Dear lovely readers,
Since I posted my article “Fifty Things That Annoy Me About Fifty Shades Of Grey”, it’s become by far my most popular blog entry. Lots of you have mentioned it in various forums, tweeted about it, shared it on Facebook and generally spread the word. Thank you all so much – you’re all fabulous, and I’m delighted everyone’s enjoyed it so much.
Anyway, I’m thrilled to announce that thanks to your fantastic response, I was commissioned to write a whole e-book on the subject. “Lighter Shades of Grey: a (very) Critical Reader’s Guide to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’” covers the whole of the magnificent folly that is “Fifty Shades of Grey”, chronicling the many, many more things that annoy me about it. If you’d like to find out how many times Ana uses the phrase “Oh my”, how often her lip is bitten, whether Christian Grey is a diagnosable psychopath and exactly how he gets away with a kidnapping, it’s available right now from e-book distributors on both sides of the Atlantic, from prices starting at £1.49 / $2.34.
Thank you again for your support, your tweets, your links and your many, many kind comments.
And if you were just wanting to read the original blog entry that started it all, below is a copy of the original post.
After weeks of dithering, it finally dawned on me that I can’t blog about genre fiction and not face up to the existence of the Genre Fiction hit of the year. On the other hand…well, frankly, I don’t want to face up to the existence of the Genre Fiction hit of the year. It annoys me. I wish it wasn’t there.
So I decided to read it until I’d found fifty things that annoyed me, and then stop. Here’s my list.
1. We meet our heroine.
“I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair – it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal…Kate is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu.”
A bad start.
a. In the scheme of things, bad hair is not a problem. Please try to be less self-absorbed.
b. I seriously doubt that Kate got flu just to spite you.
2. Anastasia arrives at Christian Grey’s headquarters and takes the elevator.
I walk into the enormous – and frankly intimidating – glass, steel and white sandstone lobby. Behind the solid sandstone desk, a very attractive, groomed, blonde young woman smiles pleasantly at me…[after taking the lift] I’m in another large lobby – again all glass, steel and white sandstone. I’m confronted by another desk of sandstone and another young blonde woman dressed impeccably in black and white.
a. It is not possible to create the impression of luxurious yet understated opulence simply by over-using the word “sandstone”.
b. Maybe you just got in the lift and forgot to press the button.
3. Anastasia waits outside Christian’s office to start the interview
“To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library.”
In literary terms, there is no such thing as a “classic British novel”. There are Romantic novels, picaresque novels, High Victorian novels, epistolary novels, Utopian novels, satirical novels, Condition-of-England novels…but not “classic British novels”.
Therefore, merely by the use of the phrase “classic British novel”, you have entirely undermined the impression you were intending to create by the use of the phrase “classic British novel”.
4. Anastasia speculates on what Christian Grey will be like.
“Judging from the building, which is too clinical and modern, I guess Grey is in his forties: fit, tanned and fair-haired to match the rest of the personnel.”
a. A more logical way to estimate his age would be to consider the likely length of time it would take to reach the position of CEO of a multinational conglomerate, make the working assumption that he attended college, then adding the likely length of career to his likely graduation age. There is little or no point trying to estimate people’s ages based on the architectural style of the building they happen to be in at the time.
b. Really successful businesspeople almost never hire people based on the basis of how much said prospective employees resemble them.
5. Further speculation on Christian Grey’s hiring practices.
“Perhaps Mr Grey insists on all his employees being blonde. I’m wondering idly if that’s legal, when the office door opens and a tall, elegantly dressed, attractive African-American man with short dreads exits. I have definitely worn the wrong clothes.”
a. Between 2% and 4% of the world’s population are naturally blonde. Even if this were legal (which we’ll get to shortly), insisting on all your employees being blonde would constitute a ridiculously restrictive limit on your available talent pool, as well as making everyone who came across you question your sanity. Since Christian Grey is apparently very successful and well-regarded, the chances of him imposing such a bizarre requirement for people working for his organisation are small.
b. Please stop speculating if this is legal or not. You have been to college.
c. Your entire theory is based on meeting a grand total of two employees. This is a ridiculously small sample and any conclusions drawn from such an inadequate range are highly likely to be wrong. For example, if I were to judge your entire novel based on the one per cent I’ve read so far, I might accidentally conclude it was written by an idiot.
d. This is the best example of tokenism I have ever seen. You may be eligible for some sort of award.
e. Your statement “I have definitely worn the wrong clothes” implies that briefly sharing physical space with a black man requires some sort of special outfit. Please elaborate.
