Was the book badly written? No, but it was rough. E.L James is not a bad writer. She has bad habits that could have been fixed with a good editor.
The first page was probably the worst page in the whole book. Never EVER start a book with a character staring in a mirror brushing her hair. Why? It's boring. And it's a poor way to describe their appearance. It's called telling not showing. The book is written in first person. Ana is telling the story. Ask yourself this: how often do you focus on your own appearance in your head and think to yourself "Oh, my shoulder length brown hair is being uncontrollable!" You don't. This is something I've learnt in writing. Yes, describe your character's physical appearance. But ask yourself this: one is it really important to the story and two how can you do it in a way that doesn't come across as boring and cliched?
James repeats a lot of words and phrases throughout the book. This is an easy thing to slip into when you're writing. Writing is hard and despite what some stupid TV programs might say not everyone can "do it" like there's no skilled involved. When you write a 300 page novel you will repeat certain phrases and sentences. You will probably not even be aware that you are doing it. A good writer will go back in edits and notice these mistakes and delete them. James did not and all of those "Holy craps!" and "Inner goddess" moments got really, really tiresome.
The plot. I don't think I've ever read a book with a thinner plot before and I read Mary Janice Davidson's "Undead" series. The "plot" of the book is Christian Grey tries to convince Ana to sign a contract allowing him to engage in rough sex. That's it. In between the pages and pages of fucking he slowly takes over her life and this is what i found most disturbing: started to frighten her.
Yes, that's right, Grey is so controlling, his temper so thin, that in several scenes Ana is actually afraid to be around him and is brought to tears a couple of times. He doesn't just like rough sex he wants to control her entire life and beat her when she displeases him not for sexual pleasure but to make him feel good as a control freak.
This was the biggest problem I had with the book. People are calling this a romance. Fear should not be in a romance novel. You should not FEAR the man in your life. You should not have to ask him NOT TO BEAT YOU.
This book has outsold all 7 of the Harry Potter novels. On one hand I want to go "Hooray! People are reading! This is good for erotica!" but mostly I just want to sigh, shake my head, and delete my copy of the book off my e-reader.
This book is not worthy of the height of fame it has achieved. It is not terribly written but it is not great either. JK Rowling's books were a master piece and deserved every penny they earned. E.L James has been lucky. Her book still reads like a piece of fan fiction. A good piece of fan fiction...yes...but still fan fiction. It is popular for one reason only: that it began as Twilight fan fiction.
It is a freak show. People are buying this book not because it is well written but because it has become so popular and they want to see what it is all about. In twenty years time what books do you think I'll still have in my bookcase? Harry Potter or...this?