EL JAMES – Fifty Shades Darker
“… I don’t know if it’s the momentary distraction of his perfect looks or the knowledge that he loves me, but his threat no longer fills me with dread. This is my Fifty Shades; this is the way he is.”
I must start by saying, I never intended on writing a review on the Fifty Shades series. I was only going to devote my time to serious and literary pursuits, honourable mentions and worthy endeavours…
I had read the first book in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, some years back… yes, it was addictive reading. And with the latest movie version hitting the big screens, I got that familiar itch again…
That Christian Grey itch.
Ok so I am messing with you. But what I want to explore here in my review of the ‘middle’ book, the second in the Grey series, is… what makes it such a world-wide success, a phenomenon with women from all corners of the earth? Why is it such a page-turner? How does it have the female sex swooning and wishing for their own Christian Grey lover? And simultaneously, why do so many people slam the book, calling it filth and rubbish, a poorly written novel, as well as all other manner of negative things?
“He breaks off the kiss, panting. His eyes are luminous with desire, firing the already heated blood that is pounding through my body. My mouth is slack as I try to drag precious air into my lungs.
‘You. Are. Mine,’ he snarls, emphasizing each word. He pushes away from me and bends, hands on his knees as if he’s run a marathon. ‘For the love of God, Ana.’”
And so there it is, page 27 into the book, and already we have a passionate and sexually-charged scene.
And they come a plenty. Them, and the scenes (ok I will stop now).
So, why does Fifty Shades work so well? It taps into the forbidden and hidden female fantasy AND insecurity, that an amazingly wealthy, sexy, enigmatic, striking and passionate man will fall in love with old average us, and want to give it to us every day in ALL MANNER OF WAYS.
It is formulaic in its approach. It works, so why not go there?
Step 1: Create the perfect man. Make him rich, unbelievably so, and so powerful as to be able to make things happen at the drop of a hat – tell his right-side man to get it done, or pick up the phone and !bing! things happen.
(Make him fierce, fit, healthy, and competent, to the point where he can fly a small aircraft, navigate a boat, know how to hang-glide – basically a superbly accomplished man in ALL endeavours).
Step 2: And this incredibly gifted, sexy and superior man, is WILD… for YOU.
You. The average girl, the every day woman, who captures the attentions of this fantastical man… and suddenly he cannot live without you. He must have YOU at all costs, despite your differing backgrounds and lifestyles.
He can’t get enough of you. Something about you, sends him, insane. It’s hot, it’s fiery, it’s wild…
…And then you find out he has a sexual fetish, diplomatically speaking. This fetish is actually not just a fetish, but a way of life for him, and it is BDSM – and we are talking bondage, whips, dominant and submissive relationships, contracts, and sadomasochistic sexual activities.
That’s a lot to take on for a virgin.
But she wants him, and he is insatiated by her… sound familiar?
Well, that’s because it is. The Fifty Shades series started out as Twilight fan fiction. EL James felt unsatisfied with Edward and Bella’s lack of intimate portrayal in the Twilight series, especially as it was so much a focal point and intensity-building structure of much of the books, that she created her own universe where the similar lead characters got it on… A LOT.
Dark and Brooding? Edward and Christian.
Shy and insecure, unable to see their own beauty? Bella and Ana. What do you know, both girls names even sound the same.
The impressive and perfect man with a dark past, and the innocent, average girl-next-door type, who gets swept up in it all and hypnotised by the arrival of a mysterious man, falling hopelessly in love with him and trying to make him a better man, is a well-done formula. It works, because it feeds on fantasy and insecurity. Fantasy in the perfect male archetype, one that feeds both the physical and sexual fantasy, and insecurity in that it taps into that inner voice within us that identifies with not feeling good enough, not feeling pretty enough, not feeling, ENOUGH.
“Do you have any idea how exquisite your scent is, Ana? It’s irresistible.”
In Twilight it was Edward being a 100 year-old vampire who drank the blood of animals, yet went insane when he was near Bella. In the Fifty Shades series, it is a sex-maniacal BDSM player who gains pleasure from inflicting pain on his submissives. And of course, she is a virgin at the onset, who happens to experience her first mind-blowing orgasm with him, so of course she will hang around. She doesn’t know any better, does she?
And there my friends, we have PLOT. That is the crunch, STEP 3.
Christian’s fetish, can hurt Ana. And that is where the fine balance between pleasure and fear, implemented by author, comes in. As readers, we have to want Christian, not fear him… but for the sake of mystery and the unknown and danger, a little fear is also necessary for the excitement factor.
