Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bad But Popular Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Captain's log: 1:12 A.M. Finally decided to read 50 Shades while drunk because I'd be more forgiving, and because it's already here. Time for a leisurely bath. 

Chapter 1. Immediately realise than any moderately clever dialogue is going to be subsequently explained and thereby deflated. Just plow through it.

Chapter 5. Lots of cumbersome five-cent vocabulary words that don't serve to express anything more acutely; mental tweaking not entirely unlike peer-editing editing a college English paper. 

So far, two details taken directly from Pretty Woman. The next time I come across an italicised George Takei "Oh my..." or completely unconvincing "Wow" I'm going to start doing shots for every one I see and inevitably be violently ill. Initiate softcore sequences. Craving scrambled eggs.

Charlie Tango! Who's he?

Captain's log: 2:26 A.M. Chapter 6. Mediocre, naive and constantly mumbling main character finds shaving her legs and plucking her eyebrows - "what men expect these days" - very unpleasant. Swarthy fangirls identify and unite. Never read Twilight and never will, but feel pretty confident that Ana is Bella. There's even a good-looking Hispanic guy competing with the pale mysterious one. Not yet sure if Grey sparkles. Kristen Stewart a shoe-in for the movie. Not sure if Ana's mouth is constantly agape and her expression always profoundly blank during her constant nervous lip biting, though; further reading required. 

Chapter 8. Bondage and domination for dummies. Thoroughly disappointed by Christian Grey's hard limits - which encompass everything "hard" - but somewhat amused by the idea that he's just going to be a bit rough in bed and tell Ana how to live her life. 

Just learned it's possible to orgasm from having your nipples played with if you're a hopelessly romantic celibate. Bored by the lack of interesting and prolonged foreplay and with the myth that penetration alone is exhilarating and orgasmic, but willing to concede the convenient hypersensitivity. Hoping Ana yells "Cacao!" at some point.

Headache setting in; chocolate milk not helping. Don't feel like making eggs. Will resume tomorrow.

Captain's log. It's now a couple of days and a bottle of wine later. I sigh and wince slightly as I pick up the borrowed tablet and open the Kindle app, knowing I'm not really drunk enough for this and having slipped into a more traditional narrative style and subsequently explained myself as a mockery of this drivel.

11:48 P.M.: Chapter 10. Had difficulty spelling "chapter", but still not drunk enough. Every paragraph is a struggle. Morale is low. Sentences that end with prepositions, irritating personifications of Ana's subconscious as her "inner goddess" appearing with alarming frequency. Would literally die from alcohol poisoning in a few hours if the "Oh my/Wow" drinking game were to go into effect. Picturing Grey as 27 year-old James Spader the only thing saving this S&M-for-astoundingly-bland-dummies endeavour.

Also, what the hell kind of English lit major who has a job, presumably got a scholarship because of her GPA and general lack of a life (in this case) who also has a rich roommate and as a result pays "peanuts" for rent doesn't own a computer for all the research, reading and paper-writing her classes require? Right - the same kind who has also never dated, masturbated or looked at porn. 

Chapter 11. Scoffed earlier at the thought that nipple clamps probably wouldn't even appear, but lo and behold, the full contract gives me hope. Anal fisting? Might be able to finish reading if it finally gets legitimately kinky, but suspect the author is tenuously stringing me along.




Chapter 17. Correction: someone who has never dated, never masturbated, never watched porn, never had sex, doesn't own a computer or even have an e-mail address, and who has never been hit. Starting to wonder if this blank slate protagonist was constructed to make readers fell less naive. 

Captain's log: the following night. Obama has just won re-election, praise logic and progress, and I've made myself a celebratory dessert cocktail with the tiny amount of Irish Cream I had left, Chocolate Whipped Vodka, a little Hershey's syrup, and milk. Hopefully the elation is a good substitute for the dwindling liquor supply... 
As Christian Grey will probably say at some point, "I'm going in dry".

