Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What is wrong with Fifty Shades Darker

I have a confession to make. When I was 16, I attempted to write a novel set in the early Edwardian era, about this heroine who was a Socialist and feminist. (I was influenced by George Bernard Shaw). In this story, the heroine aspires to be some kind of Darwinian radical. But the way it resembled crappy modern fiction was the love triangle.  She falls in love with a brilliant young mathematics student who writes poetry, who then shatters her ideals by becoming a Conservative MP. She breaks up with him because she feels he has sacrificed his pure intellectual ideals to sordid politics. After that she mourns for her lost love and cannot fall in love again. I know this sounds melodramatic but seriously, this sort of thing can happen - just very rarely. In the meantime she meets another young man who draws her out of herself. He is a scientific intellectual (I have this thing for Victorian or in this case Edwardian scientists) who inspires in her intellectual ambitions. They feel at ease with each other and become good friends. I am afraid I was probably guilty of making him a Mary Sue (thankfully I hadn't written much about him to show every mary sue aspect). In fact all the plot I've written here was scarcely written in the novel-to-be - it was lying in my head for years.

He was tall, with dark brown hair that waved over his forehead and deep blue yes. He wore spectacles, because I was into spectacled Victorian gentlemen at the time. And a high collar and cravat. The heroine was shy and passionate and a bluestocking - he liked her innocence. Despite being confident and stable. I knew nothing about social dynamics and mate selection then. Strangely enough I thought he was the best character I made up at the time. Anyway this guy falls in love with the heroine as she is deep and profound, and she refuses him, as her first disappointment in love has made her unable to love again. He is wounded and goes after a pretty sophisticated bitchy blonde young lady. The heroine is lonely without her friend. Over time she falls in love with him and despairs. But then the new girl, who is less profound, cheats on him and he breaks the engagement. He returns to the heroine and they agree to marry. 

I am sad to lose my hero, because he was a genuinely nice young man even though he was fictional.  I shall probably write another hero based on him, but due to years of experience, will have to change him into an entirely different person. Such a hero would never love my heroine or even be friends with her. But what has remained is my heroine. I realise I can't do the Socialist feminist thing so much, because she is now an 1870s Victorian, and one has to capture the spirit of the age. And honestly her personality was mainly her left-wing ideals and intellectual fantasies. She was nervous about being thoughtful and profound, but she was no Jane Eyre or Lucy Snowe. This is despite the fact I was deep into Charlotte Brontë at the time.  
An intellectual Victorian woman Beatrix Potter

But I digress. The point I wish to make is that people like Christian Grey do not fall in love so deeply and constantly with Anastasia Steeles. And people as perfect as him  my hero at 16 years of age are not loners who seek everything in the awkward heroine. I think my hero was popular and respected - unlike the heroine. But it didn't occur to my naive self that such a man would be above the sphere of the heroine. He would dine with society, and the heroine would be nervous of society. This I did not consider. And my Darwinian understanding has improved, so I can write that in better now. 

After the thrilling break-up in Book One, Ana and Christian Grey reconcile in 3 days. What a disappointment! It makes you wonder what was the point of breaking up - and it couldn't have been a serious reason if they made up so easily.

Surprisingly Book Two is better than the first - plotwise. I think the youthful longing for love gives some satisfaction in the first, but there is NO PLOT.

Ana has started a new job at a small publishing firm, and her boss Jack fancies her. She wants to avoid him as she is in love with Grey, but it isn't easy, as she's lonely and wants to fit into her workplace. Her best friend Kate is away on holiday.

Anyway Grey comes to get her and reveals he has bought over the company she works for!!! This is bad business. How could he have become a billionaire, if he can't control his emotions?

While taking her for a haircut, a beautiful middle-aged blonde women speaks to him and kisses his cheek. It seems she is the woman who seduced him in his teens and she owns the hair-salon with him. Ana refers to her as Mrs Robinson. It seems her name is Elena Lincoln.
Mrs Robinson from The Graduate

He invites her to a charity ball at his parent's palatial residence, where lots of rich socialites meet (how are readers supposed to think of deeper things if all this is thrust into their faces?) and his family likes her very much, because he didn't seem to be interested in other women before her. I'm surprised they weren't aware of his affair with an older woman and his bondage experiments. Anyway, his sister Mia is obviously based on the perky Alice Cullen from Twilight, and her main purpose is to make Ana feel at home. While at the party the hero and heroine snatch some time off to have intercourse before rejoining the others. With all the intercourse going on I wonder how Grey has the energy to focus on business. Ana is pleased, by the way he finally introduces her as his girlfriend. Mwahaha. Before her, he saw his submissives as slaves, not proper girlfriends, which shows you how twisted he is.