6. Anastasia enters Christian’s office.
“I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet, and falling head first into the office.”
a. I am aware that “Fifty Shades” began life as a Twilight fan-fiction. I know that falling over with absolutely no provocation is one of Bella Swan’s most recognisable traits. However, the minute you used the Find / Replace function to convert from Bella Swan to Anastasia Steele, you instantly became free of the constraints of your original genre. Anastasia is not obliged to fall over. You may want to consider this, because…
b. I have been in a lot of meetings in my life, and I have seen a lot of people walk through a lot of doors to get into these meetings. However, I have never, ever, ever seen a grown adult (man or woman) fall over and land face-down on the floor of a meeting-room. And I’m including meetings where half the participants were drunk.
I’m not saying it never happens. I’m just saying it doesn’t sound very plausible, and therefore it sounds dumb.
7. We get to see what Christian Grey looks like
“He’s tall…with unruly dark-copper-coloured hair”
This in itself is not annoying. However, I am flagging it now because it represents the start of a disconcerting love-affair with Robert Pattinson’s Twilight hairstyle that will soon be absolutely doing my head in.
8. Christian Grey’s office
“His office is way too big for just one man”
That would be because his office is also his meeting room, where he holds his meetings, which involve other people coming into the room and being in it.
9. Christian Grey holds forth on the subject of success in business
“Business is all about people, Miss Steele, and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivise them.”
a. Nobody talks like this in real life.
b. Especially since the idiom you are actually looking for is “what makes them tick”.
10. More magnificence from Mr Grey’s Big Book Of Business
“My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that.”
Dude, you are talking about yourself in the third person. Even the Queen can’t do this without sounding weird. She is eighty-six and has never had anyone correct her on it. What’s your excuse?
11. Even more magnificence
“I make decisions based on logic and facts.”
Christ almighty, as opposed to what?
12. This is all from the same unbroken paragraph of direct speech, by the way
“I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people.”
I bet you can also design roller-coasters in under six hours and stare at the sun unblinking.
13. Christian decides it’s time to show Anastasia his human side
“Immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things.”
a. No, I think it’s probably acquired by a whole lot of hard work.
b. This is really more of a third-date revelation.
14. Bizarre hiring policies
“I employ over forty thousand people, Miss Steele…If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the the telecommunications business and sell up, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments after a month or so.”
Possible explanations for this extraordinary remark:
a. Your entire empire is based on telecommunications, therefore forty thousand telecoms employees. Your business is so lamentably over-staffed that any buyer would be able to instantly lay off at least half your workforce within a month of purchase with absolutely no consequences whatsoever – something which you (despite your apparently ruthless dedication to business success) have completely overlooked. Therefore, you’re an idiot.
b. Telecommunications represents half of your business empire, and is staffed in proportion. If you were to sell it, the buyer would somehow be able to run it at a profit without needing anyone working for them at all – a point which you (despite your apparently ruthless dedication to business success) have completely overlooked. Therefore, you’re an idiot.
c. You’re indulging in a spot of dubious grandstanding to impress Anastasia. Therefore, you’re an idiot.
15. Christian in his spare time
“I’m a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive and absorbing hobbies.”
Soon he’ll be offering to show her his special gold-plated toilet-paper.
16. Question: “You invest in manufacturing. Why, specifically?”
Answer: “I like to build things.”
I laughed so loudly at this that the cat got up and ran out of the room in a panic.
17. More wisdom on the subject of manufacturing
“I like to know how things work: what makes things tick, how to construct and deconstruct. And I have a love of ships. What can I say?”
a. “Investing in manufacturing” is not the same as “making stuff”. Most CEOs are too busy running the company to get deeply involved in understanding the exact construction of everything the company makes. This is why the rest of us have jobs as well as them.
b. “Manufacturing” is not a synonym for “liking ships”.
18. “Are you gay, Mr Grey?”
“I cringe, mortified. Crap. Why didn’t I employ some kind of filter before I read this straight out?”
Hell if I know, Ana. Maybe you’re related to Ron Burgundy?
19. Christian’s PA is astounded by a last-minute change to his schedule
“We’re not finished here, Andrea. Please cancel my next meeting.”
