50 Shades of Grey, E. L. James; Chapter One
So, an introductory first chapter? We meet Anastasia Steele, she of the stereotypically bad-romance moniker, a college student who needlessly recounts a billion tiny little details in her opening scene.
She’s filling in for her friend Kate, who is allegedly a journalism student (I will explain later why I use the term “allegedly” in a moment) who has come down with a fluey thing and who is, for some reason, interviewing some dude for the student newspaper. Anastacia has no interest in the paper and is studying English Lit (and I wonder if she likes Jane Austen ala Bella Swann because several paragraphs in it’s painfully aware that she shares other traits of the Twilight antiheroine) and helping out a friend whom she seems to have a hell of a lot of resentment towards. Ana (and sheesh, I’m seriously over her name already: I’ve seen too many Mary Sue self-inserts in fanfiction who’ve been called “Ana,” not to mention fucked up pro-anorexia kids personifying their disordered eating with that name) has, like Bella Swann, crippling self-doubt. She hates her hair: it is brown and untamable. She hates her eyes: they’re huge and blue. And she’s pale, and I’m sure there’s going to be a complaint about that, which probably won’t be about anything practical like being at a higher risk of skin cancer. Ana’s whinging at the start of the chapter had me feeling doubtful about finishing the chapter and hoping that Grey might at least have some redeeming factors.
Anyway, for reasons unknown, (really, it’s never indicated WHY it is SO IMPORTANT that Grey be interviewed for the student newspaper) she goes to interview Grey. Grey has a big important-looking, expensive-looking office. Grey has a lot of blonde secretarial people, and as even Ana notes, possibly some discriminatory hiring policies. But they’re just inconsequential background characters for her to dislike on account of their blondeness, so who really gives a shit, right?
Bella, I mean, Ana, stumbles through the door because clumsiness is the new black in writing heroines. By this stage, I’m bored, and already thinking about the dozens of far better written and way more interesting pieces of Phoenix Wright fanfiction I’ve read with a similar dynamic to the Grey-Steele one which I’m eagerly (or not) awaiting. But I persevere.
It seems that Grey is aloof and apparently a private man, though he likes being deliberately wanky and dropping seemingly deep, cryptic statements about his intense privacy and his need to control and own things. Foreshadowing much? Nah, not at all. The suspense—I mean, the lack of—is killing me.
For the Phoenix Wright fans, Christian Grey is Kristoph Gavin, only more stupid, more arrogant, and more captain obvious in his creepiness, and a hell of a lot more boring than the “Coolest Defense in the West.” Ana is completely mesmerised by him and this creepiness. The interview sails along awkwardly, with an awkwardness which could have been prevented easily if Ana had done the one thing she’s presumably capable of, given her education: she could have read the damn interview questions. But nope: and her good friend, Kate the Journalism student, who doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the top of her game, has peppered the damn thing with hideously awkward questions: “So, you’re adopted, huh? How does that affect your business?” No, I’m not joking. (Am awaiting the subplot where Kate has a huge crying fit about how she’s failing her degree, because let’s face it, even when she’s doing it through a proxy, she’s a crap journallist. Then again, she could always come to Australia and write for the Herald-Sun and no one would care.)
These come after the guy’s revealed that he is both a financial backer of Ana’s university and that he’s intensely private. Nice going, Ana.
Then we get this: “Are you gay?”
Yeah: an interview with an intensely private man who is a financial contributor to your university, and you ask him that in an interview for the student newspaper. My disbelief just ain’t suspended. I’m actually laughing at this point because even a dippy Arts student isn’t going to be that dumb… right?
And no, apparently Mr. Grey isn’t gay. Perhaps this whole mess was included so the reader understood that from the get-go.
And, yanno, despite Ana being so painfully annoying, and so thoroughly stupid, and in spite of Grey’s pretty office and alleged philanthropy, he’s kind of a jerk. Already. He gives off that vibe of those creepy dudes who hang around goth clubs trying to convince girls half their age to be “their” submissives, who think the world revolves around them and who speak with airs which are meant to sound intelligent but just make them sound like they’ve stepped off the set of some sort of horrible mashup between obscure indie cinema and a Kenneth Branagh period drama. Buddy, you ain’t convincing anyone. You over compensate for your low self-esteem/small penis/miserable childhood/dead sibling by being insanely wealthy and a completely ruthless prick who can’t get close to anyone. YAWWWWWN. Scratch the surface a bit hard and you’re a helpless little boy who needs to be shown how to love. Or something. And annoyingly, he won’t just answer the questions and go back to work: he actually cancels his next (presumably more important) business meeting to continue this awkwardness with Ana.
I’m 17 pages or so in. By this point I’m having flashbacks to the umpteen gazillion times I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and got bored. And Atlas Shrugged is full of hardly-even-concealed right-wing capitalist propaganda and two-dimensional characters and Ayn Rand Mary Sues. And I lasted WAY longer before putting it down and going, “Yanno, I can’t do this.” But this is already that painful. And boring.
And then we get Mr. Grey doing a complete turnaround and asking Kate a few questions about why she’s here. Which, IMHO, is perfectly understandable since she’s asked him about personal stuff, and which I’m hoping is all about making her feel appreciated so she can leave smiling.
Nope: she’s resentful. She’s acting like he’s used some sort of mad headfuckery skills on her and he’s got Jedi mind control powers. Instead of doing that smile-and-lie stuff you do in job interviews, where you try to retain some sense of dignity, Kate blurts out everything like a gabbling mess, and my mind is made up: she’s pathetic, and he’s an arsehole. It’s a match made in heaven.
(Once again, I find myself thinking about just fucking off and finding some good fanfiction, because I’ve seriously seen better written and more engaging—and more sympathetic teenaged!Apollo Justice flustering a bit whilst still trying to hold his own against a Kristoph Gavin who is actually putting some effort into headfucking the poor kid.)
And this is the point where I go “What the everloving fuck, E. L. James?” and start hoping that the sex scenes make up for this, even if it’s just in the unintentional comedy department. Because that was painful in the kind of way that would piss off even the most dedicated masochist.
On the upside, I suppose I can at least rest assured that a) teenage girls aren’t going to be buying into this shit and saying it’s the Best Thing Ever, and b) no one’s going to expect high school students to read this. Let’s be thankful for small mercies, people.
On the other side, I have this sinking, horrible feeling like I did when I read The Da Vinci Code that if this is what makes a writer and a best seller, I am doomed forever.