Fifty Shades of Green: Interpreting Negative Reviews of “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Whatever we think of E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, let’s not forget that the author did something very courageous and subversive in the world of publishing: she spelled it g-r-e-y, in defiance of cheap spellcheck programs that default to g-r-a-y.

Or maybe that’s not a problem that Queen’s English spellcheckers have. Grey is a colour over there, after all, not a color.

Anyway, people have been reading and reacting, as they will on the internet, and I was struck by how many of those reactions are obsessed with punishing the book’s humble origins (re-written Twilight fanfic, released through a vanity publisher) rather than its admittedly mediocre prose.

I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time seeing most of the distaste as anything but a) sour grapes from fellow fanfic and pulp fiction writers or b) the expected flip-outs from people who weren’t prepared for internet-level kink, even fairly mild and badly-written examples.

Let’s unpack a few of the more scathing reviews, shall we?

This was a poorly written, utterly ridiculous, never ending mess as a fan fiction. The speed with which they “published” this indicates that they merely conducted a find and replace on the names and did not put in a good faith edit or rewrite the highly problematic storylines (read: the entire thing).

Well when you put “published” in quotes like that, we know you’re a Serious Author yourself. Haven’t had much luck finding an agent for your own steamy romance novel, I take it?

I only bought this on Kindle because I was curious to see whether a professional edit made it any better than the original fanfic (which I abandoned once I realized the plot wasn’t original enough for me to suffer through the cut-rate writing). Paging through this “published” version makes me more embarrassed for the author than I was when it was in the fanfic domain, and it DEFINITELY made me lose respect for [the vanity press that published it].

So we already know you read Twilight fanfic of your own volition, if you were familiar with this one before it became Fifty Shades of Grey. Do you like to think you can do better? Perhaps you have done better? Do you capture the magic that is Bella and Edward in a way this James hussy could never dream of?

I suspect you do. Link us and we’ll be the judge.

You also knew there would be disgusting sex scenes. Well, most of you knew, anyway, I certainly did. The infamous tampon scene (which I didn’t find particularly shocking, but maybe it’s because I was already brain dead by the time I got to it), the use of riding crops (!!!), ties, ropes and who knows what else make for a very, um, interesting experience.

Sweetie, if having to take a tampon out before sex or using a riding crop shocks, fanfic from the internet may not be for you.

Making money off of fanfiction is terrible. Create your own characters, create your own worlds. I have nothing against FF, and write some myself.

Ah! Well you’re obviously an expert on the subject, then. Clearly E. L. James should have sought your advice before publishing.

I could say something about how I feel about the fact that E L James basically just took her fanfic and changed the names and a few physical characteristics and now she’s making a zillion dollars while many people who write real, completely original books and pour their hearts and soul into the endeavor will never make any money off them and end up living in a van down by the river, drinking excessively to repress the memory of their shattered dreams… but I won’t.

1) You just did.

2) Maybe that sort of inconsistency is why your writing isn’t selling so well.

3) Wow.

This is literally the worst book I have ever read, and I say that about many books.

Yeah, we’re done here.

It’s not that Fifty Shades of Grey was a good book. It wasn’t. But sour grapes do not become anyone, even on the internet.

Don’t be sad that your Twilight fanfic didn’t get you fabulously wealthy the way that James’s did! There are only two ways to get really actually big-house-with-multiple-cars wealthy as a fiction writer: get amazingly lucky with your first pulp novel, or write mediocre pulp novels for so long that a few of them make it big (and you can make a living in the off-years because you’re putting 3-4 novels out anyway).

E. L. James got lucky. Be happy for her. After all, in a world where re-purposed Twilight fanfic can make it big, there’s hope for all our writings, isn’t there?


    • elainehaley
    • July 25th, 2012

    I subscribe to your blog and am frequently delighted by it, even though I have not commented (until now). You of course don’t know me so that makes this confession easier. My boyfriend works in a book store and brought home all three grey/grays a few months ago. Sadly I read them all (in one weekend) and am deeply embarrassed at having done so, which once again makes me wonder why I felt compelled to tell you this. Anyway before I make it worse by trying to defend my usual reading habits let me just say that other than the obvious, my biggest problem with the book were the sex scenes. So, a 21 year old VIRGIN with little to no interest in men has an orgasm on first intercourse, not to mention the thousands of other times they uh, “made love”. Really? The windows of heaven just opened? After the first few playtimes I just started skimming through pages trying to find the center of this onion. After I was done I felt like I should have also signed a contract before reading. I’ll stop now as this is not my blog. Just want to say that this does not bother me as much as automatic weapons not being banned but I find the popularity of the series disconcerting. Plus I think I lost my membership in the intellectual high ground club by reading it and it’s going to take me years to get it back, if ever. My question is, “Can I blame my boyfriend for this?”

    • Ah, the intellectual high ground club. Don’t worry — it offers an exemption on reading trashy fiction if said fiction is a runaway blockbuster success, and you read it so that you can complain about its undeserved popularity.

      Intellectuals will forgive you any taste if you’re snobbily ironic about it, I’ve found.

      • So if I want to read it in order to form my own opinion about it and some of the issues that more content-centered criticisms have mentioned (abuse masquerading as BDSM, for instance), do I gain ground or lose it?

        • Spellbound
        • July 27th, 2012

        I am greatly relieved. I must confess to you more often.

      • tipsysparrow
      • July 25th, 2012

      My insanely intellectual grandmother once asked me to show her The Simpsons because it was a cultural phenomenon and she felt she ought to know what it was, you can probably use that as an excuse if anyone tries to take your intelligentsia card away, otherwise make your boy give you his.

      But yes the sex is a bit of a problem (or a big problem in a book that is mostly about sex). It’s fine in the realm of absurd and overwrought porn, but inexperienced people seem to expect it to translate to reality. I work as a sex educator and we certainly gets our share of people trying to achieve scenes or relationships out of the book without realizing how harmful it can be. Once something attains the circulation that 50 Shades has you end up with lots of people learning about kink in a kind of bad way and then being a little bit stupid.

      It’s like Jackass but without the Do Not Try At Home warnings, not that E. L. James should really be accountable for any resulting crotch trauma.

    • Olga
    • July 25th, 2012

    I have three thoughts:
    1) This is a very amusing post. Keep up the good work.
    2) What do you think wod happen if someone wrote FSOG fanfic where the main characters were vampires? Would it be Twilight, or would the universe explode?
    3) Way to draft of off the popularity of FSOG. Go, Google page rank, go!

  1. I had heard vaguely of this book, but like most of the vapid detritus that is pop culture these days, paid in no notice. I am now, however, in the mood to read something poorly written and erotic. Thankfully, I can walk to a very good used bookstore. I will do so tomorrow and ask the clerk, in a voice loud enough to be heard by anyone browsing the cookbooks “Do you have any lesbian themed pulp fiction from the 60s? A women;s prison story would be perfect”

    • Shannon
    • April 9th, 2013

    The reviewer put “published” in quotation marks because the books were self-published by James. Hence why they have so many atrocious spelling and grammar mistakes that would’ve been picked up by an editor at a publishing company.

    And you don’t have to have read Twilight fanfics to know that’s where FSoG came from – that popped up on my Tumblr dashboard (which has no Twilight on it at all), reblogged by one of the people I follow.

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