Insert – a dark past. He was abused as a child and so this is why he does what he does. Even though in the first book he makes a contract with Ana about the BDSM rules of their relationship, the dos and don’ts and hard limits, his image is made softer to us in other ways: although domineering and bossy, he is concerned about Ana’s diet, constantly ensuring she eats. He organises birth control precautions and makes her take the pill so as not to fall pregnant. He tells her “Dry your hair… I don’t want you sick,” after she comes out of the shower. It’s not a request though. He holds the door open for her, and instructs her where and when they will eat. He takes charge, in many ways, and although frustrating for our leading lady, it’s a part of him she has to learn to adjust and mould to, just as every new romantic partnership is a testing and experimental stage. Christian even instructs his security hang out at her workplace, as well as take her to and from work, when there is a perceived threat against them.
He is a protector, supremely concerned about her welfare and well-being, and herein lies another fantasy – man as archetypal guardian. The bodyguard to shield you from the nasties of the world and keep you safe from danger. A prince charming, as it were.
A sadomasochistic one, but same same for our Ana.
And if that were not enough, and the BDSM is just too intense to handle, rest-assured this multi-millionaire CEO did not get to the top by swindling money and thinking only of the top dollar – though he admits to Ana at one point that he makes roughly one hundred thousand dollars AN HOUR – his work also involves him in charitable endeavours where he is passionate about educating and bringing much needed help and assistance to those less fortunate, with him not profiting from it in the slightest.
It has bad boy written all over it. The good girl turns the bad boy, well, good, or at least tries to, but we all know a good portion of bad boy remains inside. Isn’t that what excites us? The challenge, followed by the knowledge that we have succeeded in holding most of him down. The important bits anyway…
As readers we all feel as if we are that ordinary girl because at some stage we have ALL felt that way looking at someone – whether it was that hot guy at school, the boy next-door, your older brother’s spunky friend, or that office colleague you keep grinning bashfully at, we have all felt inadequate and quite ordinary in comparison to the object of our affections.
Ana and Christian both are insecure in themselves, and it is this setback that has them going to and fro throughout the book. In Fifty Shades Darker, the contract is gone. Christian has discovered there is no way he can live without Ana, and following on her walking out on him in the ‘playroom’ at the end of the first book, he discovered there is one thing more important to him than inflicting pain… and that is, Ana.
Does the sexual role-play border on violence? In the first book Christian does enjoy inflicting pain upon her, and we still swoon because she is the first who is making him feel more than just that sensation down below… he is feeling something in his chest, and no matter how hard he tries he can’t deny it. It is a very open and clear-cut contract, where the rules and limitations are listed early on. Ana is a willing participant, as were the other submissives before her, so… No. Yes, it is extreme, yes it is a niche activity, but as long as the two parties are in agreeance and willing, there isn’t an issue.
So becomes the challenge of this book. Ana worries she and her vanilla ways are not enough for Christian, whereas he says she is enough, and worries that he is unlovable, a ‘husk of a man.’ He has his own issues which led him to the sordid life he’s on, and together they face off, arguing, bouncing back against one another, coming together again, thrown apart by issues from his past, and then merging again as one.
It became frustrating reading about Ana’s insecurities in relation to Christian, as despite all of his assurances he wanted her and didn’t care for anything or anyone from his past, her uncertain thoughts still led her astray, to doubt, to constantly question, and she appeared to be shocked and baffled anytime he said he wanted her or loved her.
“’We leave. I believe you have certain expectations, Miss Steele. Which I intend to fulfil to the best of my ability.’”
‘The best … of your a… bil… ity?’ I stutter. Holy shit.
He grins and stands.”
Ana, he has been doing you every which way since the onset, don’t be surprised by that. Geez.
Her naivety means she is constantly surprised by everything. His bank account. How much he earns. The formal thousand-dollar dresses he fills her wardrobe with. She opens her own account and finds tens of thousands of dollars in there, and the ability he has to tap into emails and see what is going on, borders on stalking. Let’s just say that if this were a woman hell-bent on her freedom, this stuff wouldn’t go down too well.
Ana doesn’t care for his money, which is one of the reasons he loves her, and also a reason why we like our protagonist. Think of this too: she is unaware of her inner beauty, even to the detrimental and unhealthy thought of thinking
“If he wasn’t so… broken, would he want me?”
A really serious thought within a book that doesn’t provide a lot of realistic experiences. It’s a thought that is explored, and shows just how similar Ana and Christian are in their insecurities, despite their wide varying backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyle.
And if Ana were aware of her beauty, and knew she was worth it, and beautiful… would us as women readers still LIKE her? Food for thought.
Some of the lines are laughable and cringe-worthy. Ohhhh the list! Here are some beauties:
“’I like to come as I please,’ He smirks and cranks his glorious smile up another notch so it’s in full HD IMAX.”
Also: “‘You look good,’ Christian purrs from the bed. ‘You can call in sick, you know.’ He gives me his devastating, lopsided, 150 per-cent panty-busting smile. Oh, he’s so tempting. My inner goddess pouts provocatively at me.”
