Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Initial thoughts: "Grey" is not very good.

Right so I haven't read all of this but I've read quite a bit and of course it goes pretty quickly since, you know--it's the same thing again. I do feel qualified to comment. I mean, as qualified as ever.

Grey is a retelling of all the events of Fifty Shades of Grey told from Christian's perspective rather than Ana's.

It's also an opportunity for EL to get a bit of a do-over. Many moments feel as though the writer is taking the reader aside to defend her choices: Yeah I know I went kinda overboard with Christian shaming Ana about her eating habits. But don't you see? He's deeply concerned about feeding the world and not wasting food and so on. So it's not weird, really. 

And yet, EL seems to have included every last bit of dialogue. Even the absolute worst bits are here. She could've easily trimmed some--a different narrator could've very well chosen to end the occasional scene early, for instance. But I'm pretty sure CG never does. Every scrap of CG/Ana dialogue seems to be here, so EL didn't give herself that much of a mulligan. It's an extremely repetitive experience for anyone who read the original.

And yet, Grey assumes (fairly!) that we've read the the original book. I can't imagine that there's an audience for Grey beyond a) true believers and b) grumpy critics, so it's safe to assume that anyone reading will know all about Ana and sex contracts and so on. This doesn't stop EL from being generally redundant and disrespectful of her readers' time but it does mean that certain key topics are not so much introduced but assumed. 
Vanilla sex? 
Can I do this?
This is in CG's head as he leads Ana into his bedroom for their first sexual encounter. But see, he's been thinking about having sex with her for literally the entire book, so the uninitiated would think it a little strange that he's now doubting himself. CG's specific desires are not something the book is kind of withholding from us as a mystery; the book presumes we already know and don't need to be reminded.

Same with his squeamishness about being touched. Would be even more confusing for a reader encountering this book before reading Fifty Shades. CG's entire inner monologue, pretty much, is about touching Ana. We're expected to know that he doesn't want her touching him back.

So in a lot of ways, this is simply EL's version of stretching The Hobbit into three new movies. She'll make a bunch of money and capitalize on the fact that there are lots of people who enjoy this world so much that they'll return for more time in it, even if the entertainment value drops off considerably.

EL's stated purpose, though, is to help us understand Christian, as though we hadn't already had enough of him. Because he's very complicated, you see. Yes very complicated.

But even that explanation feels pretty thin to me. CG is not Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. He dominates [Editor's note: Ha!] nearly every page of the original book once you get past the first couple of chapters. When Ana isn't talking to CG, she's emailing him. They're basically inseparable once their relationship begins. So the idea that we don't really get CG, despite reading so much of his dialogue, so many of his emails, and hearing his bedroom commands feels implausible. I guess there were probably people demanding this POV switch for whatever extra it might reveal, but to me, this is equivalent to saying, "You know, I totally get Ernie. But what's Bert's deal?"

Plus, there's never any subtext to discern in EL's dialogue. The double entendres are so blunt that they're not even entendres, really. And characters always say exactly the thing that they mean to say without ever implying anything or accidentally revealing more than they wish. Hence there's just not much beyond CG's actual words. Seeing more of this thoughts pretty much just confirms that, yeah, he's kind of a monster. Just like he always seemed like a monster on the outside, turns out, yeah. Monstery on the inside too. [Editor's note: There's probably an analogy here you could do, right? Like a monster who's actually super nice? Maybe a Muppet or something? And how CG isn't like that? I dunno figure it out.]

So there's basically no upside to being in CG's head instead of Ana's. And so you might well ask: Is there a downside?

Yes! It turns out that yes, indeed, there is a downside!

Lest it be unclear: I can't stand Ana. She's a miserable character. She's not clever. She's got nothing to say. She's passive and lets life happen to her while scarcely doing so much as expressing an opinion. She's just awful. 

And yet!

She's just so much better than Christian. I mean Ana is the worst. Just the absolute worst ever. Oh but when she's standing next to Christian? He's so much more terrible that he makes her look like she's a classic literary heroine. Compared to CG, Ana is like, I dunno. Somebody from a Virginia Woolf novel or something. Introspective! Complicated! Insightful!

And again: she's not actually any of these things. Really she's the worst. But I bet I'm not the only one who's reading this dumb book and saying, ugh this could use more Ana!

Because the truth is that shifting over to CG's POV almost cuts Ana out entirely. She's around of course and saying words and so on. But what the reader will pick up on pretty quickly is that, first go-round, EL did a better job of capturing CG's character through his dialogue and body language in comparison to the way she established Ana. We really need a bit of that Ana inner monologue to find Ana very interesting.

Part of the reason for this is simply that CG is so flat and uninteresting. His only notes are angry, authoritarian, and condescending. The only thing we get new from his POV is basically quantity. He seems more like himself, which is to say: he seems even worse than I'd assumed. CG isn't complicated. EL tries to make him seem complicated by putting some tragedy in his backstory but that's not the same as creating a compelling character. That's just tagging everything he does with an asterisk.*

*Remember! CG was abused when he was very small so don't judge him too harshly. 

