Thursday, 7 January 2016

Grey by E.L. James

** International Bestseller**
Publication date: 18th June 2015
Published by: Vintage
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Read in 2016

Publisher's Synopsis
Christian Grey exercises control in all things; his world is neat, disciplined, and utterly empty—until the day that Anastasia Steele falls into his office, in a tangle of shapely limbs and tumbling brown hair. He tries to forget her, but instead is swept up in a storm of emotion he cannot comprehend and cannot resist. Unlike any woman he has known before, shy, unworldly Ana seems to see right through him—past the business prodigy and the penthouse lifestyle to Christian’s cold, wounded heart.

Will being with Ana dispel the horrors of his childhood that haunt Christian every night? Or will his dark sexual desires, his compulsion to control, and the self-loathing that fills his soul drive this girl away and destroy the fragile hope she offers him?

My Review

Grey is a retelling of the Fifty Shades of Grey story told by Christian Grey.  This has become a common phenomenon with romantic novels written in the first person and originally told by the female character when said books have sold extremely well.  I am not entirely against this idea as I see it as an opportunity to show a different perspective and reveal details that would not have been previously clarified. 

The problem with Grey (the main problem) is that it is FSoG regurgitated. EL James has failed to recognise that, although she has created both characters and therefore they exist in her head, they are supposed to be individuals with different thoughts and feelings. When two people communicate, they do not assimilate and interpret the information they exchange (the input) in exactly the same way, and so one would not expect the exact same thought processes, and the subsequent output, to be identical perspectives (unless maybe they are identical twins).  Most of the story is pretty much cut and pasted from the original and what has been added, i.e, the running commentary going on in Christian's head, renders the book disastrous.  For one thing he constantly talks to himself, addressing himself in the third person, and for another his penis has a personality of it's own and contributes by apparently 'concurring' with Christian on a regular basis (I kid you not).

The central plot of FSoG is basically a game of tug-of-war (Christian pulling Ana towards the dark side, Ana pulling Christian towards the light). I did not hate it but  I could not understand the appeal of Christian Grey.  I found nothing about him alluring or sexy, but I did find him disturbing and creepy.   Now that I have read Grey and I have been in Christian's head, I would add (to creepy and disturbing) that he is odious and misogynisticHe is both inwardly and openly hostile to most women and (oddly) he complains bitterly about them showing signs of finding him attractive (apparently all women do). This revulsion by a heterosexual alpha-male is unrealistic and is an example of poor characterisation on the part of the author.

This character was inspired by Edward Cullen of Twilight.  Edward Cullen is a vampire - which is disturbing and creepy, but he is not. Neither is he sexist, nor a misogynist. Vampires see humans at worst as food and at best as pets.  Edward has rejected his true nature and is trying, as far as possible, to be like a human - but he is not human. He comes across as a dominant alpha male who treats Bella like his submissive because of WHAT he is (it's a vampire trait). It is one of his flaws.

Love it or hate it, with Twilight Stephanie Meyer was able to create a contemporary version of a classic gothic anti-hero (a perceived villain who is dark/shady, but also alluring). While Christian Grey is an anti-hero, he bears no resemblance to the type in a gothic romance. Unfortunately, EL James failed in her attempt mainly because the masochistic analogy has been poorly executed.  

Here is an example of the difference between Edward and Christian.  In Twilight, Bella observes that attractive girls often flirt with Edward and he is unresponsive every time.  He is never impolite or hostile towards them, rather he is oblivious to their advances.  The problem with Christian is that he is unsympathetic with zero redeeming qualities (which sets him poles apart from a romantic gothic anti-hero), and without Ana's rose-tinted glasses he is horribly exposed.

Room for improvement?  To improve Grey, it would need to be re-written from the beginning, by a ghost-writer.  Failing that, deleting the words 'baby' and 'laters, baby' every time they appear in the text would at least reduce the cringe-factor considerably.

As it stands, the writing is such that it reads like a parody of itself.  Here are some examples:

1. Ana & Christian's first date in a cafe.
I watch her dunk her tea bag in the pot.  It is an elaborate and messy spectacle.  She fishes it out almost immediately and places the used tea bag on her saucer.  My mouth twitches with amusement as she tells me she likes her tea weak and black.  For a moment, I think she is describing what she likes in a man.  Get a grip, Grey.  She's talking about tea.

2. Christian's driver/minion on receiving a set of instructions from him.
"Will you be needing Charlie Tango?"
(Apparently, Christian loves his helicopter so much he named it - and his minions are expected to refer to it by name)

3. Christian being a gentleman
...I grab her hair and hold it out of the way as she continues to throw up everything she has had this evening. It is with some annoyance that I note that she doesn't appear to have eaten.  (In other words, he exams the contents of her vomit!)    ...I lead her away from the curious onlookers toward one of the flower beds. "If you are going to throw up again do it here.  I'll hold you."  It's darker here.  She can puke in peace.

Since the only way to portray Christian in a positive light is through Ana's rose-tinted glasses, it raises the question: what were they thinking? Answer: Huge cash revenues.  FSoG is a successful business venture, resulting from an incredibly successful marketing campaign that began the minute E.L. James and her original publisher signed over the movie and publication rights several years ago. 

As there is nothing new to learn, Grey is mostly a boring read but the writing is so bad that parts of it are entertaining.

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