Quick disclaimer: In my 20s I vaguely kicked around on the fringes of the BDSM scene. It wasn't ever anything particularly full-on; the heavier end of the goth club scene merges into the softer end of the BDSM community reasonably naturally (in my experience, anyway), so I have some notion of where on the dom/sub scale I hover. This isn't something that I'm going to write about, it being quite personal and all; the point I'm trying to make is that I have some familiarity with non-vanilla sex so this book didn't have anything in the way of 'shock' value to me.
As far as I'm aware, no-one is reading 50 Shades primarily for the plot so I'm not bothered by outlining it quickly (just in case you have been under a rock for the past few weeks). Ana meets Christian via a not too contrived plot device. He then keeps turning up wherever she is (I have to say, I'm not wild about the stalker overtones, he even buys her a BlackBerry (and a MacBook and an Audi convertible, and offers to lend her his private jet, and flies her around in his private helicopter... and you're getting my drift here, right?) and then admits to tracking her using "software readily available over the internet" wait, wut?), she admits she is attracted to him then finds out that his 'thing' is control and the rest of the book is devoted to sex (vanilla and non) and her trying to work out if she can agree to his wants. She wants "hearts and flowers" and he wants "total control".
Ok, it's not high literature. It's not amazingly well written. For anyone who wants an expanded chapter by chapter breakdown, you need to go here (thanks for the link, Saga) because nothing I write will be as in-depth as that (mainly because I'm not *that* bothered!) I've just bought the second part, so it's a good enough distraction that I've parted with a further three quid.
The characters are complete, total 100% Mary Sues. Christian is mind-bogglingly handsome, extraordinarily rich and philanthropic. Ana is "a total babe" but in denial about this. She's also klutzy and totally inexperienced sexually. Comparing 50 Shades to the Twilight saga isn't unreasonable. I did find Ana marginally less irritating than Bella. Confession: I have read all the Twilight books. I did want to kick Bella's teeth in throughout. (Also, spellcheck wants to change Ana to 'anal'. This is making me giggle...) So Christian is the 'ideal' man. Let's be clear for a moment; this book is escapist fantasy. As long as we take this as read, it makes sense for him to be perfect. After all, who genuinely fantasises about poor, unattractive men? I guess maybe some people do, but I would suggest the majority don't. But, wait! He's not perfect, he's flawed (isn't he?) Much is made of his inability to sustain normal relationships, Ana isn't allowed to "touch" him (so, of course, she longs to). This confused me throughout, by the way. How do you fuck without touching someone? I eventually concluded that "touch" in this sense, means "cuddle". Oh noes, Ana is a girl therefore she clearly wants cuddles and snuggles because that's what all girls want... Ok, sorry. I'll try to minimise the snark.
So what did I like? There is a great deal of focus on consent, on hard and soft limits, on safe words, all of which are so important (it's almost impossible to hammer home just how important they are, but these blogs do help.) The writer has done her research. There is a contract, ok, it's basically a copy and paste off any BDSM 101 website job, but at least it exists and is discussed. And this is one of the things that I do like about the book. It takes BDSM out from the realm of shadows where it's the preserve of weird and depraved people with issues, and brings it into the daylight. I get so encrossened by people having unnecessary judge-y views of what people find enjoyable. With obvious exceptions (non-consent, children., abuse etc) people should be free to do what makes them feel good. You do not have to be scarred by abusive relationships or whatever to enjoy BDSM (although, I have a horrible feeling that Christian will turn out to be scarred by his childhood.) You are NOT a bad feminist if you like being tied up. There is not something deeply wrong with you if you like a bit of pain with your pleasure *breathes*. Those two sentences are the subject for another post, when I'm feeling emotionally strong...
Christian is very controlling. He does stalk her. He also seems to have some odd 'feeder' issues, that make me a little twitchy, but might be resolved in the later books. He uses "sex as a weapon." (This is usually an allegation levelled at women?) BUT he is honest about it. He tells Ana what he is and what he likes, which is presumably meant to allow her to make an informed decision but... she's already in love with him! Are you shocked...? I would think that this would be hard to read if you've unresolved issues with controlling ex partners. As my psycho ex took his own life some years ago, it didn't effect me. Had G still have been alive, I might have felt differently.
What about the sex, I hear you asking? Well... it's kinky (ish) sex, what more do you want me to say? What Christian wants from Ana will be familiar to anyone who has experienced the dom/sub dynamic. Kneeling, obedient, eyes downcast, willing to be spanked, able to count the belt blows etc etc. What makes it unrealistic, in my view, is Ana's ability to go from inexperienced virgin to fantasy woman in the space of a few chapters. She has "no gag reflex". She can apparently orgasm from nipple stimulation alone. She is permanently "wet". She only needs to be in the room with him and she is "ready for him". 50 Shades is touted as "mummy porn" (though my daughter was concerned about me reading it - apparently, so she's been told, it isn't suitable for mummies!) but Ana often veers towards the male version of a fantasy woman. I dunno, maybe out there are many women who have no gag reflex, who can climax from nipple stimulation and are dripping as soon as they see their man. I've yet to meet one, is all I'm saying.
But like I said, I've bought part the second. I'll let you know how I get on...