50 Shades of Grey, chapter one, or why Ana is the shittiest friend ever.

So, as I announced in a delirium of hatred last night, I have begun reading 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m going to share the experience with you. This will accomplish two things.

  1. It will provide me with an important emotional outlet, thus lowering my blood pressure.
  2. It will give you the experience of reading the book without really having to read it. Much like videotaping a friend getting stitches gives you the experience, but not the pain and hassle of, cutting your own finger with a razor blade because you’re too lazy to get up and get the scissors to open that USB drive packaging.
We have a lot to cover. Let’s get started.
Our story begins with our heroine, Ana, looking in the mirror. She doesn’t like what she sees. Her hair is uncooperative. Also, she has huge blue eyes and pale skin, in our American culture which does not value these things as traditional hallmarks of beauty or anything. She’s pissed off at her roommate, Kate. Why? Because Kate has lined up an interview with the most powerful entrepreneur in the country, Christian Grey, but she got the flu and now she can’t go. Even though Ana is having a bad hair day, has exams coming up, and has to work, her selfish friend is trying to manipulate her into going to do the interview herself:

Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for, one essay to finish, and I’m supposed to be working this afternoon, but no – today I have to drive a hundred and sixty-five miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our University, his time is extraordinarily precious.

She’s never heard of this guy, except that she knows the extremely unwieldy name of his company, that he’s an entrepreneur, that he gives tons of money to the school she attends, and that he’s super busy? This is the kind of logical error that I’m finding over and over in this book, and I’ve only read three chapters so far. But putting that aside for a minute, doesn’t this sound like an amazing opportunity for her friend? I bet Ana feels really bad that Kate is going to miss out on the interview of a lifetime, right?

“Ana, I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then. As the editor, I can’t blow this off. Please,” Kate begs me in her rasping, sore throat voice. How does she do it? Even ill she looks gamine and gorgeous, strawberry blonde hair in place and green eyes bight, although now red-rimmed and runny. I ignore my pang of unwelcome sympathy.

Of course Ana doesn’t feel bad! Why should she? She’s the heroine! We have to like her. Because she’s the heroine. So, when her friend is saying, “Please, for me, blow off work and classes and go meet this famous person, so you can put this interview on your resume when it could have been on mine had I not contracted a horrible respiratory illness,” Ana can only think, “Ugh, it is soooo not fair that she is prettier than me. I will absolutely not feel sympathetic toward you,” and the reader better know whose side to be on, damnit!

As Ana complains more in the narration about how good Kate is at manipulating people, and how awful it’s going to be to meet this rich, successful guy, she outwardly acts like it’s not a big deal. This gives me the distinct impression that Ana is one of those people who will agree, or even offer, do a favor for you like it doesn’t inconvenience them at all, then immediately phones up a friend and bitches about you and all the boundaries you’re overstepping. And then, exactly like one of those people, Ana attempts to tell the reader how great Kate is, and that she’s her very best friend, after complaining about her for like two pages solid. At this point, do I actually have to say that Ana is Bella Swan?

So, Ana sets off from Vancouver, heading toward Portland. Wait a second, didn’t she say she had to go to Seattle to meet this Grey guy? I can never tell where I am in this serious. Just in the nebulous Pacific Northwest, I guess, where:

The miles slip away as I floor the pedal to the metal.

Dear Non-American Author trying to write in Americanisms: It’s either “floor it” or “put the pedal to the metal”. And actually, no one says the latter anymore. By the way, she’s flooring it to the pedal in a Mercedes loaned to her by Kate. A Mercedes, and she’s still bitching? Her car, a quirky, old vehicle (but not a quirky, old truck) is unreliable, like a quirky, old truck. But it’s a VW Bug, so she’s definitely not Bella Swan. Still, there is something endearing about reading an non-American author trying to capture the slang of my people.

When she gets to Christian Grey’s steel and glass office building with the building name in steel letters over the glass doors to the steel and glass and sandstone (c-c-c-combo breaker!) lobby, we learn that Ana’s name is really Anastasia Steele, because that’s totally not a pornstar name and the word “steel” had to be used in some form or another in every single sentence in this scene. Ana runs through a succession of blonde receptionists, each one making her feel more and more like Anne Hathaway in the interview scene in The Devil Wears Prada. In fact, her outfit sounds kind of familiar…

I am beginning to wish I’d borrowed one of Kate’s formal blazers rather than wear my navy blue jacket. I have made an effort and worn my one and only skirt, my sensible brown knee-length boots and a blue sweater. For me, this is smart.

