Is ‘Fifty Shades’ a Romance?

Yes, I’m reading the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E L James and I’ve just finished book 1, Fifty Shades of Grey. Am I enjoying it? Yes. Why? Well, beyond the kinky sex and punishment rituals, there really is a love story here.

Anastasia Steele is a ‘fish out of water’ in every sense of the word. She is young, a virgin and unaccustomed to the experiences wealth can offer. She has no defences to bring to the table except her ‘smart mouth’, admirable intellect and her belief in love and decency.

Christian Grey is the devastatingly handsome young entrepreneur who leads Ana into his dark world, lavishing her with gifts along the way. The first four years of his life have left scars both physical and mental and now as an adult he deals with them the only way he knows how. He is the most damaged hero I can ever remember reading about.

In the push and pull of their early relationship, Ana has her first sexual experience and is horrified to discover the other side of ‘Mr Grey’, the side that must control and punish. She explores her ‘hard limits’ and discovers that his hard limit is touching. Yes, Christian cannot bear for Ana to touch him.

Ana quickly falls for her tortured hero and vows to bring him into the light of a real and loving relationship but by the end of the first book, she decides she can’t abide the punishment side of their affair.

Early on in this book, I wondered if E L James would merely lead us through a series of kinky sexual acts and worried if there would be enough to keep most readers turning the pages. However as Ana and Christian explored each other’s limits and their relationship developed, I was intrigued.

An aspect of the book I really don’t like is the first person present tense point of view. I normally would run a mile from this style of writing but when such deep feelings and responses are being explored, I think it works well. There is a lot of internal monologue with Ana’s internal goddess and harping self- conscious getting a share of the limelight. I often got confused with what Ana was thinking and what she had said out loud and I had to re-read passages to clarify.

Does the book feel realistic? Generally. I wonder if it is a bit of a stretch for the reader to believe that a 27 year old entrepreneur could be a billionaire without inheriting a company from his parents. Also I thought some of the questions in Ana’s interview with Christian at their first meeting were rude and I didn’t believe she would have asked them in that situation. They did pull me out of the story. Once past that and Christian’s improbable age, I totally believed the story and their relationship.

Do I like the characters? Ana is difficult not to like. She is the ‘girl next door’ type, a romantic, who believes in a happily ever after. Christian is the ultimate alpha hero but more damaged than most. I do like him and am coming to understand why he is the way he is as his early life is slowly revealed. Can he be redeemed by Ana? I hope so. By the end of Fifty Shades of Grey we know he loves Ana even if he hasn’t said the words.

Can Christian relinquish his need for control and punishment and allow love and tenderness to be his only sustenance? Can Ana endure the emotional roller coaster of her relationship with Christian and emerge with her ‘happily ever after’?

Yes, I believe it is a romance. What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Is ‘Fifty Shades’ a Romance?

  1. I have just finished the first book. I had heard it was a best seller and thought it would be like “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. I assumed EL James was a man. When I first started reading it I immediately thought “this is just a Mills and Boon”. Present tense was unusual but I gradually got used to it. I found Ana annoying. As her mother said “She over analyses everything”, which to me, made her quite self centred and whiny. I would have preferred the heroine to be more confident and less needy. Grey was too young, I agree he would have been more believable if he was older. Apart from that, he was a far more interesting character mainly because we didn’t know what he was thinking. I wished we didn’t know so much about what Ana was thinking!!! The email correspondence between the two showed both had a sense of humour and I liked that aspect as it was different. It revealed a relationship developing. My overall impression of the first book….definitely a romance….A Mills and Boon with kinky sex and a lot of eye rolling!

    • Hi Joanne! Thanks for your comment. You’re right, we do know A LOT about what Ana is thinking. I guess I didn’t mind that so much because I, like Ana, over think everything too. Unfortunately I have one of those non-stop internal monologues which sometimes I wish I could silence. I agree with the email correspondance. That was a little different and very entertaining. There is quite an aspect of humour in Fifty Shades when Christian and Ana are interacting- very engaging. I look forward to Christian’s character development. I think he has more room to move than Ana does…

  2. Great post, Bernadette! I’ve been wanting someone to explain the phenomenon of Fifty Shades to me. I have to confess I haven’t read the book/s, and I’ve got a couple of questions before I take the dive. 1) why do you think it’s so wildly popular? Is it just the kinky sex? 2) I’ve heard some people say that the writing wasn’t very good – what do you think?

    • Thanks Venetia. I think there are a number of reasons for the popularity of this trilogy. The kinky sex is a big part of it and there are quite a lot of sex scenes, both normal and mild kinky in Fifty Shades of Grey so those reading it for a turn on will get good value for their dollar. The style of sex is one that most people have never experienced so there is some voyeurism involved. Some of what Christian wants to do is quite shocking especially when it comes to punishment so the reader is always asking themselves ‘would I put up with that’? I think the characters are quite well drawn and even though Christian is damaged and needs to do some seriously warped things, the reader comes to understand why (not all has been revealed at the end of book 1) and we have sympathy for him. Joanne is right, he is a typical Mills and Boon alpha hero but with a very dark side that Ana must banish. So I am reading for a happily ever after and wondering what awful things are in store for Ana before she gets her hero.
      The writing? I’ve already said that I don’t like first person POV and the disadvantage is that we don’t get to know what Christian is thinking. It does work well in this story although it could be argued that some scenes in Christian’s viewpoint would bind him more closely to the reader. Afterall, he does have a lot to lose if Ana walks out. Ana thinks a lot and says a lot less so I find myself getting confused between what she’s said out loud and what she’s thinking and have to re read passages quite often. I like the email correspondance passages and the dialogue is witty and entertaining. Ms James uses a lot of short sharp sentences to keep the story moving. The editing is also of a high standard with very few errors slipping through.
      Overall, I’d say I’m pleasantly surprised by the writing after what I had heard regarding the book. It’s easy to criticise but EL James is obviously finding an audience with a lot of women out there (and perhaps quite a few men) and it pays for us as writers to explore these phenomena and understand why they resonate with readers. Good luck to her!

  3. Obviously this trilogy will never be considered a “classic”, but instead a good easy read with some interesting sex scenes..perfect book for the beach! Why not…it’s summer after all!

  4. It’s certainly gathered momentum, Bernadette! The controversy that surrounded its initial release with the debate about Fan Fiction may have given it a push along, but readers have taken to it. I’ve heard it called Mummy Porn, Clit Lit and Romantic Erotica, but what ever the tags it’s resonating with men and women alike.

    It’s not on my reading list and may never make it there because I don’t have enough time to read books I desperately want to read! Good luck to E L James 🙂

    • Hi Helene
      I’m really loving the fuss about this series and being in the process of reading it makes it all the more enjoyable. The fuss is a little misleading, I believe. The passage in book two where Ana is working towards touching Christian on the chest (where he had been abused as a child)moved me to tears. I love it when a book can do that. There is a strong story underpinning this book which can be overlooked if you believe the hype. I agree, goodluck to E L James!

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