We gave it a D+
E.L. James dedicates this novel “to all the readers who asked…and asked…and asked…and asked for this” retelling of Fifty Shades of Grey, her 2012 erotic series that thrust BDSM sex into mainstream pop culture. So, dear readers, you apparently only have yourselves to blame for Grey, which tells the Fifty Shades story from a different perspective.
The appeal of Fifty Shades lay in James’ ability to describe sexual excitement from a woman’s point of view—gangly, sheltered college student Ana Steele, who recounted in thrillingly purple prose how she became a sexual submissive to smoldering bazillionaire Christian Grey. In this new version, James hews close to the original, rewriting literally every scene from Christian’s head: sex in his parents’ boathouse, sex in the Red Room of Pain, sex in a hotel bathroom, sex in another bathroom, and sex over a desk. There’s also spanking. So much spanking.
Fans who hoped that Grey would give them more insight into exactly who Christian is—lover of pain or lover of Ana?—are going to be disappointed and possibly even alarmed. Swapping out Ana’s “inner goddess” for Christian’s freakish musings leaves you with a guy who pretty much fits the definition of sociopath. That’s largely because without Ana’s inner monologue, it’s not clear whether she’s willing or excited when the lashing, flogging, and shackling commence. And when Christian’s stalkerish tendencies are combined with James’ cringeworthy prose, you’ll wonder what Ana ever saw in the guy. That, and why his staffers, who witnessed some of Christian’s scariest behavior, never called the police. D+
This review originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue 1370, on stands June 26, 2015.