We also learn he is a dark, brooding character in the Byronic mould. He used to be violent and rebellious until he met Ana, and he has never formed any meaningful relationship with any other woman. He tells her she knows him best, which surprises me, as she doesn't seem to know him very well - well enough, but not as a best friend/ equal level. And he has hidden many things from her. He hardly goes out to relax and takes no one else on his boat. Dear me.

In the meantime, a strange young woman who resembles Ana approaches her and asks her "What have you got that I have not got?" She is Leila, Grey's ex-submissive, who is still hankering for him. In the most exciting part of the book she sneaks into Ana's apartment and brandishes a revolver to kill herself. Grey finally captures her and sends her to a psychiatrist's ward, so GOOD RIDDANCE!

Hundreds of pages dwell on the restaurants they visit, his yacht and his helicopter, so I won't bore you, dear readers.

There's another sub-plot where Mrs Robinson approaches Ana and wants to have lunch with her, but Ana doesn't. Grey is upset that Mrs Robinson is disturbing Ana and angry with Ana for condemning Mrs R, who had helped him get started in life.  He tells Mrs R he loves Ana and stop interfering, but Mrs Robinson says she will get even if Ana makes him unhappy. Its seems the reason he is friends with Mrs Robinson is he's comfortable with her, something he is not with most people. They seem to be equals in a way and she advised him in the past. I can't help feeling sorry for the sadist for having to cling on to his only friend who is a paedophile and a sadist.

Jack, the mean boss, becomes nasty. He discovers that Grey's emails to Ana have been erased from the server and suspects Ana is a company spy. He tries to assault her but she gets away I forgot how, it was that boring. The next day, he has left the company.

In the end Grey asks Ana to marry him. I suppose this is meant to be romantic. But right in the middle of his birthday party Mrs Robinson tells Ana to stay away from him and that only she is good enough for Grey. Grey splits up with Mrs Robinson (they're friends and business partners) out of love for Ana.

In the meantime, someone (Ana's ex-boss) is plotting revenge against Ana and Grey. The end.

Let me tell you this: the only scenes that could remotely be orgasmic in the novel were the parts about food.  EL James seem to have a fondness for hollandaise sauce with some fish and asparagus - the only tasteful thing I've read. If the book was all about food, I would appreciate it better. But no - all the time they're eating Ana is thinking about his physical propensities. Seriously, if Grey has to eat vanilla ice-cream off Ana's nude body he might as well eat real food to get turned on. I do know theses photos whet my appetite.

All ready for you on a plate, sir, waiting to be eaten. *Wink wink nudge*
My inner goddess licks her lips.
My subconscious leaps with pure raving gluttony at the sight.   Oh, the smell ... the taste ...  

FOOD PORN ALERT!: These are all fish with asparagus, potatoes and Hollandaise sauce - the sort of thing EL James ooohs and  aahs about.
Keeping my eyes locked on his, I take the spear in my mouth, and suck, gently … delicately … on the end. The hollandaise sauce is mouthwatering. I bite down, moaning quietly in appreciation.
 She seems to be taking her time savouring the asparagus, moaning. One can't help wondering whether asparagus is a phallic symbol. Freudians will love this bit. By the way, how does one moan quietly?
imagine if he swapped the cigar for an asparagus. :O

My personal peeves:
Grey keeps on watching over Ana, buying up her companies and keeping a file on her personal details! What kind of lover is that?

He also tells her to stay with him when she is supposed to go for work and he says she doesn't have to work. Considering she wants her independence (unlike Bella) this would be deemed sexist. Give the poor girl a chance to breathe. Her life doesn't revolve around you. Besides it is insulting her intelligence and work ethic - akin to treating her as an inferior. This is different from Twilight, where Bella doesn't want to go to college, whereas Edward applies on her behalf.

The vocabulary. As I understand it, to get your knickers in a twist is a British expression. What is it doing in an American setting??? Underwear has been the general usage in America as far as I know - I never see Americans write about knickers. And why does every email they send to each other have a stupid subject and a sillier signature. For example "Exasperated CEO of Grey Enterprises." Young people's humour isn't like that.

The characterisation. I had assumed in the first book that Ana was an ordinary though awkward and popular girl. In this book she claims her only friend is Kate, who is away on holiday. That defeats characterisation, because she's sought after by not only Christian Grey, but her friend Jose, Kate's brother Ethan and her boss. That makes it four men. Such girls (and four is a highly dubious number) are often popular and surrounded by people, and are rarely as shy as Ana claims to be. Kate wouldn't be so close to her if she was that shy and asocial and neither would the rich, successful outgoing members of the Grey family.
The standard for awkward heroines

And why does Grey's family lie at her feet? Though that is still more believable, as he's never introduced them to any girlfriend before. I suppose they can see she's a "nice girl," pretty and presentable. Ordinarily I would snort with derision, but from personal experience I can safely tell you this is possible. (Digression: Why is it that my observations are the exception to the rule?) Though I would point out that the reason they like her would more likely stem from the fact they want him to get married, not because they love Ana very much, though they might think she is nice.