Andrea hesitates, gaping at him. She appears lost.
20. World’s creepiest job offer
“We run an excellent internship program here,” he says quietly. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Is he offering me a job?
Since he doesn’t know who you are, what you’re good at or even what your major is, I sincerely hope he isn’t. That would be the act of an idiot. And I would so hate to have to think of Christian Grey as an idiot.
21. Anastasia has no self-awareness
“No man has ever affected me the way Christian Grey has, and I cannot fathom why. Is it his looks? His civility? Wealth? Power?”
Yes; finding yourself attracted to a good-looking, age-appropriate billionaire who clearly also fancies you back makes absolutely no sense at all.
22. Anastasia and the Law: Round Two
“As I hit the I-5, I realise I can drive as fast as I want.”
Um, no. No you can’t. You can drive at speeds up to and including the applicable speed limit. Same as always.
23. Sauce for the goose: Kate’s commentary on Anastasia’s love-life
“You, fascinated by a man? That’s a first,” she snorts.
Just out of interest, why does no-one ever ask Anastasia if she’s gay?
24. Obligatory piece of clunky intertextuality (1)
“I work on my essay on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Damn, but that woman was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong century.”
Yep, she should have been born in our time. These days, we’re totally down with stabbing your lover through the heart because he makes an ill-judged crack about your ex-husband.
25. Things that are not dreams (1)
“That night I dream of dark places, bleak cold white floors, and grey eyes.”
Really? How does that work, then? Are the bleak cold white floors in the dark places? If the places are dark, how can you see the bleak cold whiteness of the bleak cold white floors? Or do you move from one to the other – like, one minute you’re in a dark place, the next minute you’re standing on a bleak cold white floor? And how about the eyes – are they just rolling around loose on the floor, or what?
26. Fundamental misunderstanding of how home-based businesses work
“[My mother] proceeds to tell me about her latest venture into candle-making…I hope she hasn’t mortgaged the house to finance this latest scheme.”
a. Unless she’s actually built a candle-making factory in the back garden, which seems unlikely, I seriously doubt she will need to mortgage the house to pay for her starter-kit.
b. Also, I doubt that any bank would actually sign off on a mortgage where the stated purpose was “Start candle-making business. Get rich. Buy island in sunshine. etc.”
27. Obligatory piece of clunky intertextuality (2)
“Ray is a skilled carpenter and the reason I know the difference between a hawk and a handsaw.”
a. No, the reason you know the difference between a hawk and a handsaw is because they are absolutely nothing alike.
b. Clearly you think so highly of this reference that you feel compelled to make it again later.
c. Being able to quote from someone else’s masterpiece does not imply that you yourself are actually clever.
28. Anastasia the alcoholic
“Standing on our doorstep is my good friend Jose, clutching a bottle of champagne.”
At this point I would just like to flag up that – despite a later claim that she never gets drunk – Anastasia gets through a really quite astonishing quantity of alcohol in this novel.
29. A poor basis for a friendship
“Not only do we share a sense of humor, but we discovered that both Ray and Jose Senior were in the same army unit together.”
I doubt my dad could pick my friends’ dads out of a police line-up. Does this mean we should cancel our friendships and start hanging out with the children of people our parents went to war and traumatically shot foreigners with?
30. She has read too many books, and it has addled her brain
“Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high.”
a. Mr Rochester was rude, sarcastic and frequently cruel. Mr Darcy was rude and socially awkward. Alec D’Urberville was a rapist, and Angel Clare ran for the hills as soon as he found out he wasn’t marrying a virgin. Heathcliff was a psychopath.
Exactly which of your ideals and expectations would you say these men have set far too high?
b. Has anyone ever met anyone who died a virgin and a mad old cat lady solely because they never met anyone who matched up to Mr Darcy?
31. The Mark Of The Sue: Wilful blindness to another’s obvious devotion
“I watch Jose open the bottle of champagne…Jose’s pretty hot, but I think he’s finally getting the message: we’re just friends.”
Yeah, when I was a penniless student I used to take bottles of champagne round to my male friends’ houses for absolutely no reason all the time.
32. Surprise about things that are inherently not surprising (1)
“Saturday at the [DIY] store is a nightmare. We are besieged by do-it-yourselfers wanting to spruce up their homes.”
You are working at a DIY store, and have been for four years. It should not take you by surprise that Saturday is your busiest trading day.
