader see the motives behind what the characters are doing (if you look hard enough), and also allows you to adjust to how the characters behave. The first novel serves as a general introduction to the characters and the worlds they inhabit: Ana Steele, the twenty-something college student, living with Kate Kavanagh (her roommate) and living a typical college lifestyle. Ana herself comes from a broken home, where her mother remarried multiple times. Then you have Christian Grey, the enigmatic businessman asked to do a speech at Ana and Kate’s graduation ceremony. At first we don’t know much about Christian, but as the book progresses we get to learn a little bit more about him. Fast cars, helicopters, planes, a multinational business empire, and a crazy personal life to boot. But all of this? This isn’t the real Christian. This is his coping mechanism. Sure it’s fun, but there’s something darker lurking beneath the surface, something that Ana drags out of him over the course of the next few books (but we’ll get to that later).


This ‘darker side’ of Christian lies very much in his childhood. If anyone knows a little about Freud and his psychological theories (if you don’t I suggest you google them, interesting stuff), you’ll know that he believed that present behaviour and thought patterns were often linked to childhood trauma and other significant events. Often these would come through in dreams, lurking in the unconscious until they were triggered by an external event. This is what happens to Christian throughout the course of the trilogy, and by the second book it’s obvious that Ana is starting to really get under his skin, so to speak.


Further on the second novel in the series, Fifty Shades Darker, much of Christian’s history is revealed through Ana’s probing and also through the appearance of a number of people from Christian’s past that are determined to wreak havoc on him, his relationship with Ana, his family, and on his corporation. Instead of the mysterious, desirable businessman that he was in the first novel, Christian turns into a scared, damaged, and traumatised adopted child who was unable to form connections with anyone on the basis of love, commitment and trust. As readers, we are able to see the side of Christian that no-one else sees, the part of him that he fears. His lifestyle is his way of keeping control over an erratic and unpredictable personal world; in fact it’s the only way he knows after having grown up in a household that forced him to fend for himself and live with frequent physical and mental abuse and neglect. The role that Ana plays in Christian’s life now becomes very clear, and for her it’s a constant uphill battle to obtain Christian’s trust and to keep her own integrity intact.


The third novel in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, seems to be a bit of a let-down in comparison to the first two novels on a thematic basis. Though the same simplistic style is there, along with the dynamic between Christian and Ana, it seems as if the entire novel was a forced addition to the first two. The main climax points from Darker are recycled, and their execution was completely out of left field in terms of relevance to the plotline. Darker established Christian and Ana’s relationship on a solid foundation, and Freed sends this into freefall. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s high in emotional tension, and most of the time you question why it had to happen in a particular way and why Ana and Christian couldn’t have just had their happy ending without the extra helping of odd. There’s also very little psychological exploration in Freed, yet another point setting it apart from Shades of Grey and Darker and very much taking away from what I felt was the core premise of the trilogy: the fact that trauma will always remain but it will become easier to deal with in time if its treated.


Overall, the Fifty Shades trilogy is definitely worth a read, but it isn’t to be taken lightly or at face value. I can honestly say from having studied psychology that those who tell you ‘it’s all about sex’ or ‘it’s pornography’ probably aren’t reading beyond the words on the page and have read it only for the value of the public hype. It’s very easy to dismiss books on these kinds of moral premises, but that’s part of the reason why you should read it. Not only does it make a very good point with relation to childhood trauma, mental and physical abuse, coping mechanisms, regression, and psychodynamic streams of psychology in general, but it also asks you to challenge your own moral beliefs and genuinely think about the ways in which the human mind operates in response to chronic threats.


In closing, I would recommend the Fifty Shades trilogy to anyone (of any gender) who has an interest, and even those of you who might be a little skeptical. They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and in this case maybe it’s worth giving it a shot. I don’t know about you, readers, but I quite confidently have my copies displayed on my bookshelf with the likes of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. And if anyone asks me why or tries to judge me for it? I tell them to read it and then get back to me.


So good luck, and I hope that you all give yourselves a challenge this time around and read something out of your comfort zone.


Never stop reading!



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