Where have I seen this before?

b9a3a-the_devil_wears_prada-20-anne_hathaway

So, at least now we have some kind of visual inspiration for sad-sack Ana.

Anyway, there are a lot of blondes working in the office, and as Ana appears to hate blondes more than Anita Blake does, she’s absolutely certain she doesn’t fit in. She signs in, gets a visitor’s pass, and heads upstairs to the second steel and glass and sandstone and steel and more glass and mahogany and red and yellow and pink and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and violet and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and gray and purple and white and pink and orange and blue lobby. I wish I could tell you that I just used more adjectives and words than James did to describe this sequence of events. I am many things, but I am not a liar.

This is one of the biggest problems with 50 Shades of Grey. It’s like a team of cameras is following Ana everywhere she goes, every second of the day, and it’s being transcribed for the reader into the book, no matter how inane the details:

“Mr. Grey will see you in a moment. May I take your jacket?”
“Oh please.” I struggle out of the jacket.
“Have you been offered any refreshment?”
“Um – no.” Oh dear, is Blonde Number one in trouble?
Blonde Number Two frowns and eyes the young woman at the desk.
“Would you like tea, coffee, water?” she asks, turning her attention back to me.
“A glass of water. Thank you,” I murmur.
“Olivia, please fetch Miss Steele a glass of water.” Her voice is stern. Olivia scoots up immediately and scurries to a door on the other side of the foyer.
“My apologies, Miss Steele, Olivia is our new intern. Please be seated. Mr. Grey will be another five minutes.”
Oliva returns with a glass of iced water.
“Here you go, Miss Steele.”
“Thank you.”

Let’s do a little writing exercise, shall we? Let’s see if we can make that chunk of pointless dialogue into something more manageable, to move the story along to literally anything else in literally a tenth of the time. I’l go first:

One of the blonde receptionists took my coat and offered me a glass of water.

I’m no Nora Roberts, but I think I can safely say that the book would not have been ruined without the unnecessary interplay Ana witnesses between the two receptionists, and the odd focus on the “iced water” and who is in possession of said water at which time.

Because Ana still doesn’t know a single thing about Christian Grey (besides his name, his mother’s maiden name, his place of birth, the name of his first pet, the security code on the back of his Visa card, his blood type, and whether or not he’s circumcised), she doesn’t know how old he is or what he looks like. She figures he’s probably blonde, too, and wonders if he requires his employees to be blonde. She’s “wondering idly if that’s legal” while I’m wondering if this isn’t some Neo-Nazi thing. But it’s totally cool, because then a black guy comes out of his office, talking about golf. So Christian Grey is definitely not an Aryan Nationalist.

The blondes send Ana into Mr. Grey’s office, and wouldn’t you know it, like a dope, she falls right through the doors and winds up on her hands and knees in front of Christian Grey. Foreshadowing. She is so embarrassed that she says all kinds of strong curse-words like “Holy cow,” and “Double crap”. No single craps for Ana, oh no. She’s a rebel and a potty mouth of the highest caliber.

Immediately, she realizes that Christian Grey is not some ancient forty-year old dude, practically crumbling to dust atop his icy blonde empire, but a very hot young man:

So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.

That… is one hell of a tie. I’m going to have to ask someone, please, look into the kindness and the goodness of your soul and photoshop me a picture of a black tie with Robert Pattinson’s hair and eyes stuck on it, gazing at me shrewdly.

When she shakes his hand, Ana has some kind of short circuit situation that makes her blink like a malfunctioning Furby. She explains that she’s there on behalf of her sick roommate, then makes a stunningly astute comment about some paintings in his office. Of course, he agrees with her, and this puts Ana immediately at ease, knowing that they are on the same level, intellectually. Just kidding! Instead, she’s building him up in her head, calling him an Adonis and being too embarrassed by his really, really good-looking-ness to operate the recorder. He’s amused by her uncertainty, she can tell. Because tycoons often find it amusing to have their time stolen by inept student non-reporters. Then she asks him if she can record his answers. Which is the most bizarre sentence I think a person can ask another person they are interviewing. “Do you mind if I make some kind of permanent record of the answers you give me, or would you rather this all become a pointless exercise in time wasting?”

