Fifty Shades of Failure, Part 3

Fifty Shades of Failure, Part III23f75d4bcae4c60c fifty

I tried and failed to read Fifty Shades of Grey in fifty page instalments and report on it objectively. And now I've decided to comb through the wreckage of my disastrous experiment, in the small hope of sparing someone else a similar fate. Let's get right to it.

Fifty Shades of Grey, pages 100-150

" 'We're going to rectify the situation right now.'

'What do you mean?  What situation?'

'Your situation.  Ana, I'm going to make love to you, now.' "

Story – As you may have guessed from the above, in this instalment Ana and Grey are finally united in physical bliss. We begin with Ana reading through the contract Grey has prepared for her which outlines her duties as his submissive, and the areas where they are not allowed to go. "No acts of urination or defecation" is one clause, so if Grey poops on Ana she can probably sue him. Reassuring. Then Ana tells Grey that she is a virgin – information that leads to the decision quoted above. They have sex twice, for eleven pages. The next morning there's more sex in the bathtub and in the bedroom. Grey's mother unexpectedly comes to call and everyone has a pleasant chat.

Sex: One of the most difficult aspects, I find, of writing a love scene is the self-consciousness. Does this sound ridiculous? Are people going to think I'm some kind of pervert? What if it's published and nominated for a bad sex award? E.L. ignores all that doubt and simply goes for it, with an unguarded enthusiasm that is strangely winning - no holding back, no distance, no sudden cut to the next morning.

internet-memes-shades-of-what-nowBut is it erotic? How can I answer? A casual stroll around any porn shop (if that's where you like to take the morning air) will show you that we've all got our own specific triggers. This book appears to have got a large segment of the population all hot and bothered. Did it work for me? Well, honestly it's difficult to weather all that enthusiasm and not catch a little yourself. If someone sits next to you on the bus and starts talking about how much they love bananas, in repetitive and exhausting detail, you'll want them to go away. But let's face it: part of you will also want a banana.

Still, these weren't the bananas I would have chosen for myself. Besides the fact that the characters are irritating cartoons, the real stumbling block here is the writing...oh, boy. Just when the scene is building up a good head of steam, E.L. will let loose with another dippy cliché and derail the whole train. Ana's "blood flames", and later it "sings". Her lover's dink is referred to only as his "considerable length", her own genitalia is her "sex" (as in, "the entrance to my sex") or simply "down there"; her arse is invariably "my behind".  Grey's eyes "blaze", "burn", they are "scorching, molten grey", "heated", even "blistering". I'm waiting for them to melt and roll into Ana's lap, Fangoria style.

And...well, why don't I just show you:

" 'Aargh!' I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me..."

" 'Aargh!' I moan as my body convulses..."

"...and I come, loudly calling out a garbled version of his name into the mattress." ('Christian Grey – yubble-gabba-hoo!')

" 'I want you to become well acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favourite and most cherished part of my body.' "

"My thoughts and my stomach are in turmoil."

Yep. Me too.


Pages 150-200

Moving right along...

Story – Ana reads the contract Grey has left her, which is presented in the novel, complete and unabridged, over ten pages. Grey sends Ana a new Apple laptop so that she can research kinky sex on the internet and almost a full chapter and a whopping amount of page space is taken up displaying short emails between them - the addresses, subject lines, and closings are fully presented, so that a one-line email can take up a half a page. Ana angers Grey with a joking message. Consequently, he shows up in her room, ties her to the bedposts, and then there is more boinking. Ana commiserates with her roommate, who tells Ana that she has awfulcontract salesman signature pen 400 clr 6424 sex hair.

In a nutshell:

" [Clause] 5 Adherence to the above warranties, agreements, and undertaking (and any additional limits and safety procedures agreed under clause 3 above) are fundamental to this contract.  Any breach shall render it void with immediate effect and each party agrees to be fully responsible to the other for the consequence of any breach..."

For ten pages. I'm not kidding.


Pages 200-250

Oh, my God. I can't do this anymore. I must.

curious-valentine-heart-cartoon-holding-handcuffs-28325170The story: Ana and Grey email each other for a while, then go out to dinner and talk contract negotiations while eating sexy food. Ana get offended and leaves. Is this the end of Ana and Grey? Tears are shed. Ana sees Grey at her graduation ceremony where he is a featured speaker. In the happiness of the moment, she agrees to be his submissive, and goes home to more emails.

In fact we've got eleven pages of emails cluttering up these fifty pages, some of them very short.  'Thank you' reads one, and the reply, 'You're welcome', is also included, with full addresses and closings, and an awful lot of white space. Is this kind of filler really necessary in a five hundred page book?  And I'm at the halfway point in the erotic novel of our times and so far we've had 27 pages of sex and at least 26 pages of contract negotiations, including that contract, unabridged.

Sex: There's actually a pretty decent scene with a riding crop at the opening of Chapter 14. It turns out to be a dream sequence, but still – this whole thing could turn out to work on some level, which is reassuring. I'd like to think the whole world hasn't gone completely nuts.

But then you get...

'his eyes burn molten silver with compelling need'

'I close my eyes as my insides uncoil and melt.'

'My belly curls at the thought.'

