Many books in my book queue are waiting to be read, and a common theme among them is they’re all part of a series, trilogy or saga. Each Sunday, I’ll share a book from a series. You can read along with me, or add the books to your own reading list. This week, I read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first book in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy by E.L. James.
Heads up: This book contained mature subject matter, which I will hint at in my review.
If you are trying to torpedo a relationship and have a truly spectacular failure of human interaction, please, by all means, take relationship advice from “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is about a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and the start of her relationship with billionaire Christian Grey. After meeting Christian while conducting an interview of him for her school paper, he pursues her and expresses interest in starting a relationship with her. The relationship turns out to be an unusual one, as Christian has interests in unconventional sex. He shows Ana his “Red Room of Pain,” which includes whips, chains, etc. Even though Ana is a virgin, she is not deterred at the prospect of possibly injurous sex with him because he’s hot and has lots of money. Christian buys Ana a laptop, a BlackBerry and a car. The two have lots of sex and communicate all of the serious aspects of their relationship via email. In the end, Christian beats Ana with a belt and she goes back to her apartment and cries. And that’s how the book ends.
I can’t say I wasn’t disturbed by this book, because I was. But what might have been disturbing to others didn’t bother me, if that makes sense. While librarians might have highlighted all of the sex sequences in order to classify it as erotica and ban the book from the shelves, those same sex scenes didn’t bother me at all. In fact, the sex was the only redeeming part of the book. The scenes held their own. It was sex between two consenting adults – who had also consented to prescribed roles within their sex life.
The hitting/beating/flogging is never okay. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t make a habit of spanking people I care about. The worst part was that Ana had no previous sexual encounters, so how could she discern that her relationship with Christian was appropriate for her? He persuaded her to consider it, she talked herself into it, and by the end it really wasn’t for her anyway.
Christian’s behavior was terrifying. He drew up a contract to outline the things he wanted out of his and Ana’s dominant/submissive relationship, which was fine. I didn’t know before I researched it (read: looked it up on Wikipedia), but a contract is a pretty common part of a D/s relationship.
Christian started enforcing some of the terms of the contract before Ana signed it. He bought her expensive things, refusing to take them back when Ana explicitly said she didn’t want them. He followed Ana to Georgia from Seattle, even though Ana told him she wanted to go visit her mom and clear her head. It was entirely disrespectful of him to go against her wishes, no matter how much he supposedly cared for her.
Perhaps the most disturbing part was the email messages back and forth between the couple. Ana and Christian could never communicate their thoughts and feelings when they were face-to-face. Ana would sputter, unable to form coherent thoughts, and Christian would murmur, “You’re so mysterious…” The only way they communicated about Christian’s lifestyle was via email, and that’s no way to address serious issues, as this couple very obviously had.
Christian would also email Ana when she would leave to go somewhere, and then get angry at her when she wouldn’t tell him where she was, when she arrived, etc. She couldn’t move without wondering if he was going to be angry about it, and that’s no way to conduct a healthy relationship. Every time he’d see her she felt conflicted. Everytime he left, she’d cry. Ana was an independent woman in the beginning of the novel. She had a good friendship with her roommate. She had good grades in college and limitless career possibilities. By the end, though, she was a co-dependent, sobbing, insecure mess.
All of that drama was pretty exhausting. I’m wondering how this book has been lauded as an engaging piece of literature and read by millions. I feel like Christian Grey was gaslighting both Ana and me – tricking her into feeling he was all she deserved and making me feel like he was what is all that can be expected out of men in literature today. When I read ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ over the past few weeks, some of the male characters were pretty despicable. The only difference is that characters such as Tyrion Lannister and Ramsey Bolton aren’t being held up as ideal romantic partners.
Come back next week to find out if Christian Grey tries to be a better boyfriend in “Fifty Shades Darker.” If you can’t stand to read another one of these literary train wrecks, pick up my favorite book, “Jane Eyre.” At least when Jane Eyre leaves Mr. Rochester, she doesn’t flirt with the idea of going back to him. And when she does, it’s well after his estate burns down, his wife dies and he loses an eye and a hand.