E.L. James recently busted out with the super-imaginatively titled Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. Naturally, given how much fun I had with the first three books of the trilogy, I just had to check out book 4. This time, I’m prepared: I have my tablet computer beside me to record my thoughts as I read. Forthwith, my discussion of the first 43 pages:
“Copyright 2011, 2015.” I assume that the 2011 date means when this was written. How does that compare to the chronology of the first three books? I am having trouble finding out when the original trilogy was drafted as fanfic, as it’s generally referred to by its official publication date, of which the first was in 2011. Basically I wonder whether this book was a part of the original story or whether it was written to capitalize on the enthusiastic reception that the first three received. James’ dedication of the book to “those readers who asked…and asked…and asked for this” suggests the latter. It’s the Midnight Sun of 50 Shades!
On that note, has anyone asked Stephenie Meyer what she thinks of her opus being an inspiration for this? As she espouses conservatively heteronormative concepts of sex, I have no doubt that she would feel disquieted and disapproving.
P. 3: The book begins with a dream from young Christian’s point of view in which he tries to get his mom’s attention by throwing toy cars at her, to which she calls him “maggot.” Upon waking up, modern Christian asks himself, “What the hell was that about?”
I can tell you what it was about, you dipstick — it was about your miserable childhood and your miserable relationship with your abusive mom! I suppose James is trying for sympathy here by making Christian a lost, lonely little boy. However, his ignorance about what the hell that means seems almost willful and pathetic instead of provoking sympathy. Well, it’s provoking, all right, but I don’t think it’s provoking what James intended it to provoke.
P. 4: “My mood is as flat and gray as the weather.” We have no evidence of this. Yet again, James prefers to tell, rather than show. Also Christian is apparently using “gray” as a synonym for “bleak” in all seriousness, with no acknowledgment whatsoever of the fact that he has just canonically, implicitly equated his own surname with depressingness. To me, this illustrates [yet again] his lack of even the most basic self-awareness, as well as his tragic, chronic, acute lack of a sense of humor.
I mean really! Realistically, people pay attention to these things. I have a character in my mini universe named Grey [partly as part of my attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of one of my favorite words and colors from its recent association with 50 Shades of Poo]. She’s introduced by someone who opines that she’s so boring that even her name is Grey, and his interlocutor says, “Like the color?” [Yes, like the color.] I find it really irritating that Christian doesn’t seem to recognize the metaphorical potential in his own name.
Now I kinda want to write more about Grey because, even in the brief appearances she’s made in the mini universe, she exhibits more intriguingness and depth than Christian….
“…[T]he only thing to capture my interest recently has been my decision to send two freighters of cargo to Sudan.” I’d be more convinced of Christian’s interest if he provided some more details, like what he was shipping, exactly where he was shipping it, how he felt about his shipments, and why this decision stood out for him amongst the grey [har har] dullness of his life. As it is, he’s just claiming that the only exciting thing he’s done recently is to send two loads of stuff to a place. Consider my interest supremely uncaptured.
P. 6: Ana comments on the paintings on Christian’s wall, saying that they’re “raising the ordinary to extraordinary.” Christian judges this to be a “keen observation.” I might believe him if James gave us some detail about the “ordinary” contents of the art and how the artist made them “extraordinary.” I’m not asking for William Carlos Williams and his red wheelbarrow charged with significance here, just a little more foundation for these otherwise baseless claims.
P. 7: “Grey, stop this now. … Stop being such a shit, Grey.” Christian talks to himself in exactly the same way that we had to suffer Ana’s internal monologue for three books. Fortunately, though, we have yet to see his subconscious or his inner goddess [or its equivalent]. [Incidentally, I’d be enthralled if Christian had an inner goddess. But no, that’s much too potentially interesting for such a straight-and-narrow author.] As for the advice that he gives himself, he’d do us all a favor if he took it, but then there’d be no story….
P. 13: Ana says, “Don’t let me keep you from anything.”
Christian’s inner monologue says, “Oh no, baby. It’s my turn now.” He has this irritating habit of calling Ana “baby” in his head; she doesn’t even really have a name to him. He’s just thinking of her as one of an interchangeable series of submissive brunettes.
Well, I guess I can’t complain about James telling instead of showing here. Christian’s behavior very clearly shows him paying zilcho respect to Ana. He thinks of her solely in terms of an object to give him pleasure as he hits her and uses her for sexual release.
One of Christian’s [many] problems lies in his control freakery. He has made the acquisition and exercise of control central to his identity. Therefore he controls everything, which, for him, includes playing the dominant role in his bdsm games. He sees the dominant role not as a role, but as an expression of self, an extension of his essence. He assumes that he should automatically be in control because that’s who he is.
Thus he completely neglects the negotiation common to a lot of bdsm practice. This negotiation, in which the participants talk about what their interests are and what roles they want to take, is an opportunity to ensure that all participants are getting what they want out of their games. Christian, though, doesn’t negotiate; he only cares about what others want insofar as it aligns with his compulsive control freakery. He doesn’t use bdsm games as a way to connect with participants, only to reassure himself that the world does indeed revolve around his straight white cis rich Western dude penis.
There is an interesting idea in here somewhere about a desperately empty person who confuses control with selfhood and, for some reason, turns to bdsm games in an attempt to fill himself up. However, I would find this story much more engaging if the pursuit of bdsm games provoked this desperately empty person to think about elective roleplaying. He could reflect that, while the role of control freak was an ingrained habit, it was also a role, not the totality of his existence, but a facet of himself that he could choose to perpetuate, alter, or nix. He could realize that he was neither necessarily nor solely a control freak; he could be other than a control freak! He could be someone who could play the control freak for bdsm games, and then, in the rest of his life, explore other roles, of which control freak would be only one. In other words, he could chill out and learn that he was a lot more multi-faceted than a desperately empty control freak. You know, a well-rounded, sympathetic human being. However, because this conditional tangent involves carefully considered character development and a slightly more nuanced discussion of the uses of bdsm games, we won’t be reading it in this book.
Where was I? Oh yeah, page 13. At this rate, I’ll never make it past the first chapter…
P. 16: He does a background check on Ana?! Oh, that’s real sexy.
P. 19: “I mainly shop online for my needs, but while I’m here, maybe I’ll stock up on a few items: Velcro, split rings — Yeah. I’ll find the delectable Miss Steele and have some fun.” Okay, so it’s confirmed that Christian abuses his wealth to find out where Ana works, then goes way out of his way to her workplace to “have some fun” by ordering bdsm supplies with her help and watching her squirm at his innuendo. Hmmm, yes, because being manipulated by an arrogant, condescending, self-centered, power-hungry, pathologically possessive stalker turns everyone on.
Stop being such a shit, Grey!
P. 43: Christian is talking about Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d’Urbervilles: “Both are bleak books, with tragic themes. Hardy had a dark, twisted soul.
Get over yourself, for God’s sake! If you really believe that you’re an unlovable wretch, there are less pretentious ways of expressing that sentiment than by straight-up comparing yourself to Thomas Hardy. This is only acceptable if you’re like 15, and you’ve just finished a unit on dead white British dudes of the 1800s in second period sophomore English. Even then, though, such a simile is in really questionable taste.