Since EL James’s new masterpiece debuted on Kindle late last night, I can’t offer you an immediate review of what will surely be one of the most harrowing reading experiences of my life. Partly because I’ve always been a slow reader, and partly because reading this book for too long with an expression of muted horror on my face was giving me a headache.
The amount I’ve read so far isn’t enough to render a real verdict, but it’s fair to say that this book was clearly more carefully edited than James’s original trilogy. I’d hoped that with the benefit of revision, James could actually see the major flaws in her “twisted” love story and may even be using this book to help justify what otherwise felt like an abusive relationship being masqueraded as a “kink.” If she truly didn’t see it that way, surely she could use this book to show skeptics how she continues to justify Christian’s behavior.
Instead, when you strip away Inner Goddesses, oh geezes, sloppy grammar, and punctuation errors, you’re left with a monster of a human being who seems to think that calling himself a “dark soul” and constantly whining about his very early childhood (before he was adopted by a rich family) is enough to excuse the fact that he’s just a shitty abuser.
Either way, I did manage to read about 35 pages before I passed out, and so before I attempt a full review, I’ll bring you some of the most memorable, bizarre, and downright horrible quotes from what is already shaping up to be the worst entry in James’s domestic violence series.
Without further ramblings ados, here you go:
I open my eyes and my dream fades in the early-morning light. What the hell was that about? I grasp at the fragments as they recede, but fail to catch any of them. Dismissing it, as I do most mornings, I climb out of bed and find some newly laundered sweats in my walk-in closet. Outside, a leaden sky promises rain, and I’m not in the mood to be rained on during my run today. I head upstairs to my gym, switch on the TV for the morning business news, and step onto the treadmill.
Following an incredibly hackneyed “tragic childhood dream” opener, this is how we’re introduced to Christian “in his own words”: a totally self-absorbed shitbag who can’t help but humblebrag about all the neat stuff he has because he’s rich.
Look: I get that a lot of rich people are incredibly smug about their wealth. But isn’t this meant to be the guy who cares a lot about feeding Africa and making solar-powered business, and other vague sentences that James threw together in the first three books? I understand that at this stage in the story he’s meant to see himself as a monster before Ana’s love cures him. But I don’t buy that anyone walks around going, “Fucking rain won’t fuck with my run! Doesn’t the sky know who I am? Fuck it — I’ll go watch business in my private gym!”
Which reminds me: the very first thing I noticed when I started reading is that EL James hit up the thesaurus hard this time around. She Percy Shelly’d her Frankenstein like nobody’s business, and now every “want” is “rapaciousness,” and every “light” is “luminosity.” So enjoy that.
[My personal trainer’s] parting words rub salt into my wounds because, despite my heroic attempts during our workout today, my personal trainer has kicked my ass. Bastille is the only one who can beat me, and now he wants another pound of flesh on the golf course. I detest golf, but so much business is done on the fairways, I have to endure his lessons there, to…and though I hate to admit it, playing against Bastille does improve my game.
I don’t even know where to start with this. Is James trying to earn our sympathy by telling us that this tragic billionaire hates a leisure activity where he’s forced to talk to other tragic billionaires about how they’ll exchange money with each other? I also love the idea that he must grudgingly admit that practicing a sport improves his skill at the sport. That is how sports work. When you practice them, you get better at them.
Since these are just a handful of quotes, I should say that Christian moaning about all the shit he hates having to do as a rich businessman (like sit in an office or play golf) is a major theme in the first few pages, mostly to establish how bored he is with his life and how much he craves some kind of big distraction. But none of this helps to engender sympathy, and it doesn’t really feel like we’re getting to know the character so much as it’s reinforcing this idea of Christian as a Ken Doll business person who does business things.
And before you ask, no — he still hasn’t clarified what the fuck his company does. But strap right in for this masterpiece of a paragraph:
As I stare out of the window at the Seattle skyline, the familiar ennui seeps unwelcome into my consciousness. My mood is as flat and gray as the weather. My days are blending together with no distinction, and I need some kind of diversion. I’ve worked all weekend, and now, in the continued confines of my office, I’m restless. I shouldn’t feel this way, not after several bouts with Bastille. But I do. I frown. The sobering truth is that the only thing to capture my interest recently has been my decision to send two freighters of cargo to Sudan.
I wasn’t ready for that last sentence. Or this one:
Damn. I have to endure an interview with the persistent Miss Kavanagh for the WSU student newspaper. Why the hell did I agree to this? I loathe interviews — inane questions from ill-informed, envious people intent on probing my private life. And she’s a student.
Yeah, fuck students. Envious pricks.
What’s also weird about diving right into “the interview” moment is that surely offering the book from another perspective should be about more than just treading the same ground through someone else’s eyes. Instead, I did expect that we’d be offered alternative moments that were perhaps more important or more crucial to the other character. But as far as I can tell from the little I’ve read so far, this book is primarily about just re-hashing all of Ana’s big moments. So we jump right into the famous interview scene, and it plays pretty much exactly the same way through Christian’s eyes as it did from Ana’s:
A commotion at the door brings me to my feet as a whirl of long chestnut hair, pale limbs, and brown boots dives headfirst into my office. Repressing my natural annoyance at such clumsiness, I hurry over to the girl who has landed on her hands and knees on the floor. Clasping slim shoulders, I help her to her feet.
