Guest Review: GREY by EL James

(Note from Alex: This Saturday’s post is by our friend, guest-blogger, and errant knight/reviewer, Mell, who nobly stepped up to slay this dragon. Thanks, Mell!)

A few weeks ago I volunteered to read GREY, the (apparently) much anticipated version of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY from Christian’s perspective.

From the title, and my experience, I get the really awful feeling that between GREY and FIFTY SHADES of it we’ve got forty eight further soul-destroying volumes to crawl through until we embrace oblivion with a sense of relief. (GREY, CONCRETE GREY, WARM PEWTER…)

Let’s hope I’m wrong.

GREY follows the proud tradition of its money-making heritage and does something what the TWILIGHT lady did. Stephenie Meyer, many years ago, started and abandoned a version of Twilight from Edward Cullen’s perspective called MIDNIGHT SUN*. The fledgling (unedited) novel leaked online and Meyer was too thrown off her twinkly groove by the betrayal to continue.

Would that the same had happened to EL James.

I want to make clear that I don’t dislike FIFTY SHADES OF GREY et al. on principle. There is an obvious tendency to market things relentlessly towards women and then make them shameful (see also, chocolate, diet pills, menstrual products, ‘chick flicks’ and so on). Women get to enjoy whatever they like, if it’s FSOG, then cool.

I don’t get FSOG because it sets up abuse as an edgy alternative love story. And it’s not. Despite the persuasive argument in James’ Twitter bio, in which she insists that this is a LOVE story (emphasis hers), there is nodoubt now, having heard the abuser’s side of the story, that it certainly isn’t that.

In FSOG, Ana meets a handsome billionaire who fancies her and slowly, over the course of a novel, we get a list of everything that’s wrong with her, and a list of ways Christian thinks she should fix it so he doesn’t feel sad. In this book we get a corresponding list of everything that’s wrong with Christian and how Christian thinks Ana should fix it so that he won’t feel sad.

Basically this book gives us cry-baby billionaire in stereo.

Here are just a few of the things wrong with Ana:

  • Pg. 56: Ana’s vomit is wrong (he inspects it and learns that she hasn’t eaten)
  • Pg. 57: Her weight is wrong (she’s too skinny)
  • Pg 58: Her friends are wrong (why is she hanging out with these people?)
  • Pg 60: Christian Grey, vomit inspector, is suddenly concerned about the bounds of propriety.
  • Pg 68: Her jeans are wrong (they mean he can’t see her legs)
  • Pg 70: She takes compliments incorrectly (which is weird considering how accommodating she is of all these criticisms)
  • Pg 72: She is a challenging, maddening woman (She is smirking at him, dear reader)

Imagine this for 500+ pages. That’s the book.

Because that’s really depressing, I want to to step away from the abuse and commend the genius of this book as a work of fan service. Clearly this book isn’t for me. The dedication is to fans that pleaded for Christian’s perspective. It’s a global phenomenon because it’s a nice, easy self-insert story about being the centre of somebody’s universe, the answer to their problems, their hero. It does that brilliantly.

There are maybe 50 pages out of 557 that don’t feature Christian obsessing about Ana, pages in which James shows us all the interests she gave Christian and the research she so obviously did to fill in the gaps with his fancy billionaire lifestyle. For what she set out to achieve, James has done a damned fine job.

Now, I’m done with the genius fan-service and the hideous abuse (outlined much better by people wiser than me here and here and here) I want to talk about how funny this book is.

It doesn’t seem like I should be. It seems like I should be disassembling this weird Frankenstein of fandom or else razing the fucker to the ground for its continued endorsement of women who sacrifice their happiness to please a man. But sometimes the best way to discredit your enemy is to laugh at them, and so I did.

In Ana’s book we get improbable metaphors from her ~*inner goddess*~. Because Christian is a man we get no such squeamishness about anatomy. We get Christian’s darkness and his dick. In any other universe Darkness and Dick sound like they could fight crime, but in this sorry story they just give a young woman a hard time (lol hard).

Christian’s dick spends a lot of time agreeing with him. It gives the surreal impression that it’s a sort of disembodied supporting character rather than part of our protagonist’s anatomy. Hell, it even concurs with him at one point. A concurring cock isn’t a piece of alliteration I ever thought I’d have the chance to appreciate. I’d like to thank EL James for that, if nothing else.

Sometimes things are music to his dick, sometimes Ana’s grin is cock-tightening, sometimes he wants to make her come like a freight train (evidently logistics are more fun than I imagined), sometimes Ana is intrigued by sexual congress. Sometimes, I would like to remind you, Christian’s cock concurs. It is personified, and it agrees with him. In a horrific turn, sometimes there is a grey-eyed prick or a grey-eyed asshole in Christian’s mirror. I do not invite you to conjure that image in too much detail.

This book is a fucking shrine to unfortunate turns of phrase. People say it’s badly written as if to discredit, but I don’t. I say READ THIS BADLY WRITTEN PIECE OF SHIT. You will laugh your ass off, you will feel better about yourself, your skin will become clearer as tears of mirth unblock your pores, your abs will ache and become stronger, further enabling you to floor this sort of fuckery when you encounter it in real life.

This book is terrible. It’s sexist, classist, profoundly unromantic. It has no deliberate redeeming qualities. Get your hands on it. It’s hilarious.


* Which honestly is more enjoyable than this creepy mess, and mercifully shorter.

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