Thursday, March 19, 2015

Book Review : 50 Shades of Grey

OK ladies, it's time we had a talk. You know, THAT talk. The one where we stop giving into nonsense and stop judging each other far more harshly than necessary and instead have a real, intelligent conversation about the art we produce. Today's art : 50 Shades of Grey. I know, I know. You've heard that it's abusive and misogynistic and a whole slew of other crap that is NOT TRUE. Yeah, I read it. I had to read it. A good friend of mine, who is intelligent, read it and said it wasn't that big of a deal and anyway, she said, we shouldn't talk smack about a book unless we've read it. So, I read it. I must say, I'm absolutely appalled and ashamed of all of you who talked poorly about the book. Everything I've read about it was untrue, EVERYTHING. Now, I have to review it so I can set the record straight.

Let's start with some common knowledge : 50 Shades of Grey started as fanfic for Twilight. Now, if you have read the Twilight series, you know that it's not the best writing ever. If you've read any fanfic, you'll know that fanfic is generally not the best writing ever. 50 Shades of Grey is no different. The writing is not that great. But you know who else doesn't write very well? Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steele, John Grisham, and Nora Roberts, to name a few very popular, very mainstream writers who are ok, but not great and who don't suffer the abuse that E.L. James has. You know who else has a tendency to write the occasional crappy book? Stephen King and Michael Crichton. You know who my mom hates to read? William Shakespeare. You know who my person loves and I think is one of the worst writers of all time? Kurt Vonnegut. You know who has a tendency to create interesting stories but be overly verbose when it comes to descriptions? J.R.R. Tolkien. You know who is WILDLY popular and a far worse writer and is actually racist as well as misogynistic and glorifies pedophilia? George R. R. Martin. My point is threefold: 1. Fanfic is generally not that great, and neither is this book, and who cares? 2. There are a LOT of writers who do a far worse job and have almost as much success without as much ridicule and derision. 3. There are plenty of writers I don't like that other people like...who have won awards! Just like there are writers you don't like who have won awards. Preference in writing is a matter of taste and doesn't really warrant the shittiness I've seen spread all over the web by FELLOW WOMEN. Seriously.

Did you know that 50 Shades of Grey sold two books per second during its sales peak? That is huge. E.L. James wrote some stories and the people reading them loved them so much that the readers pushed her into the hands of two different publishers. People wanted to read her books! And do you know why? Well, I'm pretty sure it's because these were books written by a woman for women. How often are we told that we should love all the shit men are selling and how often do we buy into it? Think about all the male writers who have had massive hits and longterm popularity and then think about all the women who have done so. Think about all the men writing crap for men, about men, just fucking full of men, and we're expected to buy it and like it. But because a woman wrote something about women and for women, suddenly, it's the worst crap ever? But I guess it goes to show what we know, because women WANTED these books!


Didn't think so.

Facts and history aside, let's talk about the "abuse" in the book. Do you know much about BDSM and dom/sub relationship? I doubt it. That shit is so taboo. But let's just say, like me, you've got a profile on fetlife and have been to a sex club with private rooms and have watched some bondage porn and have had friends who were very into BDSM and had their own private, online diaries about it. You know, let's just say you're really familiar with the life. Then you would know that a dom/sub relationship has a lot of weird shit that is not socially acceptable, like humiliation and punishment. That's basically the crux of 50 Shades of Grey. Christian Grey is an established dom looking for a sub. He thinks he has found it in Anastasia Steele and goes on to "woo" her to the best of his ability, but it doesn't work out...because she's a virgin. (Oh, and she's not actually interested in being a sub.)

I know, right?

How convenient that every "review" and bashing this book has received on the internet has left out the virgin part. Oh, and the fact that these two are in their early and mid-20s. (Not exactly anyone's most mature time.) Also, that Christian Grey was abused as a child. (To what extent, we don't know...just that there are scars.) The thing is, this book is actually far more complex than anyone told me it would be. Everyone stopped at BDSM and misogyny and "fun read" and "escapism" and never bothered to tell me how complicated this novel is.

I mean, think about when you lost your virginity. Did it happen just as you had perfectly planned it out? (Maybe. For some people it does.) Were you at all confused or uncertain? (If not, bravo!) Were you maybe just overrun with feelings, sexual feelings that you had not experienced before? That tends to be the case. Having sex for the first time is complicated and difficult. Couple that with experiencing BDSM for the first time in our puritanical culture, and you've got a hot mess...named Anastasia Steele.