Once they launch into the interview, things really pick up. Ha, just kidding again! We’ve finally got the hero and heroine of what is touted as the hottest, sexiest, most toe-curlingest naughty erotic novel since the Marquis de Sade was branded a lunatic, together in the same room and what’s going to happen? Pages upon pages of clumsy exposition. Why show, when Christian himself can tell, in a series of incredibly banal interview questions, everything we as the reader are going to need to know to have a clear impression of his character for the rest of the book? And let’s also see Ana insult him, over and over again, from suggesting his success is based on luck to outright calling him a control freak. For someone who was so insecure just moments ago, Ana begins to verbally spar with this powerful guy while representing her sick roommate whose reputation as editor of the college newspaper is riding on this interview.

Still, even though he is, by her own description, an arrogant control freak who does weird things with his fingers while looking at her, Ana is completely, sexually paralyzed by his stunning physical appearance, which, as far as I can tell from the numerous superlatives Ana breathlessly recounts, is like looking directly at the face of God if God were an orgasm dipped in chocolate and the perfect pair of jeans. So, while Christian  Grey is rattling off incredibly intimate details of his life to a rude, awkward, mousy college student who just spilled her ass through his office doors, Ana is practically writing odes to his teeth and wondering what’s so wrong with her that she would be distracted by someone who is just the physical manifestation of the very soul of perfect beauty.

The scene goes on so long, Christian actually has to cancel his next meeting. When it comes time for Ana to leave, he teases her about her earlier fall, helps her put on her jacket, and walks her to the elevator. But only after this passage:

“Well, you’d better drive carefuly.” His tone is stern, authoritative. Why should he care?

Because he’s Edward Cullen, reader. Because he’s Edward Cullen.

 

79 thoughts on “50 Shades of Grey, chapter one, or why Ana is the shittiest friend ever.

  1. Every time there is a mention of how incredibly good looking Chedward is I always picture Zoolander. Does Chedward also have a Center for Kids Who Don't Read Good and Want to Learn to do Other Stuff Good Too?

    1. I also have a theory that EL James accidentally fed her dog scrabble tiles and wrote this book based on what her dog shat out. I could be wrong but it doesn’t feel like it.

  2. Regarding the permission to record: I was always taught – although I can't vouch for whether it's true or not – that if you're interviewing someone, you do need to get their consent to make a recording, so that later they can't claim that you secretly recorded them. One of my professors pushed that idea really hard: always ask for permission to record and to quote. Of course, if anyone has agreed to be interviewed, they're almost certainly going to let you make a recording and quote what they said, but it's still a good idea to ask.

  3. Trying again-

    Loved this! Thanks for it.
    I read this whole series (waste of time), wondering when she (and he really) were going to start actually acting like people.
    And I have NEVER met an American college student who likes Earl Grey tea this much. Why not make Ana a Brit in the US for University? At least a few things get a little easier to swallow.

    So–thanks, looking forward to more.
    Shannon

      1. You just referred to yourself as “myself” in the subject of a sentence.
        And a “devout” tea drinker.
        Do you pray to Earl Grey, or just to God, before drinking?
        Myself is quite amused. So are quite a few people I know.

  4. An anonymous poster on my blog recommended yours as having some sound arguments about the damaging effects of Fifty Shades of Grey (I'm a fan of sorts) but I dunno if I am up to responding to the massive effort you have put into critiquing the book. I did have some thoughts on the points you bring up:

    1) Anna is a poor friend? Granted, she does not realize what a plum interviewing Grey is, but c'mon, she's a kid. If kids understood the world the way adults do there would be a LOT fewer fine arts majors out there. I can give her a pass for being clueless here. Nice bit of characterization when you think of it. A whip-smart careerist would have thought only about what she could get out of Grey's contract, not whether she should sign it at all. Anna is young and fuzzy-minded enough not to go for the main chance.

    2) The whole business with the fetching of the water was a nice bit of foreshadowing. It has a nice tinge of the slightly crazed dominance/submission behavior you get in BDSM porn about mysterious manors where wealthy men have a large female staff who wear fetishy clothes and are VERY strict about protocol. So I will say you called that one exactly wrong.

    3) You wrote: ” like looking directly at the face of God if God were an orgasm dipped in chocolate and the perfect pair of jeans”

    Ok , that was fricking hilarious!

    1. I wouldn’t consider her a kid (especially considering the plot; there’s enough squick regarding boundaries and consent in this story as it it. Let’s not project additional youth onto the character.). As the quote said, “It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then.”