But without Ana's narration, Ana slips into the background. Maybe [Editor's note: probably!] she was never really more than a sex object in the first place, but through CG's eyes? She really, really is nothing more than a sex object. She contributes a bit of dialogue. Most it opaque. And beyond that, all we get of her is pretty much CG telling us how fun she'd probably be to spank or whatever.

And was we get less of Ana, she becomes less compelling. And as she becomes less compelling to the reader, CG seems more and more like a terrifying sexual predator, since his obsession with her makes less and less sense. So it's pretty gross all around.

I'm undecided about how to approach this book. I mean other than these notes. Doing a chapter-by-chapter exegesis seems a little much considering that we've already covered all the plot points, such as they are. And all the dialogue. So no single chapter needs more than a handful of points to differentiate this one from the other one. I might also just do a few topical posts. Like, "EL still uses the same clich├ęs" or "Christian Grey seems like a real predator, huh?" or "Yeah this whole section is the same as the other book."

I dunno. What do you think? What would you like to hear about this thing? Or are you reading it too, and just want to vent a little?

Because it's pretty bad, is the thing.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Ok so here's what we know is happening:

EL James took a break from swimming around in her big ol' pool of money in order to rewrite the first book, Fifty Shades: Fellowship of the Shade from Christian's perspective.

It's available for preorder already. Somebody should buy me a copy and then I'll read it and say mean things about it. I haven't paid for any of these yet; this is the only kind of piracy I support. Hey what if there were like, hipster pirates who had a sailing ship and cruised around and boarded ships and stole their rum or whatever? Like real old-school pirates. Real artisanal pirates? I guess I would probably get behind that, right? But other than that kind of piracy that I made up, and people not paying for Fifty Shades: The Original Trilogy, I don't support piracy.

Basically what I'm saying is this: I have undergone no shortage of pain and suffering and time-wasting for the several of you who read this blog. And the suffering has only increased as we have plunged deeper and deeper into this. Right? So I'm not saying that you owe me exactly. But what I am saying is that I would like to keep not spending money on this series. [Editor's note: you watched the movie, dude. So don't play like you haven't already broken this.]

What I'm saying is, everyone who reads this should donate a dollar, and then that would be eight dollars, and then that would pay for the book and I'd be ready to go.

But seriously: I'll read it because I'm morbidly curious.

It's not going to be good, of course. It's going to be bad. And considering how much of the series is emails and conversations, this book is going to be a lot like book one. Like, a lot like it. These two characters are basically never apart from the moment they meet, so this is unlikely to offer us anything we didn't already know.


The the one thing that might kind of actually work better sort of (note all the qualifiers!) is the fact that the later parts of the series introduce these pseudo thriller elements. During the first book, CG is, on occasion, taking calls and stuff about his ex, Leila, to whom he was such a bad boyfriend that he literally infected her with mental illness! True story! I mean, actual thing in the novel, which is patently untrue. You know what I mean. And there's a buncha stuff going on with his other ex whose name I can't be bothered to look up at the moment.

It's kinda like how in The Hobbit Gandalf goes off and does some stuff and he's like BRB and you don't really know what he's doing because you quit watching the movies because they were to boring.

So even though Ana and CG basically do absolutely everything together, CG gets to do a little more stuff, probably because he's a boy? Probably why. So this new book won't work? But I can imagine a scenario in which it's a marginal improvement.

To my knowledge, this is the first actual book written by EL James. The previous "books" are just collected episodes, which is in part why they are so terrible. So who knows! Maybe the fact that EL sat and wrote this one without posting each chapter on the internets and letting her readers weigh in, and without concern for readers who might join partway through--maybe that helped her do a better job! So maybe this will be better! Fingers crossed!

And even if it's worse, it'll be better than reading the third book, like I've been doing, I think. Because Book 3 is bad enough that Book 1 could be a bit worse and still be better. So I think the math works and I think we should go for it.

Side note:

It's funny to me that EL is doing the thing that Stephanie Meyer set out to do and then stopped. Very full circle. Meyer started writing a book from the vampire's perspective. I didn't read it obvs but I guess he was like, telling a journalist all about his life or something? Whatever. Doesn't matter, because she didn't finish it after somebody leaked a chunk of it. But anyway. Even this follow-up idea is yet another Stephanie Meyer knock-off. And also, of course, a fanfic staple. I do think that my version of The Sun Also Rises from the perspective of a bull is pretty cool tho. And short, obvs so you can get through it in like, twenty minutes.

But anyway. That is happening.

If you wanna be my sponsor or whatever? Contact me via the secret Complaint Phone. Or like leave a comment.