What most people seem to take issue with, including the BDSM community, is that Anastasia Steele had her feelings hurt. But what everyone neglects to mention is that she was a virgin who was insecure and dishonest. She would not tell Christian Grey exactly how she felt, until after they did some kinky shit and she was lying in bed mad about it. Then, she was all too quick to shoot off a passive-aggressive e-mail. And do you know what Christian Grey did in response to her honesty via e-mail? Usually, he came right over and held her and loved her and compromised with her and told her to be fucking honest so that she didn't get hurt.

The book should've been called "50 Shades of Consent". There was so much consent the book was BORING!

As for Christian Grey being controlling? Nope. He wanted to be in control, but he was not controlling. There is a subtle but important difference. Christian Grey did not believe he was capable of love outside of BDSM. That's fucked up, yes. That's not a good reason to engage in those types of relationships. However, that's reality. In a perfect world, all doms are super healthy, emotionally stable, looking to have fun in their torture chamber. In a perfect world, all subs are super healthy, very balanced, looking to experience sexxy fun times in their dom's torture chamber. Life is very rarely perfect. Supposedly, the BDSM community takes issue with the way Christian Grey handles his relationships, but I guess they want only glossy, perfect portrayals of BDSM relationships. If Anastasia Steele had always been honest and up front with Christian Grey, she may have been less heartbroken...IF. But she wasn't honest, and so she cried a lot, and so Christian Grey came over and comforted her. What Christian Grey didn't do was abuse or control Anastasia Steele.

The end of the first book sees Anastasia Steele crying in her bed because she has broken it off with Christian Grey. Why? Well, because punishment is important to him and she's not interested. The moment she said no, that was it, relationship done. Christian Grey did not cajole or pressure or even force his desires onto her. Instead, she let him go, and her heart was broken. Do you know what that sounds like to me? A FUCKING NORMAL BREAK-UP! Who hasn't broken a relationship off because it's not what you want or need? I can't think of anyone. Break-ups suck and they leave people miserable and crying for days. That's reality. That's honesty. Your average romance novel would've come to another end that was more happy. Christian would've become the man Anastasia needed and they would've snuggled off into the sunset on his fancy helicopter. But oh how that would've been more tragic than any other flaw in this book.

As for my recommendation : don't read it. It wasn't even steamy enough to get me off. I did not reach for my little blue vibrator once, because the book just didn't make my vagina tingle. The writing is bad and the ending is not good enough to make it an escape novel. Harlequin Romance novels do a much better job at that. This book is somewhat bodice-ripping...oh the times he fills her. (Ok, ok, we get it, his dick is HUGE and her vagina is TIGHT!) But the kink isn't even that good, honestly. I didn't get one idea from this book. Plus, the sad ending. Who wants to get all hot and bothered just to end up wanting to cry at the end? Also, the characters are not well-developed. They lack substance and they are hard to care about. Anastasia's Cinderella thing is, why doesn't the girl have her own damn computer? Christian's wealth is inexplicable and not that interesting. Who really gives a shit about riding in a helicopter? (I mean, if anything in this paragraph excited you, then read it.)

The book is crap, yes, but it's not about an abusive relationship and it's not even a fun novel. The story had potential. If only E.L. James could've found an editor before she self-published. She had some interesting things to say, she just didn't say them very well. But that's what happens when a self-published book goes viral. But ladies, please cut her some slack. This is a woman who wrote a book for women and we all loved it so much we made it the best selling book of all time. Why then are we so quick to cut her down? Are we just jealous? Are we so insecure that we can't have an intelligent conversation about a popular book? It's bullshit. We're better than that.

P.S. There is an argument that the beginning of their relationship is an example of stalking. It has to do with Christian Grey sending Anastasia Steele expensive and unwanted gifts and showing up wherever she is. It's true, it's a little creepy. I will give you that. But I think E.L. James was attempting to show that Christian Grey is used to lavishing his ladies with gifts and used to them accepting because he's rich...and that Anastasia Steele is a special breed of not wanting free shit and able to sort of stand up to Christian. It lays the groundwork for her constantly coming up against him in a very, very feminist way. She never backs down about the gifts and they are all returned to him in the end. I would agree that the beginning of their relationship is not appropriate...but I think a good editor might've been able to find a less stalker-ish way to lay that foundation for their relationship.

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