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A Lighter Shade Of Dark
Fifty Shades of Grey - E L James
Member Name: missrarr
Fifty Shades of Grey - E L James
Date: 06/08/12, updated on 06/08/12 (119 review reads)
Advantages: Readable, certainly not shocking, and has strangely united mothers, daughters and husbands and more
Disadvantages: I highly doubt this is in any way representational of BDSM relationships, so it is glamourised
About two months ago I was making my way home through the Underground network in London and saw a big poster along one of the corridor walls for a book. The colours were muted, steel-like, and the book cover showed a detail shot of a man's tie. There was virtually no other explanation of the book bar an enthusiastic line of encouragement presumably from the top of the head of some copywriter. The title of the book was "50 Shades Of Grey". I admitted to being intrigued, and thought I might google it for more information at some point.
The stealth marketing had begun...
***LET'S FACE IT...***
This marketing campaign, one based on subtle intrigue and the pique of curiosity, is what started it. And, once a few people were 'had' by it and read out of curiosity, then perked up their eyebrows and realised this was a book in which a new couple get a bit kinky, and started talking about it...their job was done. No follow up was needed. No secondary, desperation campaign, no strategy in place to gently remind the buying public about it before Christmas or holiday sales peaks.
Marketing bods get paid a fortune, and this time they have largely scored one of the biggest wins in literary (some might call the use of that word a bit generous had they already read 50 Shades, but that comes down to personal opinion...) history by putting out one pretty basic campaign and got us to do their job for them by telling us sweet sod all. It worked a treat, and let's face it, a large number of us dooyooers, particularly given we lean towards any chance to form our own opinions about things, have probably read this.
***I ADMIT IT, I'M NO DIFFERENT...****
I tried to hold out. I really did. But when some of the people I interact with on twitter from various walks of life, professional associations and other, started sending me tweets along the lines of "Have you read it yet?" before adding the (at this stage no longer necessary) #50shadesofgrey on the same day that I saw a post on freecycle that went along the lines of "Hello, I'm a pensioner and I'd like to read 50 Shades of Grey, but I can't afford to waste the money if it's not very good, so does anyone have a copy they want to rehome?", I knew it was inevitable that I too would read this. I hummed and haa'd about buying it for a couple more weeks before my mother bought me a copy, claiming she would like to read it when I'm done! When I tweeted this, I had someone closer to my mother's age tweeted straight back that her daughter had bought hers, and sure enough a week later her daughter tweeted that she was still in bed reading, yep, #50shadesofgrey. The unstoppable permeation of polite, and diverse, society was well under way and E. L. James, the previously unheard of writer (not her real name) was becoming a ridiculously rich woman as film rights were being fought savagely over by people in suits in lands far away.
Indeed, when Mum bought me my copy, I had made up my mind to get it on two occasions but on both it was sold out! But finally I had my own copy and started to read.
***IF YOU'VE BEEN LIVING UNDER A ROCK FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS...***
...then I'd have a shower, if I were you. Then come back and read this, as I'll try to condense what most people already know quickly for the uninitiated. Writing under the name E L James, the author started this "erotic fiction" as an adult reply to the Twilight trilogy, sans vampires, werewolves and similar but taking the basic relationship premise of two people irresistibly attracted to one another but with one harbouring a darker side to their character that threatens to either keep them apart or would mean a rapid and disturbing change to the life of the other if they pursue the relationship. It became an internet craze and a clever publisher, who is probably getting slightly off their heads on their third marguerita in their new villa in Sunshine Land as I type this (at lunchtime, the degenerates!) snapped up the book rights. That subtle-yet-intriguing ad campaign was run and people started talking. It's the internet age. Twitter has, finally in the last 18 months, become such an ingrained part of social interaction that marketing dudes must have been hoping it would be since its inception, and crazes sweep like wildfire as not only do we share new happenings and ideas and opinions, but we do so with the beaming glee of finding new unity and novelty through a medium that has not yet lost its lustre. It was the perfect time for a book like this to come out and take advantage of this situation.
