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.

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