(This song kind of sums up my feelings whilst reading the book.)
In case you were wondering, my previous opinions still hold. However, I'm going to try to talk about the book as a whole and not to go on a furious, tangent-filled rant, citing every sentence that bothers me (because there would be a lot and this post would never end) (and of course, I've just jinxed myself and that's exactly what's going to happen now). Word of forewarning, I am going to talk about sex. Because there's a shit-ton of it in this damned book (it is erotica, after all). Don't say I didn't warn you if it makes you uncomfortable.
1) The "virgin problem": In the section shortly after where I had stopped reading before I wrote my first post, the ever charming Christian Grey gives Ana a lot of shit for not telling him right off the bat that she'd never slept with anyone before. Instead of realizing he assumed something, Christian snaps at her and says virgin "like it's a really dirty word."
"And a nice young man hasn't swept you off your feet? I just don't understand. You're twenty-one, nearly twenty-two. You're beautiful." (109)He's implying that he can't believe someone of Ana's age and appearance hasn't been "swept off her feet" yet because Christian Grey is a normative asshole (wow, can you tell I'm taking too many classes about gender and ideology right now?) What does it matter if she hasn't had sex yet? What's the "problem" if this relationship is supposed be about the two of you (which it's most certainly not)? Point is, don't assume. Because it makes you look like an jerk.
|Sorry, Grey; you had it coming.|
"Miss Steele, you are not just a pretty face. You've had six orgasms so far and all of them belong to me," he boasts, playful again.Obviously Ana lives in some mythical land where quantity and quality are synonyms. (You know what? I should never read erotica again; I am far too literal for this stuff). Also, Christian is really big on relishing in the fact that he "owns" all of Ana's orgasms and pleasure. Later, this is remarked upon:
I flush and blink at the same time, as he stares down at me. He's keeping count! (270)
"...And I don't want you touching yourself, either."
What? Ah yes, the no masturbation clause.
"Out of curiosity... why?"
"Because I want all of your pleasure." his voice is husky but determined. (223)
2) Sex, sex, and more sex: I would like to politely remind people of something that I learned in health class years ago - men have refractory periods. Please keep this in mind when reading/writing erotica. Because otherwise we're going to have utterly impossible expectations for the human body and it's not going to get pretty. I know it's fictional and in a realm of fantasy but I think that's easily forgotten - which is annoying and certainly not going to make men feel good about their bodies. It's like expecting a woman to orgasm as easily as Ana does; people are different and that's just not going to happen for everyone.
Ana at one point in the book remarks that Christian acts "like he's just marked off another item on a checklist" after sex (269). This is how I feel about the sex scenes - like it's necessary to go through all these positions and do all of this stuff for Ana's "education" (again, one needs to learn about sex from a more knowledgeable person, or apparently, as Kate describes it, sex will suck). It also treats sex as a crazy other, not part of everyday life (especially for Ana). After coming home from her first weekend with Christian, Ana remarks, "It's so grounding and welcome after the last forty-eight hours of... madness." (163) While Christian is rather unorthodox about sex, sex as a whole is treated as this weird otherness that needs to be exploited and obsessed over. I know, I know, it's erotica, it comes with the territory. But it doesn't really have anything to do with BDSM or anything of that nature; it's just sex in general; sex in this book is treated as some other world, another planet that never coincided with Ana's until she met Christian, though it's natural - bees do it, birds do, even educated fleas do it (sorry, sorry, Cole Porter lapse there). Ana's world is completely void of sexual knowledge, so much so that she even bemoans her literature background:
He's the only one who knows and understands the rules. I'm just too naive and inexperienced. My only sphere of reference is Kate and she doesn't take any shit from men. My other references are all fictional: Elizabeth Bennent would be outraged, Jane Eyre too frightened, and Tess would succumb, just as I have. (224-225)(May I remind you that was not succumbing for Tess, that was RAPE) (and fuck off, Jane Eyre would NOT be afraid (sorry, sorry, I'm very sensitive towards my Jane Eyre.)) But girlfriend, what books have you been reading for your lit major? Where is Germinal? Unbearable Lightness of Being? They both have sex in them. And if we're really going whole-hog on this, Lady Chatterley's Lover? I know, Ana, that these aren't your typical English novels that young romantic women are thought to have read, but I would think you'd have encountered at least one of my options for a literature class (and Chaucer. A lot of fucking Chaucer). I know it's not going to be a whole lot of help for your, "What do I do when a stalkerish, handsome man wants to slap me and screw me?" but, you know, that's not the sort of problem books could usually help you with anyway.