33. Mr Grey has entered the building
“Holy crap. What the hell is he doing here…? I think my mouth has popped open, and I can’t locate my brain or my voice.”
a. Unless you have suffered an injury to your cerebellum, resulting in a disorder of proprioception, you should be perfectly capable of determining whether your mouth is, or is not, open. Please consider consulting your nearest neurologist.
b. Your vocal cords are stretched across the front of your larynx, as always.
c. Your brain is in the jar where I’m presuming you usually keep it.
34. …or something.
“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.”
Description 101: if you need to qualify your simile with the phrase “or something”, it probably wasn’t that good of a comparison to start with.
35. Things that sound good until you picture someone actually doing them (1)
“I shake my head to gather my wits.”
While this adequately conveys the notion that the heroine is overcome by the presence of her
leading man, the unintended consequence is to force the reader to picture her in the guise of a large wet dog that has just exited a body of water.
36. Basic anatomy fail (1)
“Why is he in Portland? Why is he here at Clayton’s? And from a very tiny, under-used part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: He’s here to see you.”
a. Pretty much by definition, your unconscious is just that – unconscious. It is not possible to engage in dialogue with it.
b. Similarly, your Medulla Oblongata takes care of the boring-but-necessary housekeeping stuff like breathing, heartbeat, temperature regulation, etc. As such it is not capable of generating active thought such as “He’s here to see you”.
c. The word “subconscious” has no real scientific meaning and as such, does not belong in the same sentence as “located at the base of my medulla oblongata”.
37. When there are two explanations for someone’s behaviour, and one of them could pose a serious threat to your life and liberty, and the other is lame and doesn’t really fit with the available evidence, always pick the lame one. Because that’s better in a lot of ways.
“He gazes at the selection of cable ties we stock at Clayton’s. What on Earth is he going to do with those?
…”Is there anything else?”
“I’d like some masking tape…no, [I’m] not redecorating,” he says quickly then smirks….”And some rope, I think.”
Yeah, nothing remotely threatening or disturbing here. And I’m sure the guy who came in and bought seventy-five pounds of ammonium nitrate and sixteen detonators was just planning to give his garden a really, really deep feed this season.
38. Another item in Anastasia’s collection of slightly stalky Just-Good-Friends
“Paul hugs me hard, taking me by surprise…”You’re looking well, Ana, really well.” He grins as he examines me at arm’s length. Then he releases me but keeps a possessive arm draped over my shoulder. I shuffle from foot to foot, embarrassed. It’s good to see Paul, but he has always been over-familiar.”
If he is touching you in a way you don’t like, you have the right to say no. Please forget about shuffling from foot to foot in embarrassment and consider kicking him in the nuts with your foot in righteous outrage.
39. Paul gets dazzled
“Mr Grey,” Paul returns his handshake. “Wait up – not the Christian Grey? Of Grey Enterprises Holding?” Paul goes from surly to awestruck in less than a nanosecond.
a. Think back to your college days. How many CEOs of major corporations could you name? Yeah, I thought so.
b. Even allowing for the fact that Paul is studying Business Administration at Princeton, “Christian Grey” isn’t that unusual a name. It’s a pretty big leap from “You have the same name of someone who has absolutely no reason to be in my family’s hardware store” to “You are that actual person”.
c. The name “Grey Enterprises Holdings” is stupid.
40. Things that sound good until you picture someone actually doing them (2)
“Would you like a bag?”
…”Please, Anastasia.” His tongue caresses my name, and my heart once again is frantic.
a. In pronouncing the name “Anastasia”, the tongue stays entirely behind the teeth and is not visible at all. In order to accept the premise that Christian is, indeed, caressing Anastasia’s name with his tongue, I am forced to conclude that he is licking her name-badge.
b. On the other hand, I quite like the idea that this is what he’s doing, so I’m quite tempted to let this one go.
41. Things that sound good until you picture someone actually doing them (3)
“My scalp prickles at the idea that maybe, just maybe, he might like me…I hug myself with quiet glee, rocking from side to side.”
Why not try this one in public and see what happens?
42. Basic anatomy fail (2)
“Ana, you’re the one with the relationship.”
“Relationship?” I squeak at her, my voice rising several octaves. “I barely know the guy.”
The average human voice has a natural span of about an octave and a half. A trained singer can generally manage between two and three. At four octaves, Freddie Mercury’s range was so exceptional that almost no-one can sing his work the way he sang it.