      So she’s not a college newbie. She’s graduating college in six months. She’s young, but not THAT young. Certainly old enough to know how to be at least somewhat professional with people.

      1. also,
        “If kids understood the world the way adults do there would be a LOT fewer fine arts majors out there” – ouch, Pat Powers? I’m going to assume this is not coming from personal experience.

        in the end I believe “poor friend” is meant more like “poorly written friend” – Jenny is not so much laying into the idea of an anti-hero/inconsistent character so much as a character so inconsistently written that it’s laughable.

    1. Yeah, I was rather surprised that she never gained any sort of anti-blonde superpowers. She could damned near do everything else.

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  8. By the way, this really funny, with the way this book has clearly stated it's hate for blondes, and how evil they are etc., but in fact everytime I picture Ana, I picture her with dark blonde hair.

  9. I just compared the first chapter of 50 Shades to the first chapter of a novel by the world’s best-selling romance novelist. I’m afraid to say that I think 50 Shades was better-written.

  10. I love your review. I didn’t think about the friend thing at the time I attempted to read the book, but you are quite right about that.

    I didn’t know when i first found out about the book that it was a fanfic, a post about it just came up on my facebook wall and I decided to check it out, since I usually like those types of books (One of my favourite authors is Sharon Green), but, despite being the type of person who can sit down and read through an encyclopedia, or spend an afternoon flipping around through wikipedia, I couldn’t make it through the second chapter, even while skipping through the grandious descriptions. That this book was ever even published shows that people nowadays know nothing about good literature. I salute you for this effort and wish you lots of luck. I’m sure you’ll need it.

  11. I fail to see the awesomeness of this review. All i see are a bunch of rants…rants they’re everywhere! I mean fine you did say this was for emotional release but as another form of the book…wow you are seriously fluffing your feather. Anyways, as much as i loved your previous post of abuse in the book, i seriously fail to see the appeal of someone ranting about every chapter. It seems you found a bunch of fellow people who feels as you do, so have fun venting but as the only persons who sees this in another more unfavourable light well, kuddos to you, but i’ll be leaving.

      1. Hmmm.. Read two of these enraged comments and they both seem to be from the same person (with, maybe, several personalities), but I guess WordPress lets you check the origin IP of the visitors/commenters?

  12. Huzzah! Rants are exactly what this “phenomenon” needs, just like the original “phenomenon” it was a fanfic for. Death by comedy is exactly what both Twilight and 50 Shades deserve.

    I have the original fanfic. And I have to confess, I never made it past chapter 2 of either that or the final published version. The impassable obstacle was of course Ana. She’s even worse than Bella.

    Anyway, while I’m reading this post one of my own characters decides to barge in: Amanda, 18 at the time, school newspaper reporter from nearby Port Orchard (chances are she read a Debbie Macomber novel on the ferry from Bremerton), ruthless and catty, as perky as a manic pixie dreamgirl and as brown-haired and disdainful of blondes as Anita Blake, whom she hero-worshipped up to the point where her series jumped the shark. Right now she’s treating her own author like a secretary. The wardrobe she tells me she’s wearing: cardigan, maroon Western shirt, tight jeans, cowgirl boots. The moment she catches sight of Christian Grey, her eyes go wide and she says to herself — these are the exact words she spoke in my head as I read you quoting James’ description of him above — “My God, I must get the pants off that man and blow his brains out.” And so she rudely shoves Ana aside, back to Vancouver for her and not by way of Portland (disclosure: native Seattleite AND map geek), and with star-reporter determination makes herself a better slave than Ana could ever be. And all the while she sees herself as Anita Blake hunting Edward Cullen in order to… you know.

    Alas, it’s a compulsion I have, improving bad bestsellers while I’m reading them. And of course I’m going to devour the rest of this series of posts, the same way I did Cleolinda Jones’ demolition of the original Twilight Saga.

  13. I’ve never had any interest in reading this/these book(s) whatsoever (past a ‘why TF are people so crazy about this?’ curiosity), but…I definitely enjoyed this. I don’t even have to read the book. I’m just going to keep reading the posts you made on it. :)

  14. Haha, this is so awesome I can’t even…!!

    Found you via the Jennifer Lawrence fat thingy post in Huff Post which is as awesome as this “review”… And I who thought my blog Reading days were over!

