Monday, 16 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey - EL James

I have a good number of things to say about this book and not a single one of them is positive. If you are one of those people that really love this, I would recommend not reading this review. Oh, and for the first time on my blog, I believe I may have to rate this review R. How awkward.

There are three of us on my MA course that want to get into publishing. Because of this, we can't really ignore any major trends in the book industry. And so, against our better judgements, we all decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey, if only so we could have our own opinion on the novel. It is good to have read something so that people can't accuse you of just parroting things or the famous "You can't say that; you haven't even read it!"

I guess we'll get this plot nonsense over and done with first. I'm not really sure it had one, to be honest. Our heroine, the annoyingly named Anastasia Steele (yeah), is a college senior and English major at a WSU satellite in Vancouver, WA. When her roommate and best friend, who is also conveniently the editor of the school newspaper, falls sick, she sends Ana to Seattle to interview the CEO of a major corporation and WSU school sponsor, Christian Grey. 

Ana manages to muck it up but somehow still enchants the man, who ends up following her to Portland where she has a part time job in a hardware shop. After a few dates and some confusing feeling sessions, the two seem like they're going to end up together. Oh, but there's this little problem with his BDSM habits…

I honestly don't even know where to start with this one. Every single thing about it is just horrible. I would like to say, though, that I have nothing against BDSM. It's not my bag but people have to right to do what they want. It is not that that I have a problem with. It's everything else.

Let's start out with the characters, I guess. Ana (I refuse to type Anastasia one more time) actually seems like an alright person. That's why I'm having trouble fathoming her obsession with Christian. Over and over again, she thinks about how this is really uncomfortable and wrong and creepy. But does she follow her gut? No. She runs into the arms of a man who has more issues than The Daily Mail. The best part is that I genuinely think that if she saw a friend exhibiting the same behavior, she would counsel them to stay away from the man because he clearly wasn't good for her. And yet she cannot take her own advice.

A lot of the reasoning about Ana comes out of the fact that she is an innocent virgin who's never had a relationship before. I know these people exist but it seems a bit too la-di-da for the situation. Not to mention, we are told on countless occasions that the reason Ana has always been single is by her own choice. Men have been interested in her before but she's never had any feelings for them in return. If the case was that no one had ever showed her attention and now here was a man telling her she was beautiful, that would be more understandable. But to know that she has always had that confirmation but somehow has all this self doubt and worry and neediness with this super creeper man is just confusing. 

Christian, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. He has so many, many issues. And yes, I get it, people have baggage that they take into a relationship but he doesn't just have one suitcase, he has a planeful. He is moody and strange and at one point full on tells Ana that he wants to hurt her. Okay, I get that he is gorgeous and rich but I'm pretty sure those are not the only two things that make a boyfriend. 

What makes me so angry about this set up, though, is that it is just so disempowering to women. Here is this woman who is completely aware that she is compromising herself and her feelings for a man but does it anyway. And why? Because she thinks she can fix him. She thinks that she is the one that can "pull him out of the dark." But you don't go into a relationship in order to fix someone. At one point, Ana is angry and yells "You need to sort your shit out, Grey!" Exactly! That is not her problem to solve. You need to be content with yourself if you want to be able to be with another person. Christian Grey has to sort out his own issues before he can be in a relationship with anyone. 

Obligatory "This is Twilight fan fiction" comment here. 

To move on, I would just like to know exactly how much research EL James did before she wrote this. EL James, as you may know, is British. This book is set in the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised. However, this book is littered with Englishisms and things that pull you out of the novel. I-5 is always called Interstate 5. Yes, that is its name but I have never heard anyone say anything other than I-5 in my life. WSU is a large school, yes, I suppose. However, UW is much larger and much better regarded. Not to mention that Ana goes to a satellite school in Vancouver. Howevermuch I know this is a tad unfair, satellite schools have a bit of a stigma. As does living in Vancouver, which is basically a tax haven. Live in Vancouver for the cheap estate tax, shop in Portland for a lack of sales tax. No 18 year old is going to willingly move to Vancouver. And why didn't she just go to WSU in Seattle in the first place? I'm sure they have a much better program. If they're trying to make her seem clever, it's not working.

Beyond those little regionalisms, there were a lot of Englishisms that threw me off track as well. On her last final in college, she sat an exam. English majors in America almost never have in class exams, except perhaps your freshman year. After that, it's almost completely essays. If you're ahead of the game, you spend finals week just in the library or turning things in. You would never have a class exam. At one point, Ana uses the phrase 'Consumerism gone mad.' The "____ gone mad" phrase is something I had never heard until I moved to England. It's quite common here but never heard across the ocean. Little things that just kept popping up but drove me up a wall every time.

Other wall drivers? The writing style. I could hardly keep reading at points! Ana is constantly shocked, usually with an accompanying italicized "Holy [crap, cow, shit, etc..]" as if she were auditioning to play the next Robin. People's jaws drop to the floor all the time to the point that I thought they might be boa constrictors. Towards the end, I felt like if I heard a comment about Ana's inner goddess again, I'd have to smack something. Phrases and ideas are used over and over again and it becomes annoying. Sadly, when James tries to say something original, it comes out strange and forced, ala "that was as true as cotton candy was nutritious." What? That's just painful.

This book honestly read as if, with a bit of tweaking, it could be a horror novel. I mean, it's borderline domestic violence. Grey is terrifyingly controlling, getting angry if she sees friends and buying the seat next to her on the airplane so that no one will sit next to and talk to her. I'm sorry but that's just horrible. At one point, she accuses him of using sex as a weapon and he agrees. And then they drop it. What?! This is so horrible unhealthy! Not to mention that Grey has issues with molestation that he seems completely fine with, even staying friends with the molester. And gets angry at Ana when she calls her a molester. Which she is. 

I don't know. I honestly cannot stand this book and it was painful reading it. It makes me sad that this passes for literature these days. I will not be picking up the sequels. If this kind of thing floats your boat, that's fine. I just hope that if you ever get into the kind of relationship portrayed in this book, you seriously take care of yourself. Grey is not a perfect hero and this relationship is not healthy.

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