That’s a lot of stuff to notice about someone in mid-fall. And also, yeah — fuck people who fall. Don’t they know how to command gravity the way that Christian Grey commands the skies?
And while Christian deigns to find this clumsy student attractive, he also makes sure to let you know that he can spot dowdy clothing from a mile away, and it displeases him:
A bashful, bookish type, eh? She looks it: poorly dressed, her slight frame hidden beneath a shapeless sweater, an A-line brown skirt, and utilitarian boots. Does she have any sense of style at all?
Even better, Christian Grey knows exactly what kind of terrible dowdy clothing you peasants wear:
She sounds like a rich kid who’s had all she ever wanted, but as I take a closer look at her clothes – she’s dressed in clothes from some cheap store like Old Navy or H&M – I know that isn’t it.
I did say that the scene plays the same way from both perspectives, but that’s not totally true. While Ana’s busy going, “Oh geez he’s handsome like Greek Gods and Bruce Springsteen,” Christian spends literally the entire interview fantasizing about fucking her in detailed, graphic ways:
She has a small, sweet face that is blushing now, an innocent pale rose. I wonder briefly if all her skin is like that – flawless – and what it would look like pink and warmed from the bite of a cane.
As she fumbles and grows more and more flustered, it occurs to me that I could refine her motor skills with the aid of a riding crop.
Her mouth pops open at my response. That’s more like it. Suck it up, baby.
“It’s shrewd business,” I mutter, feigning boredom, and I imagine fucking that mouth to distract myself from all thoughts of hunger. Yes, her mouth needs training, and I imagine her on her knees before me. Now, that thought is appealing.
“Are you gay, Mr. Grey?” What the hell! I cannot believe she’s said that out loud! Ironically, the question even my own family will not ask. How dare she! I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands behind her back. That would answer her ridiculous question.
Yeah, that’s not actually how homosexuality works — but it is how rape works!
This predatory inner monologue continues when he immediately has all of her public records pulled, mopes about how he wants to see her again, and then stalks her at her work in the similarly famous hardware store scene. Christian also continues his tirade against poor people and their shabby little shops:
A bell chimes a flat electronic note as I walk into the store. It’s much bigger than it looks from the outside, and although it’s almost lunchtime the place is quiet, for a Saturday. There are aisles and aisles of the usual junk you’d expect. I’d forgotten the possibilities that a hardware store could present to someone like me. I mainly shop online for my needs, but while I’m here, maybe I’ll stock up on a few items: Velcro, split rings — Yeah. I’ll find the delectable Miss Steele and have some fun.
Let’s take a moment to analyze the fact that Christian had a background check done on her, flew to go see her, and only as he enters the shop does he consider a plausible excuse for being there. I simply do not believe that a “master of business,” and someone who’s had 5 days to pore over an extensive background check, didn’t think of any kind of story to explain how he randomly wandered into her workplace miles away from his home and business until 10 seconds after he walked through the door.
But it doesn’t really matter, because beyond having no shame about stalking her, he then follows her around, evaluating every inch of her body, fantasizing about fucking her, and deliberately tries to unnerve her in her place of work where he knows she has to be nice to him:
“There are a few items I need. To start with, I’d like some cable ties.” My request catches her off guard; she looks stunned. Oh, this is going to be fun. You’d be amazed what I can do with a few cable ties, baby. “We stock various lengths. Shall I show you?” she says, finding her voice.
She works in a hardware store. You asked for an item that is sold at a hardware store. Why would she be caught off guard by that? If you walked in and asked for a ball gag and some lube, I’d say she might have been stunned into silence. Because those are not things stocked at a hardware store. At best, she’s getting real hot and distracted imagining you trying to consolidate your DVD, TV, and lamp cords into one neat strand.
Anyway, here’s a hilariously clunky reminder that Ana is basically just Kristen Stewart:
She steps out from behind the counter and gestures toward one of the aisles. She’s wearing chucks. Idly I wonder what she’d look like in skyscraper heels. Louboutins…nothing but Louboutins. “They’re with the electrical goods, aisle eight.” Her voice wavers and she blushes…She is affected by me. Hope blooms in my chest. She’s not gay, then. I smirk.
Still not how homosexuality/bisexuality works. But thanks for that, EL James.
Oh, and have a little random casual sexism to go with your homophobia:
“Are you in Portland on business?” she asks, interrupting my thoughts. Her voice is high; she’s feigning disinterest. It makes me want to laugh. Women rarely make laugh.
I hate him so much.
Okay — believe it or not, that’s not even the first 35 pages, but I’m getting yet another headache from having to relive these moments. In my next post I’ll catch you up on the inner musings of Christian Grey, universal man-hater, and whatever else I’m able to read without wanting to cry or scream.