Warning: this post contains NSFW language and themes. Also trigger warning for explicit mentions of sexual violence. Be warned. Here be dragons.
I have often wondered what I’m known for in my (admittedly-small) social media circle. I’m thinking it goes something like this:
– Mindy Project fan
– future Mrs. Chris Hemsworth
– hates 50 Shades of Grey / E.L. James
When the new book by E.L. James, Grey, was released this month, a lot of people sent me messages asking if I’d be recapping it. Or live-tweeting it. Or at least reviewing it. I kept saying no. NO. NO I WILL NOT GIVE THAT WOMAN A PENNY OF MY MONEY, NOW OR EVER.
Then a friend pointed me at a site that will occasionally post copyrighted material for download, and said that if I hurried, I could get the book for free, and only break a few rules while I was at it. I took it as a sign.
A sign from a universe that hates me, as it turns out. This book. I can’t.
I read it, friends, in the way that I watched the last two seasons of True Blood. I could not believe what was happening. I knew it wasn’t going to get any better, and I could add up how many hours of my life I was wasting, and yet there I was, eating popcorn and making Michael listen to me read bits aloud so I didn’t have to suffer alone.
I will recap. I may not recap the whole entire book, chapter by chapter, because there are only so many ways I can say “this book is terrible and no one should ever read it, ever, and also no one’s penis is a separate sentient being that lives in the pants of men, stop doing that”. But I will try! For you guys! Because I love you. If you want to catch up on my reviews of the original trilogy, you can find them here, here, and here.
Quick housekeeping items: all quotes from the book will be in italics, with quotation marks, and all punctuation will be quoted as published even if it makes no goddamn sense. This book is a re-telling of 50 Shades of Grey, but from Christian Grey’s point of view; he narrates, but then he has internal discussions? arguments? with himself, so those bits will be in bold type as well as italics just so you can see what a hot mess this is.
The original trilogy was all from Anastasia Steele’s POV, and so we never really knew what exactly CG was thinking; E.L. James claims in the book’s dedication that her readers “asked… and asked… and asked… and asked for this”.The chapters are headed with dates, presumably so you can cross-reference with the original trilogy, or some bloody thing. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that FSoG started out as fanfic based on Twilight… and now Grey is just FSoG re-written with a different narrator, so we’ve learned right away that E.L. James has invented a new form of plagiarism hitherto unexplored in the annals of publishing.
We can call it “crapception”, I think.
May 9, 2011
We launch right in to one of CG’s memories of his mother, the “crack whore”. Immediately, this book has a huge problem; a retelling should not actually require you to have read the original story, and I guarantee if you hadn’t read FSoG that this dream sequence would confound the hell out of you. By page two it’s even more confusing, because the dream is over, but this is what we get:
I open my eyes and my dream fades … My thoughts stray to the day. I’ve nothing but meetings, though I’m seeing my personal trainer later … Bastille is always a welcome challenge. Maybe I should call Elena? Yeah. Maybe.
Bastille? THAT IS NOT A NAME OF A PERSON.
Elena? WHO IS THAT?
Why is the narrator talking to himself with two voices, while also narrating his every move and action? We’re only on page two and we’ve already got three “voices” here, except they are all CG, and he’s an idiot.
“As I stare out the window at the Seattle skyline, the familiar ennui seeps unwelcome into my consciousness. My mood is as flat and gray as the weather.”
Eventually he stops staring out the window in a fit of existential angst long enough to snap at his secretary for reminding him of an interview he agreed to, and Anastasia Steele (AS) literally falls into his office, because that whole stupid sequence wasn’t dumb enough the first time we all read it in FSoG.
“She has a small, sweet face that is blushing now, an innocent pale rose. I wonder briefly if all her skin is like that – flawless – and what it would look like pink and warmed from the bite of a cane”.
NOPE. He literally just met this person. They haven’t exchanged a single word, and he’s already imagining caning her. I’m going to say this a lot in the course of these recaps, but that’s not normal behaviour. Ye gods.
“She gapes at me, and I resist rolling my eyes. Yeah, yeah, baby, it’s just a face, and it’s only skin deep.” Yes, this is something he thinks to himself when a pretty girl that he was imagining caning only seconds before looks at him.
Are you guys hot yet? Yeah, me too.
AS starts interviewing him about his business, and the words are all vaguely businessy but it reads like Mad Libs being played by Enron executives on their lunch break. This entire book is meant to be told in the first person present by CG, and yet E.L. James has a completely wooden ear for dialogue, so it ends up sounding really, really stilted. Example: “Flaunting my erudition, I quote the words of Andrew Carnegie, my favourite industrialist“.
The next few pages have several of CG’s inner thoughts about things he’d like to do to AS. I’m just going to list them, in order:
– I’d like to exercise it [control] over you, right here, right now
– Images of her in assorted positions in my playroom flash through my mind: shackled on the cross, spread-eagled on the four-poster, splayed over the whipping bench
– testing the limits of attractive brunettes like her, and bringing them to heel
– I imagine fucking that mouth to distract myself … her mouth needs training, and I imagine her on her knees before me
– I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands tied behind her back.
This is all in the space of three pages. THREE PAGES. He’s conducting an interview with a college student he just met, for a school paper, and this is his interior monologue.
In the original trilogy, CG was supposed to be all enigmatic and mysterious. Now that we’re finding out what was going on in his head, this is me:
If the purpose to this book was to make CG seem less like an abuser and a rapist, we can clearly hashtag it #epicfail.
Eventually, AS finishes her interview, and gets ready to leave. Desperate to keep her in his space so he can continue to fantasize about Hannibal Lector-ing her ass, CG first tries to offer her a job, then lectures her about driving safely from Seattle to Vancouver, because it’s raining, and that’s never a thing that happens in either of those cities, right?
I haven’t even mentioned that he thinks about her wardrobe in unflattering terms not once, not twice, but THREE FUCKING TIMES. I realize in light of the larger issues here that this might seem insignificant, but he thinks of her as “poorly dressed … in clothes from some cheap store like Old Navy … the jacket is worn and cheap.” That particular plot device got old and tired really fast. She’s a student. There’s a whole subplot where we see CG trying to send a shipment of food to the Sudan – the book tries to make a big deal out of his philanthropy – but he’s also a raging asshole who expects an English major to be wearing Anna Sui, or something. It’s ridiculous. E.L. James can’t even stick to simple characterizations, and if she has an editor, that editor should be given a very stern talking to.
The day ends with CG requesting a background check. This, instead of asking AS out for coffee, or exchanging email addresses or something. A background check. A BACKGROUND CHECK. First of all, that’s just weird obsessive stalkery behaviour, so I do not approve. And honestly, has this super-genius technologically-savvy awesome 27 year old billionaire not heard of the internet? We know that the book is set in 2011, so why isn’t he doing what every other 27 year old was doing four years ago and just Googling her?
Oh, E.L. James.