And in my opinion, Ana, you should probably listen to Kate more. (Actually, I sort of like Kate; she's practically the only character in the book I kind of care about. Mainly because she has this pithy one-liner: "Has that obscenely rich fucker upset you again?" (279). Kate wins, everyone else can go home).
3) Christian Grey: I have found my new most annoying character in writing. I really have. At least for the characters I really hate in literature (Paul Marshall and Humbert Humbert, if you're wondering), the hate comes from how human they are (if that makes any sense at all). No matter how monstrous their acts, they retain a good side, and then you hate them because you initially had a little bit of sympathy for them and it scares you (and so, really, for me at least, hating them is kind of enjoyable because they're complicated). Christian Grey is none of this, despite what this Tumblr use might think:
|I'm sorry... this just makes me really, really sad.|
What exactly is Christian's depravity? Are we speaking only of his BDSM interest (which is really not so deprived)? Or is this his fine line between BDSM and abuse, which are not clearly distinguished at all? In particular, he blurs the line between being submissive during sex and submissive ALL THE TIME. In the contract he wants Ana to sign, it is stated that the submissive becomes the "property of the dominate" (169). Now, I don't know much about BDSM but if you read the first paragraph about it on Wikipedia, you'll see that it mentions roleplay. ROLEPLAY, CHRISTIAN. Not teaching Ana how to become something she's not everyday of her life to please you. There are moments of clarity for Ana, where she realizes that this his what he wants, especially on her thoughts about the word obey, (175), that she could get hurt emotionally as well as physically, and upon her remark that he treats her like a car (251). But she never really thinks in depth about these issues, she just complains and moves on. Which is really odd, in my opinion. She's clearly not okay with the treatment she's receiving, but she lets it go. Why? Two reasons, I think.
Secondly, she feels bad for him. He's "poor, fucked-up, kinky, philanthropic Christian" (237) because he had a rough life before he was adopted at four (which is funny, because in psychology we talk about how you don't remember much before the ages of three or four, but maybe it was really traumatic) after being born to a crack whore (is that even politically correct? Can you actually call someone a crack whore? That seems totally offensive to me). And, for a guy in to BDSM, he has serious issues with being touched (which I'm not sure what that entails because it is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to have sex with someone without touching them. Maybe he just doesn't like tickling and cuddling).
Also, he was seduced by a friend of his mother's (who is called Mrs. Robinson for half the book) when he was fifteen. Which brings up more complicated issues of seduction and rape (and pedophilia) which are really... well, here's a conversation dealing with it:
"I don't think you'll ever convince me that she's not some kind of pedophile."Due to Christian's disinterest in talking about anything regarding him, a lot of stuff remains unclear (probably to make him remain shrouded in mystery). However, I feel it really backfires. The "you'd rather have sex than talk" (497) notion might make for a kinky joke but it sure doesn't make for a healthy relationship and it doesn't give the reader a whole lot of room to sympathize with Christian. By the end, I feel like I don't know anything about him. Sure, he like BDSM, he has the habit of saying douchey things:
"I don't think of her that way. I never have. Now that's enough," he snaps. (423)
"I will fuck you, any time, any way I want - anywhere I want. I will discipline you, because you will screw up. I will train you to please me." (220-221)(Yeah, this relationship is DEFINITELY not one of equality; it's all about Christian. Wonderful.)
