So…I am starting to feel like I am the only woman in the world who has not read the infamous and universally talked-about “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E L James.
Today at work, a colleague told me in no uncertain terms that I “just had to do it”. After a few attempts to assure her that, no, I really didn’t have to, I realised she was not going to be swayed in this. She revealed to me that she had finished it after only eight hours. This is not uncommon, it seems. Women all over Britain and the US brag about how they simply cannot put down the best-selling piece of “mummy-porn”. That horrific piece of oxymoronic phrasing aside, this says something about the spell this author has cast on the world and a part of me has admired the whole process from afar. There’s something quite beautiful about seeing a woman in her thirties sitting on the 14 reading “Fifty” as bold as brass. As she turns each page, she openly says to the world that she is completely okay with everyone knowing that she is taking pleasure in reading erotic fiction, which depicts a somewhat kinky and allegedly deviant relationship.
This book has not only topped the best-seller list, but has risen to become one of the most successful novels to come out of the UK. Ever. On Goodreads, it is ranked up with “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre” as the most romantic works of fiction to have ever been written.
So I want to genuinely congratulate E L James. It’s always that little bit more special to see a woman succeeding in literature and gaining international and universal success. She has, to be quite honest, done good. She wanted to write about something so she did. And people liked it. And she made money. Therefore, she is a success no matter what the critics say now.
I say this because I have the instinctive feeling that I am going to laugh my way through this novel. I really do. I’m not being snobbish or cynical, I just feel it. So before I open the first chapter up, I want to state how, no matter what I think of the writing, she’s the winner here. She’s the one with the cash, the movie deal and all the fame.
I’m just a bit sarcastic and finally giving in to peer pressure. So it begins…..
The first line of the first chapter is, “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror”. And there, in a nutshell, is every woman’s main problem and I’m dismayed that it’s going to be our protagonist’s. Self-esteem issues are not a good start to a BDSM feature.
But anyway…soon we meet Anastasia Steele, which already sound’s a little porny but that may be a deliberate choice. She whines on in the first paragraph about how her roommate is ill and about how her hair won’t behave. When she reveals that she’s doing her sick roommate (Kate) a favour by interviewing “some mega-industrial tycoon” for their student paper, we can only assume that this tycoon will be none other than Mr. Grey. What a fabulous meet-cute. Really.
Despite the slightly irritating tone the protagonist uses to narrate, things are moving along quite quickly in the first few pages. Clearly, we’re going to have little to no time to get to know or understand our heroine before she is thrust into the path of the hero. But what does that matter? This book isn’t about a twenty-one year old girl finding out who she is, it’s about sex.
Yes, Ana Steele is a twenty-one year old, pale girl with long brown hair. Hello.
Before leaving their apartment to drive to the interview (in Seattle) Ana gives us a quick opinion about Kate. The latter is apparently beautiful and witty and articulate and argumentative…..so why can’t this be her story? I have low self-esteem issues to rival the best of them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impressive to read about it.
We’re told the roads are clear as she drives from Vancouver to Seattle. This is pointless information which serves no purpose to the plot but never mind, it’s good to know Ana’s a capable driver and that she’s not battling hurricane Morag to reach her true love. There are currently no obstacles in her path, metaphysical or otherwise.
She reaches his headquarters and is shown in to wait to be seen by an assistant who apparently gives her a look. Are we to assume that Ana can’t dress herself? She’s clearly a young professional, wouldn’t she make some sort of an effort before interviewing a billionaire, even if it wasn’t originally her gig? Never mind. Clearly, Ana is a strong, independent woman who doesn’t let vanity control her wardrobe. Sassy.
As she waits to be let in to his office, she refers to his assistants as Blonde Number One and Blonde Number Two, which is a little rude and petty because they have names. I’m a brunette but we’re all sisters, Ana. Relax.
Eventually, after meaningless prose, his assistant says the hilarious words, “Mr. Grey will see you now” and I’m instantly imagining the Emerald City and Christian Grey emerging on a horse painted purple surrounded by singing members of the Oz society. And Judy Garland.
Sadly, this doesn’t happen. Ana goes in and falls over. She has my sympathy but also my disdain. I’m Dyspraxic but even I can handle flat surfaces.
Luckily, Grey is a gentleman and instantly helps our heroine to her somewhat humiliated feet. He shakes her hand and offers her a seat. Then the gushing begins. He’s attractive. Very attractive. He has copper hair, apparently. I work in a bar and we have two copper tanks so this description reminds me of them and strikes me as somewhat odd but we move on. He has grey eyes which is apt and slightly disappointing. I would have loved Christian Grey…with brown eyes, just to give him an edge. But no, they’re grey.
Ana manages to sit down without falling onto the desk or breaking a light fixture and they exchange introductions. She admires some paintings on his wall. She then describes them by using the enormously pretentious words, “raising the ordinary to the extraordinary”.
All right. Just…yeah, no, all right. Foreshadowing? What?
“I’m not used to this” is what she says as they begin. What, Ana? Human interaction? Talking? Is today actually the first time leaving the apartment. This comment is irritating and vague.
She starts asking mundane questions that will allow us as a reader to garner exposition and learn about the mysterious Grey but I’m honestly starting to wish I was reading Harry Potter instead. Would Hermione have put me through all this nail-biting annoyance. Fuck. No.
She moves on to ask what he does to “chill out”. He says he has varied interests. One eyebrow is now raised. Of course, we all possess the knowledge of what those interests are. Dramatic irony is a beautiful thing. Grey reveals that some people might say he doesn’t have a heart and I’m instantly back to “The Wizard of Oz”. The Tin Man didn’t have a heart. He was also grey. But possibly not into kink.
Grey rambles on a bit more and says that he likes to own and possess things. The subtext being that he likes to own people. Or women. We are told he is adopted, a subject he is somewhat testy about. One might have to assume that his reluctance to discuss his past could suggest a potentially tragic backstory.
She suddenly asks if he’s gay which is actually quite funny. Then he starts asking her lots of questions which are equally banal and boring. He asks if she has everything she needs and she answers, “Yes, sir.” The dynamic of the scene changes and they say goodbye. End of chapter.
I’m kind of relieved they didn’t bang on the desk.
Chapter two soon….