***SO WHAT'S IT ABOUT?***
Intelligent, thoughtful but naïve and shy, Anastasia Steele is about to graduate University. She lives with her golden girl best friend, and in a move guaranteed to endear the character to the wallflowers and bookworms who have unfulfilled deeper aspects to their own character, she feels like a shadow in comparison. A capable, clever and perfectly normal shadow, but as many a woman has felt before, not the glorious, adored homecoming queen type, nor aggressive and ready to challenge the world head on. Part of this book observes her progression from this as she literally stumbles across a scenario that is about to change her views and behaviour in a way that cannot be anything other than permanently.
With her friend, a student newspaper writer, ill in their apartment, Ana steps in and is dispatched so that the student rag doesn't miss out on a coveted interview with the fascinatingly young, rich and successful Christian Grey. Nervous and unprepared with not even the time to properly study the man nor her friend's notes, Ana trips and falls as she enters his office and meets Grey - one of those rare and pivotal seconds in life where everything seems to both stop and change at once. Instantly fascinated, she conducts the interview awkwardly and retreats, but is unable to shake thoughts of the man she met, a man full of confidence and success and clearly guarding a fascinating mind behind his professional exterior.
What she doesn't expect, telling herself that she and Grey are from different worlds and that her appearing briefly in his life is something that he will probably have forgotten about almost before they said goodbye, is that Grey sees something equally fascinating in her. Their paths cross again and whilst Grey seems to have a reluctance to vanish from her life and to be struggling to make himself do so, he warns her away from him. Ana normally would listen and awkwardly tries to understand her own feelings and motivations, but ultimately the two cannot cut their ties and the true nature of their respective feelings starts to become apparent.
***SO THAT'S IT? ALL THIS FUSS OVER 'GIRL MEETS BOY AND GETS A CRUSH'?***
Hell no. This book is about sex and plenty of it, although fundamentally it is, in the same sense as Twilight, a love story in the purest form - boy and girl meet, want to be together, but something is stopping them. Now this could be vampires. Or social restrictions and tight bodices. Or distance. Or war. Or zombies. Or bondage. Or foot odour, bad cooking skills, poor dental hygiene or an unfortunate addiction to The Only Way Is Essex.
In this case it's the bondage.
Virginal Anastasia, in no way unattractive but devoid of arrogance or awareness of her own beauty, has fallen for a man who is incapable of having a relationship and who, having previously been a "submissive" in a relationship, has subsequently decided he far prefers to be the "dominant". Having previously only entered into "relationships" with people who understand this mentality and can reflect it in their own conduct and personalities, he cannot make himself sever ties with Steele, but nor can he deny his own leanings and the only ways of relationships that he has ever known. So he wants to be with her - but to be with Christian Grey means signing a contract and willingly entering a world that not only broadens horizons in Ana's mind but also challenges what she feels is right or fair as well as her previous ideals of pleasure, love and sexuality.
Supposedly well-researched - apparently James called an Audi dealer to ask if it were possible to have sex in an R8 and, unsure of the conviction of the answer, visited a dealership to see the car for herself (I don't know how far she went in her research!) - 50 Shades is primarily based on a relationship that has genuine, challenging feelings for both parties but the catalyst for their coping with the new mindsets they are challenged with is sex, so expect to read a lot of scenes of that nature.
***SO IS IT JUST HYPE?***
I'll admit I found this book slow to start getting interesting. As James sets the scene and introduces her character to one another, I was finding the writing style to be not clumsy as such, but not polished. The book is quite American in style (it is based there) and also the little mental asides from Ana seem almost too naïve.
I was determined to persevere and the book was in no way hard to read. My concern was that the sexual scenes would be awkwardly written, which I find the vast majority to be, but in fairness to James, whilst she would not hold your attention for a 6-page essay on carpet cleaner, she can write about sex in a way that is open, creative and - and this is where many people get it wrong - simple. So these moments do not make you cringe (there is an actual annual award for the worst-written sex scene in literature every year, as well as a best-written one - this book is probably nailed on to "do an Adam Sandler" and win both according to taste of the voters) which is just as well given their integral role in the book.