And if Ana was inexperienced and asexual before meeting Grey, why does she now demand sex like a wild beast unleashed? One thing I couldn't get was in the first book she leaves him and is sickened by his whipping, and now she wants him to spank her. She pleads with him, in fact, and now he's the one who doesn't want to hurt her. Are we even reading about the same character?

Christian Grey is supposedly given another dimension in this book by making him dark and haunted before Ana makes him happy. I still can't get over the fact he is very much by himself - surely to be a billionaire nowadays you need to network? Even if he is reserved he would have golf sessions with his associates, instead of disturbing Ana all the time. He seems to ooze charm with every woman he meets, so I don't get how he hasn't made any close friends except for Mrs Robinson. I think his loyalty to Mrs R could have been a brave attempt to show his flawed personality and his essential vulnerability but EL James blew that opportunity. If she had shown him conflicted between his former lover and present girlfriend that might have done the book some credit. But no.

Did I mention Christian is adopted? His biological mother was a crack whore who died when he was a child. Apparently he has a predilection for brunettes who resemble his dead mother. Talk about an Oedipus complex. He isn't fond of blonde women because Mrs Robinson is blonde. As I recall, Stephanie Meyer's antagonists are blonde females who bully the brunette heroine. Even if the plot is out of hand in sentiments Fifty Shades is similar to Twilight. I shall go on to point out that EL James, like Stephanie Meyer, is a brunette with a pink complexion. They actually look very similar. Two married women with children with lurid sexual phantasies, both with long dark hair and a more than pudgy figure. Both with some attractive features but not conventionally beautiful. If this was the Victorian era I'd believe in phrenology. You know, I can't help suspecting there's a secret conspiracy among brunettes to oust the blonde beauties from their throne in fiction. For all you know, there may be an underground Brunette Heroines' Liberation Movement. I can see it. They'll entrance all the eligible bachelors with spanking and assumed innocence. And unlike their contemporary blonde heroines, their only sexual experience will be with the domineering, aloof hero.

And not altogether a bad thing. Nude promiscuity is so common in modern fiction I swear I would swoon at the mention of a fully-clothed gentleman who reads Keats and doesn't kiss. With a cravat, of course. If you think about it sadomasochism in its pure form (not with crazy costumes and props) is rather Victorian.

In this book there are FOURTEEN sex scenes. It seems the writer didn't know how else to portray their romance. The whole point of agonised passion is non-fulfilment. I'm not fond of Wuthering Heights but that is why it strikes a chord in us. Come to think of it, Grey is like Heathcliff. Of dubious origin who makes a fortune and tortures his lovers. And Jane Eyre's thwarted love will always resound in the hearts of true romantics. We can't simply have people taking off each other's clothes - it must be "teasing and tantalising," as Helga says to Herr Flick in Allo Allo. By the way that's a sitcom you must watch. There's a guy called Herr Flick who insists his lover calls him Herr Flick instead of his first name, Otto. Helga wears most extraordinary corsets with little swastikas on them.

I also can't stand the fact he warned her off in the first book as he was an insatiable sadist and now he doesn't want to beat her as it'll hurt her. There seems to be no great temptation to fight. Which makes you wonder what was the problem with his intimate life in the first place. I have another bone to pick. If EL James must introduce and exaggerate all the orgasms, lush living, etc. she could have extended it to the sadomasochism. But no. There is not even the suggestion of a black leather corset, black leather boots, and red fishnet stockings which would have been something to laugh at. Even that Harry Potter fanfiction, My Immortal, has more dominatrix outfits. It is also full of irrelevant sex scenes but it's funnier.
Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way, heroine  of My Immortal
If I see another passage that describes the foil of a condom ripping apart I shall scream. There is really no need to mention he uses a condom every time they have it off. Though it's possible EL James was advocating safe sex, and decided to play safe by emphasising condoms and birth control pills. This is one advantage it has over other romance novels, which seems to take it for granted unprotected sex never results in pregnancy. If she is advocating safe sex I salute her.

I suppose the safe sex theme is a nod to Stephanie Meyer's no-sex-before-marriage symbolism. Only EL James wanted it erotic, so she put in an analogous theme.

Here's some more food mentioned in the book:

pancake, eggs, bacon

Chorizo, scallops, roasted red pepper and shallots

A Thai version without chorizo

Beef wellington:
Lemon syllabub:

Pasta alla vongole:

I think I know how to make a fortune writing novels. I'd better start writing porn. Since the vanilla and BDSM porn market has been overstocked, I'll write food porn! At least it is more tasteful than boring BDSM scenes that fail to live up to expectations.

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