(Ana's stomach really needs to be examined by a health care professional.)

"I'm panting already – my heated blood rushing through my veins, my nerves tingling."

"I didn't know I could dream sex. Was it something I ate?"

But it's all a bit less painful now that I've substituted a mental image of Jon Hamm in full Don Draper mode for E.L.'s rather perfunctory description of Grey. The role of Ana is of course being played by Cillian Murphy.


Fifty Shades...the end.

Pages 250-515

Here's where I officially failed the Fifty Shades challenge. I just couldn't keep up those detailed instalments. But, I did finish it. Five hundred and fifteen pages. 50-shades-of-stupid

It's not that it's terrible exactly. It's just so boring – the writing, the characters, the weight of it, like eating something huge and starchy  -  a brick of bargain-brand margarine, say - and not being allowed to throw it away. It made me sorry I'd ever written a love scene. It made me sorry I'd ever written anything. And trying to work on my novel the next day, I had to keep stopping. Everything on the screen sounded like Fifty Shades. Everything else I read sounded like Fifty Shades. Fifty Shades held sway over all.

But I feel I have to finish this. So here goes.

Story: Ana graduates from university, gets introduced to Grey's parents, visits her mom and goes gliding with Grey. And there's a lot of sex. I was wrong when I assumed the book was mostly going to be a few tame scenes scattered over hundreds of pages. When we hit the halfway point, these two hit their stride. There are at least eleven sex scenes, some lengthy, some quick, some involving straps and appliances. There is also a lot of talk of sex, and we finally get to the bondage element everyone's heard so much about. Grey spanks Ana and makes her unhappy – then later there's a more sexy spanking scene and we finish with Ana telling Grey that she wants to go to the dark side and give him what he really wants. He whacks her on the arse six times with something leather and she realises she's not the one who can heal his childhood pain. They separate and she is devastated. The end. Until the sequel.

Sex: As I said, a lot of it.  Some of it works and sometimes I felt a bit burdened and exhausted reading. The longer set pieces, especially in the bondage room, are more successful. The times when Grey can't control his desire and must have her, now, now!...get a bit tedious. If you want to skip the story and go right to the lovin', I can direct you to pages 262, 275, 318, 348, 365, 371, 428, 437, 478 and 487 to see Grey and Ana do it at her place, his place, a boating house, a bathtub, a shower, and the famous S &M playroom. Is it erotic? As I said, that's highly subjective.

But there's more going on here than badly executed boom-boom, and when I saw a twelve-year-old girl thumbing through a copy at the Dun Laoghaire market I had an urge to knock it out of her hands.

"What do I say?  Because I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy.  Because I can't touch you, because I'm too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse – beat me?  What can I say?"

"I want him to stay because he wants to stay with me, not because I'm a blubbering mess, and I don't want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable?"

This is the big love story of the decade? This?? Here is Ana two pages later.

"Once out of the car, Christian assesses me critically.  Oh no...what have I done now?"

This hurts. I've been there – not to Grey's playroom of course, but I do understand how being with a manipulative partner can whittle away at your confidence until one day it's gone. How many curious twelve-year-olds are going to be sneaking reads of Fifty Shades and concluding that this is what they can expect of sex and love?

And the usual boring repetitive writing.  Burning, blazing, heated, smouldering, glowing eyes. Mouths hanging open. Panting, clenching. Holy, double and just plain crap. It stopped being funny a hundred pages in. By the mid-way point it felt like punishment.

The excesses are not so amusing when it feels like there's no escape:

"Anticipation runs bubbling like soda through my veins."

"How can he make bacon and eggs sound like forbidden fruit?"

"...shouting his release through clenched teeth."  (Try it.)

valentine-s-day"I'm lost in a quagmire of sensation."

"Searing, green, bilious jealousy courses through me suddenly."

"Oh boy, I think my heart is going to jump out of my chest, and I'm melting from the inside out, desire coursing through me.  Could I be any more excited?"

"My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire."

And those arch filler emails continue, almost fifty pages of them from 250-515 alone, one concerning the codes to Grey's garage. Again, why do we need this much stuffing in a five hundred page book? Were E.L. James and Random House really so desperate to squeeze out a trilogy?

This book makes me sad. Before I read it, I actually liked the idea of a sexybook being at the top of the charts. I thought it was an encouraging sign that the culture might be opening up, ready to celebrate something that has the potential to be joyous and liberating - and if you play your cards right, free. Instead Fifty Shades makes sex seem like an eccentric hobby for the rich and excitable. And for all Ana's thrashing and squealing, does she ever experience a single moment of happiness? Imagine if the erotic blockbuster novel of our times was a book that actually liked sex. "Since she met you, she cries all the time," Ana's roommate admonishes Grey. Well, yes. I'll join you there, Ana.

But, I'll dry my tears. Because now for the first time on this site: it's a contest!

You'll recall earlier in this post that Grey tells Ana he wants her 'on first name terms' with his favourite body part, that 'considerable length'.  Yet the name Grey has picked out for it is never given.

So I'm putting it to you! Name Christian Grey's dong! Come on, people! The winner gets my used copy of Fifty Shades of Grey! Something good has to come of all this.

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