I’m reading Fifty Shades Of Grey. It’s very weird. It’s basically all about how being into BDSM is just like being a vampire. It’s not a metaphor I’m immediately hostile to, because in my experience if your partner is into any kind of hobby or scene and in particular if that scene could possibly be described as a lifestyle, then every now and then and usually whenever it’s least convenient, scene-related drama will sweep back into town like a renegade werewolf and clothesline you when you’re least expecting it.
Not that E L James means it like that, but still.
The book is written in a very individual voice, and I’m on the fence about whether or not that’s a good thing. If the book was shorter, I think I would have been more on side with it. As it is, I started out finding the heroine Ana’s constant interjections of ‘Oh my’ and ‘Crap’ and ‘Hmm’ made the text more immediate and realistic, but then I started getting annoyed with them, particularly ‘Hmm’ which just made me feel as if I was reading the book next to a studio full of earnest yoginis. Likewise, the conceit of her subconscious and her ‘inner goddess’ which pretty much sit on opposite shoulders telling her ‘Run for the hills!’ and ‘Don’t run for the hills!’ respectively.
The book started out as Twilight fanfic, and I’m on the fence about that as well. At what point does ‘Stephenie Meyer paved the way for the return of books about beautiful but surprisingly middle-aged-at-heart men who care passionately about educating the heroine about car safety’ become ‘actually, Stephenie Meyer is being taken advantage of here and should take legal action’? I’m not really sure what I would feel if I came across something that had started life as fic but had been so thoroughly transmuted that it became its own thing. It’s almost certainly already happened and I didn’t notice. Come to think of it, I actually can think of one example, though it’s an RP and not a book.
As to whether the serial numbers in this have been filed off as thoroughly as they could be… once again, it’s a (sorry!) grey area. Both the heroes live in big, modern settings (a house for Edward, an apartment for Christian) that are the cause of much interior decorating porn. Both the heroes are pushy and very protective and spend a lot of time worrying about whether the heroine should be on the road or not in her present vehicle. I think they both play the piano, though I might be wrong about Edward. Both the heroines are clumsy, pale-skinned brunettes who do the ‘Three boys have asked me out in the last six hours, but I’m too unattractive for anyone to pay attention to me’ thing. But Christian actually seems to draw as much on the kind of unreasonable nutcase of a hero that probably starts out with Mr Rochester and then develops through the kind of control freak you find in a Philippa Carr as he does on Edward, whose weirdnesses at least have an excuse in that he isn’t human.
Because Ana is the POV character, it’s much easier to tell how Ana isn’t Bella. And she’s really not. She comes over as much less of an ‘adult child’ caretaker type than Bella and more in touch with the modern world. She’s supposed to be into literature, and she recognises a quote from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but her language is saturated with words like ‘delectable’ that generally only get used in advertising copy, and with a sort of heavy-handed, magazine-editorial playfulness. She uses hair straighteners. If Bella had a pair of hair straighteners, she’d have shorted out the electricity to the entirety of Forks by now. Her inner monologue isn’t so much anguished as… I think the word I’m looking for is goofy. If this causes people’s minds to go to the Disney bondage place, I’m sorry. Except that the book kind of actually is about the Disney bondage place. There’s a loving description of the ‘Red Room of Pain’ which made me expect the floggers and clamps to start dancing to and fro singing ‘Be Our Guest’.
The book gets some points from me because Christian, arrogant mess that he is, is actually less of an arrogant mess than some of the heroes I’ve encountered in Mills and Boon Moderns and Harlequin Presents over the years. Or maybe it’s that he’s just as messed up, but it isn’t presented as something normative. Then it loses points, because of the whole ‘I’m just into BDSM because I was brought up that way from the age of fifteen, I’ve never had vanilla sex and yet I somehow know how to deflower a virgin with the maximum of skill and attention, and really it’s all to do with my orphan issues’ thing which seems to be E L James’ attempt at making a grab for the misery memoir demographic.
It loses some more points because Ana seems to have an internal hymen which ruptures with a distinct pop ‘deep inside’ her. FFS, writers, stop writing this one. (Link is to the Smart Bitches, may be NSFW)
Also, the heroine is called Ana and she’s constantly forgetting to eat and having to be needled by the hero into finishing what’s on her plate. I’m not sure what to say about that so I’ll just leave it there. At one point she thinks what a relief it is to be able to eat a meal without Christian watching her, which I just found intensely uncomfortable.
As a book, this is not really my kind of thing, though a lot of people love it and good luck to them. As a viral phenomenon, it’s fascinating. It’s causing a lot of discussion of ‘fanfic: should anyone ever file the serial numbers off?’ and ‘fanfic: should anyone write it in the first place’, and ‘oh, my goodness, those self-published authors, this will just ENCOURAGE THEM’, some of which is interesting, and some of which makes me want to bang my head sharply against my desk and see if that helps.