2:24 A.M., Chapter 20. Kinkiness level increasing slightly. This novel isn't absolutely unforgivably terrible, but it still reads like a drawn-out fanfic (and manual for how to spice up a painfully insipid sex life). Yes, I know how a good fanfic reads, because I was once aged 11 - 13 and spent a lot of time browsing anime fans' Geocities sites. Heard it was conceived in actual fanfic form on a Twilight forum; wouldn't be surprised if this were true.

Struggling to find sympathy for Christian now that I've been introduced to his very contrived soap opera-esque early childhood issues. Just kidding, not struggling at all.

3:30 A.M., Chapter 24. Keep checking Facebook and doing other things; easy but not engaging read. Might go back to another weird and equally impossible love story, Vanna Bonta's Flight.

Captain's log: 2:47 A.M., the following night. Finally finished the last three chapters. Not sure why women feel compelled to fix and change men for the better; classic first-timer mistake. 


You know the ones. Not even kidding, until I Googled
it after mentioning it, I had no idea Fabio acually got
his start posing for these.
Source: Official Fabio Book Covers Page
This book wasn't as frightfully bad as I expected it to be, but as I said, it's basically a long fanfic imho. That the trilogy's cover design is sleek, sophisticated and monochromatic is a great marketing tactic and a nice upgrade from those cheesy painted softcore fantasy romance novel cover scenes with a shirtless guy who looks like Fabio holding a beautiful woman in a billowing gown as they stand on a cliff with their luxurious hair being tousled dramatically in the wind. 

As far as E.L. James writing style goes, well, I've already complained about her supererogatory use of not-entirely appropriate or fitting words, her random peppering of them throughout her mildly salacious, otherwise high school-level writing. It's obnoxious and distracting, and teachers who notice that students have done the same thing with colourful selections from the classroom thesaurus tend to mark them down for it when they've gotten this overambitious. 

Something that also bothers me is her descriptive inability. I'm not sure if the constant "Wow"s, "HOT"s, "Oh my..."s, etc. are actually her weak writing or a condescending jab at the people eating it up, like she knows she doesn't have to try very hard. Contributing to this is the fact that her narrative style doesn't change to give a unique voice to each character; they all speak in her writing. What average 20-something actually, excitedly says, "I'm so pleased to see you," in a casual situation?

There were much better examples, but none come to mind at the moment. Grey's cold, curt, formal style and Ana's mimicry of it is one thing, but the only time the author uses any realistic colloquialisms ("Jeez", "Shit!", etc.) is when Ana is thinking or being fucked. I guess I could also say that they appear in the e-mails and with Kate, but the point is that the dialogue is just... bad. 

Additionally, her characters obviously don't have much depth. A dark, brooding, mysterious man sorrowfully playing the piano is just such a cliche. All Grey kept bringing to mind for me was Richard Gere in Pretty Woman blended with James Spader in Secretary, and if I'd ever seen Twilight, I'd probably throw Rob Pattinson in there, too. 


Suck it, Grey, even if you end up being Jake Gyllenhaal and bringing this reference full-circle.
You know, I think I'm right about that condescending jab thing. It seems reasonable to infer that James has a sadistic streak and is laughing all the way to the bank at the droves of women who have been so easily and powerfully influenced by something so stupid, who thank her profusely for enlightening them about the joys of the blindfolds, ice cubes, and toy handcuffs that have saved their marriages. Maybe she is just a crappy dated romance writer and I'm giving her too much credit, but if not, this craze more so than the many before it and the many that will unfortunately follow is a sobering metaphor about the nature of consumerism, is it not?

Well anyway, speaking of Secretary, from the very beginning I thought, "I wish I had it so I could just watch it instead", and that's still how I feel. Everything about this novel reeked of the author having done the bare minimum to churn out a product. So... I guess she nailed it.   


The origin of "50 Shades of Derp", a much more fitting title.
(Originally published 11.8.12)