Panty-busting, I actually have to LAUGH OUT LOUD. Other notable mentions come from continuous use of words like “murmur;” the term “kinky-fuckery” (Which made me go what the?…) regarding all of his off-the-beaten track sexual pursuits and needs; his signature “Later’s baby” made me screw up my face in ‘WHY?’ How does a CEO say such a flimsy and dumbed-down empty goodbye?; and the other term, where Ana refers to her female glory as her “sex”…We are already being so forthright and upfront in practically everything, with even the sex scenes broken down and explained in every little detail…
“Grabbing the hem of his T-shirt, I tug and he helps me pull it off over his head. Kneeling between my legs, he hastily pulls me upright and drags my T-shirt off.”
…So why then do we need to be shy about the female anatomy? Does it sound better? Less clinical? Is that the best word? Are all erotic reads like this?
And the clincher “hotline to my groin.” I LOLed all the way home.
While trying to appear hot and heavy I am sure, the passion between them at times palpable, so too are they laughable in their attempt to be taken seriously. My favourite example which I cannot keep a straight face for, when Ana and Christian are in her kitchen and he cannot cook (the ONLY thing he is miserable at):
“I watch him, enthralled as slowly, like the predator he is, he stalks me in time to the slow sultry beat of the music. He’s barefoot, wearing just an untucked white shirt, jeans, and a smoldering look.”
But I DO give James credit for the small amount of realism she displayed in moments where we were reminded that Ana was, initially a virgin before she met Mr Grey.
“Moments later, he’s slamming into me. ‘Aagh! Gently,’ I cry.”
I particularly, for no other reason than WHY? did not like the references Ana constantly made to her ‘inner goddess’ and ‘subconscious,’ her own personal angel and devil mini me’s, where the inner goddess would revel in the attention and sexual desire bestowed upon her by Christian, whereas the subconscious was constantly doubting, criticising, or downplaying any positive event that transpired between the couple.
“My inner goddess is draped in a pink feather boa and diamonds, strutting her stuff in fuck-me shoes.”
“My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication, begging me.”
“This is Christian we’re dealing with. My snarky subconscious is back, hatchet-mouthed, cardigan on, and purse in the crook of her arm.”
“Marry the gazillionaire, Ana! My subconscious has her snarky face on. I ignore her – rapacious bitch.”
I questioned that for someone as lovely as Ana, how she could have an inner voice, a subconscious as she says, who could be so rude, mean and bitchy. But is this just showing us the many sides to a person’s personality, and even, the darkest, disbelieving, and ambivalent side that exists within all of us?
Fifty Shades Darker, like its part protagonist and sometimes antagonist Christian Grey, also shows us many shades of storytelling. The writing itself is simple, yet done so well that often I couldn’t put down the book at the end of the chapter, for a sudden cliffhanger emerging. It works towards the fantasy formula for females, therefore insuring that they will keep reading, and want to keep reading, as their inner-most desires are played out before their eyes and in their minds.
It is a highly unrealistic tale. Here is a powerful and rich man who can do whatever he pleases, and since he wants Ana and no one else, she is the supreme benefactor of this. She is exposed to the high-life of luxury and comfort, and doesn’t even have to work, if she weren’t so determined to keep doing it. Even the journey itself is highly idealistic. Sure it is the first proper relationship for either of them, but what they do during the majority of it is just various positions of sex merged in with occasional fights regarding highly stressful and extraordinary circumstances concerning Grey’s past life and current motivations. The fact that they are even able to commit to each other so quickly considering all of this, just proves how unlikely this scenario is. But, it is fantasy: where the woman gets all her greatest wishes and desires tended to from her first and only lover. He dotes on her and gives her the world, and well, when the sex is mind-blowing, you can kind of see why she sticks around despite the graveyard of skeletons in his closet.
It is not the fame or the sex that make it unrealistic though – both great sex, and wealthy men, are a real thing. What isn’t real is the context the two characters are placed in, and how their relationship proceeds because of it. Having said that, it IS fantasy – it is meant to be an escape from reality, and therefore the series performs its erotic role to the highest grade. The book delivers, and isn’t that what books are all about? No matter what the naysayers say, James has created a series that has catered for and made curious a large majority of women… as a writer, isn’t that what you want? To reach out and affect people through your stories?
Miss Steele and Mr Grey’s exploits continue in the 3rd instalment of the series called Fifty Shades Freed, and I for one look forward to seeing how their relationship might mature. As Ana would say –
“…my inner goddess is incandescent with anticipation. Jeez, she could light up Seattle.”
Oh, hang on…
Steele, Grey… oh James, please stop. Stop with your synonyms, I just can’t!
Please let me know your thoughts on Fifty Shades Darker in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you. 🙂