This book was brought to my attention about ten years ago. One of the women I shared a classroom with, asked me if I had read it and if yes, what I thought about it. Back then it was totally new to me and so I asked for it. And to be honest, this is one of the few books I know where I can say it polarizes its readers. You either love it or not. To find out how I think about it, keep reading.

Fifty Shades Of Grey*
by E. L. James
Fifty Shades Trilogy #1
Publisher Vintage on May 25, 2011
Genre Erotica
Pages 356
Format Paperback

When literature student Anastasia Steel goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana´s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too – but on his own terms. Shocked yet thrilled by Grey´s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family – Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey´s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
Ana takes on an important appointment in Seattle for her sick friend Kate and finds herself just hours later opposite Christian Grey, who is as mysterious as he is fascinating. The interview with him turns out to be one catastrophe for Ana – she has no idea who she is actually dealing with, and Kate´s questionnaire doesn´t make things any better. But somehow, she survives the almost embarrassing situation and is happy when she finally arrives back in Vancouver in her own world. Her exams are pending, and she has a lot to learn. If only there weren´t those grey eyes of a certain Christian Grey – eyes Ana just can´t get out of her head, even if she knows exactly that the man is not her league.

E.L. James has written an extremely effective novel in a simple if direct, language, which takes its readership into a world full of eroticism and skillfully plays with the opposites of its characters and two worlds. Fifty Shades of Grey brings the subject of bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadism & masochism to the reader in an incredibly atmospheric and extremely sensitive way.

Through the first-person perspective of protagonist Ana, the reader immerses himself in a world that is characterized by deep fears, lust, passion, uncertainty, power and naivety and involuntarily experiences this up close. On the one hand, the main character enters a world that is completely unknown to her – that of passion – but on the other hand, she is also able, even if only by email, to express her wishes, views, and opinions. 

The style of writing and speaking is simple, very direct, sometimes ironic without becoming obscene – at least that´s how I feel – and presents the novel in a light, almost swinging tone. Sure, there are repetitions of words and sentences in some scenes and passages, but that didn´t disturb me much. The special thing about the novel: Ana is not degraded to a sex-willing object of desire, but she remains herself, remains human or woman and is not a puppet that is at the service of the dom without her own will. 

It´s no secret that the two main characters are originally Bella and Edward from the Twilight series – just presented a little differently – and do so deliberately. The author skillfully plays with the opposites of her performers, creates a wonderfully dense and crackling atmosphere in the plot through her completely different perspectives and reveals essential characteristics of Bella and Edward. 

On the one hand, there is Christian´s way of driving his hair through when Ana confronts him with something (which is usually not so pleasant for him), or Ana´s habit of nibbling on her lip when she is busy. These features are expressed in different scenes – sometimes in dialogues, sometimes in the plot itself – but are never boring or annoying for the reader because they simply belong to the character. 

Ana is absolutely convinced that she is unassuming and unremarkable, especially in the eyes of a man like the divinely attractive and incredibly dominant Christian Grey. In a direct comparison with her friend Kate, Ana may have an inner strength in spite of all naivety and inexperience when it comes to sex, which impressed me very much. She manages to stand up to Christian in a unique way without giving up on herself as a person. She is ready to venture into new territory, to try out, to test her limits – both moral and physical – and shows it more than clear when she is no longer willing to go beyond it. 

Christian is practically the opposite of Ana. Rich, outrageously attractive, equipped with a smile and a charm for which he would actually need a gun license, and he radiates something dark. But not only does he have a lot to offer on the surface, but he is also an absolute masterpiece internally: his past, his inner demons with whom he has to struggle every day and his low self-esteem – all this makes this character a very special experience for me.

It happens very, very rarely that a book can really surprise me, but Fifty Shades of Grey did a wonderful job. The novel is wonderfully atmospheric and undoubtedly polarizes – either you love it, or the opposite is the case. There is no middle thing here. As a reader, it is difficult to evade its dense atmosphere, but who wants that? I have never had a story in this genre in mind that the delicate degree hike – not to slip into tasteless clichés and instead present delightful appealing eroticism to the reader – was seen as brilliantly implemented as E. L. James did with this title. The book is just fantastic reading material – not just for women.  

Happy reading

*I read the German edition released by Goldmann in August 2012 

E. L. James
E. L. James ©Nino Muñoz

The British author E.L. James was an employee of a TV station in London. Her “Fifty Shades” trilogy, which has sold more than 150 million copies globally and has been translated into 52 languages, was initially published by a small Australian publisher and became the most sensational international book success of recent times through word of mouth. The first volume, “Fifty Shades of Grey” was on the Spiegel bestseller list for 147 weeks. And the film versions of the three volumes broke all records. E. L. James lives in West London with her husband, writer and screenwriter Niall Leonard, and their two sons.  


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