"It's taking all my self-control not to fuck you on the hood of this car right now, just to show you that you are mine, and if I want to buy you a fucking car, I'll buy you a fucking car," he growls. "Now let's get you inside and get you naked." He plants a swift rough kiss on me. (262)You know, if you want me to sympathize with Christian, I'm going to need something more than "he had a bad childhood and he was sort-of-maybe wrongfully seduced when he was fifteen and he's TOTALLY HOT so just deal with is downfalls" in order to connect with him. Simply enough, I can't hate Christian because he's not human enough to hate; I just have a disdainful apathy. He's a cardboard cutout of a man, a fantasy that is trying to be two things at once. On one side, he's supposed to be the dark knight who apparently feels undeserving of love (we have this opinion from Ana, and Ana only) (472). A sort of Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff, maybe, apparently going more for the Byronic side. But he's also supposed to be linked to Alec D'Uberville, who is an outright villain, a cad, one who gets no shred of sympathy in Tess of D'Uberville. Or as Ana describes:
This man, whom I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight - or dark knight, as he said. He's not a hero; he's a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he's dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light? (355)Honestly, this deals with some really interesting notions. For one, romanticizing violence - and not in a BDSM way but in honest relationship violence, because what Christian does is abusive. He tries to convince Ana that she wants punishment to be linked with sex, that he wants the same things as him; he stalks her, he won't let her pay for anything ("are you trying to completely emasculate me?" he says when she wants to buy their meal at IHOP - because God forbid a woman pay for her own breakfast (459)); one moment he reminds her that she can stop at any time and then the next he says she has to do something (it's like a freaking Stanley Milgram experiment; is Ana going to listen to "authority" or listen to her own opinions?) I don't care enough about Christian to hate him - but what I do care about his how he represents men. He's pulled in two superficial directions but not given any real depths. Any depth is glazed over because he won't FREAKING TALK (another stereotype of men; thanks for that) so he remains nothing but a facade and we never get to see what's behind it in this book (and I'm only reading the next two if I can get them for free). All he is capable of being is a rude, good-looking sex machine. And any chance of getting any insight in Ana's attempts to change him are glossed over as all she can think about when she looks at him is how hot he is. How Ana surmises her relationship with Grey (and in a line I think sums up the whole book): Oh yes, I've fallen in love with him, and he can fly. (460)
How I feel about that:
This could be a really fascinating, engaging story about issues in relationships, such as the difficulties of falling in love with someone who's abusive, or the rise of fetishes or BDSM in sexual relationships. But it's clearly not that kind of book. It takes on both topics and leaves them shallowly floating at the surface, neither engaging them or discussing them at length, simply leaving them as products of a men, who are "tricky... a different species" (279) and perpetuates stereotypes of both genders (especially of Ana, as the young, innocent submissive girl, along with the Bella influence of someone who would throw away their entire life for a relationship). It shows violence against women in an ambiguous context where it's unclear what the situation is (even Ana doesn't know if she's okay with it or not). It does the same for rape, pedophilia, stalking, and controlling relationships. All said, it actually does a decent job highlighting problems in society - focused only appearance, the conflicts of love and abuse, perhaps if you REALLY look, hidden racial stereotypes (I direct you to Jose- rather blatant - and the more subtle one of Ana's full name (Anastasia), the fact that she basically becomes a sexual pleasure object for Christian, and the history of Russian mail-order brides). But the book wasn't created to be read this way.
Angelina Joli is in talks to be the director for the movie version of Fifty Shades; if anyone out there has ANY sort of clout in Hollywood, can we please make this not happen? Unless Ms. Joli feels like making a deeper statement about the book in the film version and in that case GO FOR IT. Because I really like Angelina Joli and I kind of cringe at the thought of her being associated with the book as it's written. So yeah - if for some reason, you know, you have influence in Hollywood... maybe kind of, sort of mention it's more than just sexy time with a hot guy and presents both men and women in an unhealthy light? Which is kind of the last thing we need in Hollywood right now...)
I could, of course, talk about this book for a thousand posts, as I really enjoy doing this sort of thing (because, if we're still going with the idea that to hate something means you have to see good in it, in some aspect, that means I enjoy hating Fifty Shades). But I will spare you. Much of it, after all, are my own subjective opinions on romance novels. So I'll save that for something else (The Other Boleyn Girl; I should definitely write a post on The Other Boleyn Girl). So that's that; here's a picture of Martin Freeman for your troubles if you actually read this far (and I have no idea what's going on in this photo, but it just seemed to fit. So roll with it):