No writer worth their salt can get away with avoiding the fastest selling trilogy (of tripe?) and still call themself an informed writer. So wanting to find out more about all the hype, and not because I’d heard the storyline featured whips and floggers and dubious sexual relationships, I bought the Kindle version of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and proceeded to read all three titivating tomes in a couple of days.
Don’t take that as an indication that I enjoyed the trilogy!
Fifty Shades is not well written, in fact it demonstrates how marketing can sell a book in the very absence of skillful writing and searing storyline.
The storyline sees young virginal maiden, Anastasia Steele (seriously, Anastasia? Why didn’t EL James just go the whole hog and call her Rupunzal?), interviewing be-yoot-i-ful businessman Christian Grey for her university newspaper. Of course she is shy, and nervous in the extreme, because those studying English literature and working on their school newspaper tend to be shy, retiring types and not at all like Germaine Greer. He is Iceman from Top Gun. But a be-yoo-ti-ful version, obviously.
She sees professional businessman, Christian Grey, he sees potential sexual submissive who he’d like to see gagged and bound in his red room of pain! As he says in the addendum to the third book – Fifty Shades Freed:
“I’ll take that one,” I say. The wider tape is much more effective as a gag. As she passes it to me, the tips of our fingers touch, briefly. It resonates in my groin. Fuck!”
The ‘love story’ continues with Mr Christian Grey sending his quarry a contract which specifies that she becomes his submissive, his very own ‘canary in a cage’ sex slave, ALL for his pleasure. Of course she signs, because that’s what any intelligent young girl would do when asked by the American Psycho, Patrick Bateman. (Funny, he was a rich good looking businessman too!)
And so the fairytale continues with the virginal maiden moving into the dark prince’s castle where she suffers all manner of humiliation and pops her cherry to the seriously stalkerish Christian. But there’s a problem. Out in the kingdom an enemy is plotting Christian Grey’s downfall. This shady character attempts to kill him in a seriously unimaginative number of ways – like downing the helicopter (Holy helicopter Batman!) burning the business’ head office down (Holy Smoke Robin) and … well you’ll have to wait (or read it yourself) to see what other dastardly acts he undertakes.
Will the hero win?
Will the princess learn to love the dark BDSM practices?
Will they ever have sex without him braiding her frickin hair?
Much has been written about the cringeworthy writing, so I won’t repeat all that. (If you want to read more have a look at the briliant Cate’s blog post!) The crap self-conscious, breathy first-person narrative did my head in, but that was tolerable. What was far worse was the theme of the storyline.
It was dark, dark dark.
And I’m not referring to the use of the BDSM and the floggers and the belt-whipping, I’m talking about the disturbing imagery of stalking, possession, and abuse. Love hurts, the author tells us, but only the girl never the man holding the whip.
I wondered how I’d feel if my own daughter came home and told me she’d met an older wealthy man who had tracked her, stalked her, demanded she sign a non-disclosure agreement that specified she service his sexual desires, and not tell another living soul. I would certainly be raising an eyebrow at this new boyfriend’s deviant personality trait’s – jealousy, sadomasochism and extreme possessiveness (he tells her what to eat!!). I’m pretty sure I’d be on to the police to report a potential sexual predator.
But we are asked to feel sympathy for poor old Christian because, a) he’s wealthy and showers Ana with expensive gifts (is this dowry or payment for sexual favours?), b) he works hard to ‘feed the world’s poor’, c) he had a miserable early life. We are asked to accept that this early trauma justifies his objectification of women, and his sexual deviancy, but I don’t buy it at all. I would be firing that bloody therapist, fat lot of good he’s done over all those years of therapy!
It’s not the BDSM that bothers me. I agree there is a whole kaleidoscope of colours of sex between consenting adults that includes vanilla, cherry topped and dark and serious, BUT it doesn’t include humiliation, debasement and ownership. In my mind that’s not lovemaking.
Yes, Ana enjoys sexual climax, often multiple times in one minute, (Lucky lucky girl!) but that doesn’t mean she is loved, respected or sexually fulfilled. If sex is a bodily conversation between lovers, then this conversation consists of Christian saying ‘Fuck you’ and Ana saying ‘yes Master’.
Call me old-fashioned, but where’s her pleasure?
What the hell would Greer and Erica Jong and others make of that? If women cannot even own their sexual expression isn’t that usury, perhaps even something darker. It makes for uncomfortable reading that goes beyond the ludicrous purple prose -
As the sensations take over, I tilt my head back, my eyes rolling to the back of my head, my mouth slack and I groan. The pressure is building slowly, inexorably inside me…..oh my. “Feel it baby” Christian whispers in my ear and very gently grazes my earlobe with his teeth. “Feel it for me.”
And way beyond the stupid lazy shorthand writing – ‘my breath hitches,’ ‘biting my lip’, ‘his breath ragged’, ‘my inner goddess is thrilled’.
After a while I started to skip over the sex scenes, whereas I suspect that the majority of readers who enjoy this series would lap those scenes up. I felt they were stilted, self-conscious and fantastical. Some commentators have called Fifty Shade ‘mummy porn’ but I beg to disagree. This is as much ‘mummy porn’ as Nuts magazine! It doesn’t feel like a woman’s tone of voice, despite the ‘domination’ fantasy’s status as one of the most popular fantasies amongst women, (which may explain the trilogy’s popularity) the actual build of the plot line was unbelievable, the characters were one-dimensional, and the writing bordering on farcical.
Some jarring abnormalities-
Ana is an English Lit student who does not own a laptop. I bet she wrote all her essays in longhand and then sent them to her tutors by pigeon post too.
Ana is a virgin, yet she proceeds to orgasm again and again and again (stop it already!), every single time she has sex!
Ana is only 22 yet her favourite phrase of all is the old-fashioned ‘Oh My’. Seriously?
Christian is a billionaire businessman, but he never seems to do any work! Most successful businessmen and women I know work all hours God sends!
The housekeeper says Christian is a good man, yet she gets to polish and clean the red room of pain, AND all the sex toys.
Christian force-feeds Ana – show me one man who is so obssessed about appearance who wants his girlfriend to put on weight!
Apparently Ana can deep-throat with the best of them and thoroughly enjoys her ‘Christian Grey flavour popsicle’ yet she’s never even been beyond kissing before. Where did she get this incredible natural ability, and her lack of gag reflex?
Ana’s inner goddess only ever celebrates her sexual submission (‘My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves’) Where’s her inner goddess’ supernatural powers? Why doesn’t her inner goddess call up Athena the Goddess of War and seriously kick his arse?
But more than these glaring inconsistencies and continuity glitches, which I could write off as amateurish, there is this nagging discomfort that the message behind the trilogy is dark enough to send feminism back three decades. This is not romance, it’s not even love with a bit of bodice-ripping. I don’t even think it’s grey. I think it’s all black, black, black.