It’s a difficult task to describe E.L. James’ alternate-point-of-view Fifty Shades of Grey in a straightforward manner. After all, Grey tells the exact same story as Fifty Shades of Grey, but with Christian as the narrator. So that means Anastasia’s inner goddess is gone, as are all the “holy cow!”s. They have been replaced by an occasional “Hell.” Or “fuck.” Or “good girl.” Which is what Christian’s inner, um, Adonis, I guess, has to say for himself. Yet the major sex scenes are the same, except you know, with the perspectives reversed — and the lengthy email exchanges and contract negotiations are almost exactly the same. It’s a heady concoction of derivative trash, derivative porn, and self-plagiarism (just kidding, I swear!), which demands a review in seven parts, in several genres.
1. “Found poetry” composed entirely from Christian Grey’s self-admonitions:
Showtime, Grey. Focus, Grey Seize the day, Grey. Shut her down, Grey. Grey, you fucking fool.
2. A riddle worrth pondering.
If Fifty Shades of Grey is Twilight fan-fiction, and Grey is E.L. James re-writing her own story from another voice, then it’s fan-fiction about fan-fiction, or perhaps double-meta fan-fiction. So what does that make the inevitable slew of Grey-inspired fan-fiction?
3. Christian’s flashbacks are manipulative garbage.
Now, to get into the content. Many of the chapters in Grey begin with Christian’s dreams, his nightmares of childhood abuse, trauma, and “the crack whore” known as “mommy” who died when he was two, setting off his lifetime of control issues. These dreams, it should be noted, are all narrated by toddler Christian (“Me and my cars and my blankie… She is tired. Sometimes I cover her with my blankie”), and then segue into adult Christian ruminating on how he’d like to make Anastasia’s white rump turn pink with slap marks. Jeez.
Needless to say, these are the book’s worst, most disjointed, and most problematic sequences, contributing to James’ habit of equating BDSM with abuse-related issues. Also, there is absolutely nothing funny about child abuse and neglect, and yet E.L. James veers dangerously close to making us want to laugh at these very serious subjects.
A young, broken woman, the crack whore I called Mommy, starting into space while she sat in a drab, grimy room filled with stale air and dust motes. And him. I shudder. Don’t think about him… or her.
We also meet Christian’s therapist, Dr. Flynn, who seems like a decent guy, and tries to calm his patient down and get him to see how his trauma contributes to his, er, control and attachment issues. Which made me think: You know what a great next project would be for E.L. James? An entire book of Dr. Flynn’s therapy notes. Oh my God, would I love to read his dossier on this character. I wonder what his inner monologue would look like?
Mommy issues. Attachment issues. Intimacy issues. (What a jerk!)
4. A second, choice selection of quotes from Christian Grey’s inner and external monologues:
“Mmm, salty.” “The asshole in the mirror” “The louche fucker in the mirror” (I actually liked this line) “It’s a new feeling, new and shiny.” Good Girl. “That was one hell of a blowjob.” “My God, she’s a good fuck.” “No, Don’t touch me.” Good Girl. “This feels right. Too right.” Will she want to do this with me? Damn, I hope so. “My favorite jeans. DJs. Dom Jeans.” “As my equilibrium returns, I push away the strange smell of emotion that gnaws at my insides. It’s not like the darkness, but it’s something to fear. Something I don’t understand.” Good Girl. “It’s still novel… taking her feelings into account.” Baby, I have staff. Get over it. Christ, even my staff have noticed that something’s rotten in the state of fucking Denmark.
5. The non-sexy prose is nearly unendurable.
Your eager reviewer has happily consumed four Twilight novels, not to mention most of Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer’s Grey-like manuscript which retells Twilight from Edward’s point of view (basically, another thing E.L. James ripped off from Meyer, but that is another discussion). I have also enjoyed all 13 Sookie Stackhouse books, and tolerated, nay galloped across, the prose in each of them with no noticeable problem. Yet I could not swallow, nor endure, the prosaic paddling that E.L. James delivered in most of the intervals between her sex scenes. Yes, the office stuff and the plane-flying, the mysteries around Grey’s missing former submissive, and the mergers and acquisitions that padded out the novel were terribly, deadly, and awfully boring, so much so that they demanded, begged, pleaded, to be flogged into trimmer shape. Or just skimmed.
Get it together, Grey.
6. But how were the sex scenes?
As for the sex scenes, they were probably “hotter” in the traditional sense than the original novel, because there were no “holy cow” interjections of any sort. They read, to be frank, more like straight-up porn. But that also took most of the fun and weirdness away from the narrative. Anastasia’s everywoman idiocy combined with her initiation into light BDSM was part of Fifty Shades of Grey‘s perverse magic. That’s simply excised from the narrative. Instead, we get Christian crowing about his endless “sensual assaults” on “this beautiful woman.” It left me longing for a good, old-fashioned jeez. Or even a holy moly.
7. Christian Grey has been pegged. But not by Anastasia.
He tells this to Anastasia early on in their abortive contract negotiations. The pegger was Mrs. Robinson, or Elena Lincoln, the older woman who introduced him into “the lifestyle,” “and her large rubber strap-on.”
Maybe we knew this from the original book, but pegging wasn’t as much of a thing then? Anyway, this was basically the only breaking news I could discern from the entire novel. But it’s pretty exciting news. Let us all rejoice.