That said, this is BDSM relationships for the uninitiated - bondage "light". Anyone who actually enjoys or indulges in fiction of this nature but a on more reality-based level, I doubt this is going to read true at all. I personally am not, nor is my commitment to dooyoo so great that I am going to challenge my own personal boundaries to comment from such a perspective!
One other note on James "keeping it simple" in her portrayal of sexual scenes is that it avoids this book becoming uncomfortably graphic (surely why so many books of this nature fall down in their integral moments - sexuality being such a strong personal preference in both conduct and portrayal) or indeed in any way pornographic - if that's what you're expecting then I would suggest that google is your friend, not this!
I saw an interesting photo via facebook where someone had attached a sheet of paper to a stand of these books which read words to the effect of "On the internet, for free, there are thousands of stories which honestly reflect a BDSM relationship and don't romanticise it". Yes, this is the basis for the book, but I don't think for a second reading it that this is anything other than a love story version of it. The sensation behind the book is controversy, but I have never been made to feel uncomfortable by the content and the basic "shocker" is that a woman learns she enjoys sex, albeit not how she had imagined her relationship being. In that sense, this is nothing that Jilly Cooper wasn't already on to twenty years ago, and her work has the added benefit of not being Americanised and also tends to be written from a more mature age group and a more diverse cast of characters. This is very focused on a small group of people and the main relationship is kept largely secret between the two people involved in it.
An interesting way of hastening the development of the relationship is that much of it is conducted by email, a way in which one of the characters feels they can be more open, and consequently in which the other can reflect in their own time on what they are learning about their partner. As I feel that the development of the relationship would be either too long or too volatile - meaning either taking up too much of the second book or leaving the story too short in the termination of the relationship - this is a neat trick to move the story along, as well as revealing the characters becoming more at ease and more playful with each other as they put what they learn through email into their conduct when they are together and their understanding of respective motivations.
***SO...50 SHADES OF WHAT NEXT?***
Do I buy 50 Shades Darker? Am I motivated enough by my meeting Anastasia and Christian to see where they go next? Well I will admit that I am not desperate to do so, but I think that I am intrigued enough. One advantage of 50 Shades is that all three books were released together, which I think is a masterstroke on the part of the publishers - leave no time at all for the motivation behind the campaign, the public reaction and, hopefully, the pleasure of the people who are enjoying the story. Anyone who was enjoying Dean Koontz's Frankenstein trilogy will tell you how much a sudden halt in a story can be a frustration, and when you're hot around the collar I guess that applies even more so!
Another benefit of this release is that you can still (August 2012) get multibuy deals on this in supermarkets. If I invest in 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed it will probably be on Asda's "Buy 2 for £7" offer.
I probably will be continuing with this. It's not the best thing I've ever read and the controversy around it is being made of nothing. Already a bunch of advertising campaigns have started of similar books with similar covers and similar titles and they may be better or they may be worse but I doubt I will be rushing into trying them
But all things considered I am glad I read this. I found it enjoyable, and whilst there are some unexplained aspects - precisely why Grey finds Ana so irresistible is not entirely obvious in the first book, given we are told little about her - I do find that the characterisation, whilst slightly unrealistic, is written and portrayed convincingly. In book one there are hints of a development of the relationship and honesty between protagonists and I hope this evolves further in the next two books, which will be the true test of how well James can write.
In short, if you are expecting to be shocked by this then I doubt that you will be. If you want a modern, open twist on "girl meets boy" and are prepared to invest time in the trilogy then I would not dissuade you from reading it. I won't be raving about it like some but as an intelligent, open minded woman I have found it enjoyable and in no way awkward to read, so I have no hesitation in saying that if you are intrigued enough to join the daughters, mothers, wives, pensioners, brothers, boyfriends and husbands who have been seeing what this book is about for themselves, then you may well enjoy it if you do.
514 pages paperback
Published by vintage
Prices: various - standard bookshop prices through to Amazon offers and supermarket multi-buys at time of writing
Summary: An enjoyable read that has benefitted from the cultural hype of the twitter age