For your voice to rise “several octaves” (i.e. three or more), you would either have to have a natural speaking voice somewhere in the range of James Earl Jones, or be capable of producing a pitch somewhat beyond the range of normal human hearing.
43. Things that are not dreams (2)
“I am restless that night, tossing and turning. Dreaming of smoky grey eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark unexplored places.”
I especially like the introduction of “coveralls” into this bizarre still-life collection. Sort of like a collision between “American Gothic” and an abattoir after dark.
44. Good hair, pants that hang from hips
He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and grey flannel pants that hang from his hips. His unruly hair is still damp from a shower.
a. I refer you to Item 7. From here on in, Hair References will be coming thick and fast.
b. The other thing Ana really goes for is pants that hang from men’s hips. Mentioned once, this is not annoying. Unfortunately, this is not the last we’ll be seeing of Christian Grey’s well-hung pants.
45. Social mobility fail
[Kate] shakes [Christian’s] hand firmly without batting an eyelid. I remind myself that Kate has been to the best private schools in Washington. Her family has money, and she’s grown up confident and sure of her place in the world. She doesn’t take any crap. I am in awe of her.
Welcome to America; the land of opportunity. FFS.
46. Things that sound good until you picture someone actually doing them (4)
“Christian Grey has asked me to go for coffee with him.”
Her mouth pops open. Speechless Kate! I savour the moment.
a. As an experiment, spend a day telling people mildly surprising things like “I thought I might give up sugar in my tea for a week” or “I have six tattoos” or “I met the Queen once when I was small”. Count the number of times anyone’s mouth pops open. If n > 0, I will humbly retract my objection.
b. Kate has been telling Anastasia for pages and pages and pages that Christian likes her. Therefore, speechless shock is not an appropriate reaction to them going to get coffee.
c. Unless she knows Anastasia is gay, of course.
47. Coffee shops do not only sell coffee
“I am going to have coffee with Christian Grey…and I hate coffee.”
Then you will just have to stand outside the shop like a dog waiting for its owner while he goes in on his own, won’t you.
48. In the coffee-shop, Anastasia comes over all sophisticated
“I’ll have…um – English Breakfast tea, bag out.”
“…Okay, bag out tea. Sugar?”
For a moment, I’m stunned, thinking it’s an endearment, but fortunately my subconscious kicks in with pursed lips. No, stupid – do you take sugar?
“No thanks.” I stare down at my knotted fingers.
a. Since the word “Sugar?” is modified by a high-rising terminal, and you’re in a coffee-shop, this is clearly a contextually-appropriate question rather than an endearment. Interpreting it as anything else makes you look like an idiot.
b. We’ve already covered the impossibility of engaging in meaningful dialogue with your unconscious, so I’ll just refer you back to Item 36.
c. As any mother but yours would undoubtedly tell you, staring down at your knotted fingers when someone asks you a perfectly civilised question makes you look surly and rude.
d. In a post-SATC world, any reference to “tea, bag out” or “bag out tea” is automatically funny.
49. Good hair, pants that hang from hips (2)
“He’s tall, broad-shouldered, and slim, and the way those pants hang from his hips…oh my. Once or twice he runs his long, graceful fingers through his now dry but still disorderly hair. Hmm…I’d like to do that.”
a. There is a limit to the number of times I want or need to be told how well these pants hang from his hips, and we have now exceeded it.
b. While it’s traditional for TwiHarders to venerate Robert Pattinson’s hair, as this book is not officially Not Fan Fiction any more, it’s okay to get rid of this particular trope. In fact, I insist.
50. Idle speculation about things that normal people already know
“He has a coffee which bears a wonderful leaf-pattern imprinted in the milk. How do they do that? I wonder idly.”
Oh come on.
That’s the first fifty things, and they haven’t even kissed yet – never mind got to the recreational floggings. However, I was tragically compelled to finish the entire book, getting more and more annoyed with every page. And then I was commissioned to turn it into an e-book. Which is for sale, right now! If you’d like to buy it, that would be lovely.
And if I have managed to inspire in you a raging appetite for Fifty Shades Snark that cannot wait to be satisfied, you may like to swing by my friend Heidi’s blog and enjoy her musings on the subject.
*Just so we’re clear, I’m quoting “Fifty Shades Of Grey”. Yes, really.