  15. I know this was posted over a year ago but a friend just linked me to it and the only thing I can think is, dang that was an awesome Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat reference you slipped in there! (The rest is great too, by the way!) :)

  16. “That… is one hell of a tie. I’m going to have to ask someone, please, look into the kindness and the goodness of your soul and photoshop me a picture of a black tie with Robert Pattinson’s hair and eyes stuck on it, gazing at me shrewdly.”

    Oh god, this passage right here killed me. I was honestly laughing out loud in my room. Great writing and analysis! How can I follow your page? Is there a follow botton?

  17. THANK YOU!! Dear God, I thought I was the only one who caught that she’s in Vancouver, and headed South (towards Portland) when she needed to go North to Seattle. It was at this point in the book, I realized it was a ridiculous pile of nonsense and that there must not have been any kind of serious editing involved. I understand the book got worse from here… so I’m going to go back to reading your brilliant analysis!

  18. I just have to say Thank You! I found a post on Tumblr that linked to FSOG and when I saw you’re also doing After I had to come read. I’m laughing so much right now. You’ve made a bad day better and I thank you.

  19. I went on your site because wanted someone’s alternative opinion on 50 Shades. And I found your comments sooooo funny, hilarious, and true!!! thank you for a good laugh)))
    Volha from France

  20. This was the most hilarious repost-chapter I’ve ever read! Your description is amazing, and since I’ve already read the books, I can’t help but compare.

    But please, dear please, don’t compare the fictional Grey with Robert. It destroys my fantasy! ;)

  21. ‘Which is the most bizarre sentence I think a person can ask another person they are interviewing. “Do you mind if I make some kind of permanent record of the answers you give me, or would you rather this all become a pointless exercise in time wasting?”’

    Sometimes interviewees/interviewers rather the answers be recorded in writing rather than tape. That way both parties can say what they want about what happened in the interview without being embarrassed by the truth.

    This happened with MIA when she was interviewed by the NY Times. In the interview the writer wished to make a point about her being some sort of “champagne radical” who supported the Tamil Tigers but was a wealthy singer who lived the high life. She did this by commenting that MIA ordered truffle french fries during their talk. MIA – who was secretly recording the interview – rebutted this claim and proved that it was the writer who insistently asked that MIA if she wanted the fries, then writer ordered them herself.

    Without the tape the writer could have said anything she wanted. I’ll admit that due to the decline in short hand it is unlikely these days not to tape interviews.

  22. I was led to your series of articles by a friend when I posted this today:
    “Cognitive dissonance:
    - Apparently increasing societal recognition of the need to address and arrest violence against/subjugation of women.
    - Overwhelming sales of a book and soon-to-be movie (primarily to women) about a woman willingly entering into a relationship that glorifies violence against/subjugation of women.
    I’m with the guys on this one, ladies — you’re sending mixed messages!”

    It took some convincing to get me to read you because I’m so repulsed by all the hoopla around this book and movie – and now I’m really glad my friend didn’t let me slide. He’s right – your writing is so good, so funny, and so very spot-on. Although I must admit I don’t know Bella or Edward so some of your references are lost on me.
    The tie! What a rookie mistake
    And is the author of these books a native English speaker? Doesn’t look like it from the few excerpts you’ve provided. Or maybe she never paid much attention in school. Unfortunately it seems her editors didn’t either.

  23. Haven’t read the book [and don't plan to] but stumbled upon this and I love it! I have to say though, I would be pissed if my roommate asked me to do the interview; is Ana even on the newspaper staff? If not, why doesn’t the editor assign and actual staff member to take over the interview? Just seems strange that you would ask a non-journalist to go conduct an interview.

  24. I wasn’t sure I could find commentary to fill the void left by “The Nobodies: ACLS” fanfic reviews – but you made me laugh cry I love you so hard

  25. I haven’t read the book but I bet ‘Vancouver’ is Vancouver *Oregon* which is near Portland *not*, in fact, Vancouber BC

  26. I love your reviews of this insult to the art of writing! Two things, though (only one of which is in response to you) – When I interview someone, after I start the recorder, I always inform the person that the interview is being recorded because some folks are crazy.

    The Vancouver she is referring to is most likely Vancouver, Washington (not Oregon) – it is just across the Washington state border, on the other side of the Columbia River. Don’t believe me? Google maps, my friends. Besides, I hate to insult Canada by thinking they’d have people this lame in B.C. I live in Seattle; I’ve met people this lame here ;-)

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