Is EL James’s New Novel ‘Grey’ An ‘American Psycho’?
Do you like spending time with sexist, misogynist and emotionally-retarded stalkers and/or psychopaths? Nup, me either, which is why EL James’s Grey – which hit book shops on June 18 – reads more like a sex offender’s diary, or a crazed maniac stalking his prey ala American Psycho, than an alleged erotic novel.
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I don’t like it; in fact I loathe it more than the original Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which is saying something. To be honest, I was initially intrigued to read it for this review, because I found EL James’s writing so fascinatingly bad in the trilogy, I wanted to see if she’d perfected her craft or finally got herself a decent book editor. Incidentally, Grey is the original blockbuster rehashed “through the eyes of Christian Grey”. Vomit.
And the answer to the above is a big, resounding no. For me, EL James’s ridiculous, runaway success with Fifty Shades of Grey is due to her capturing a zeitgeist – the public’s insatiable appetite for erotica, BDSM fantasy and/or escapism, soft-porn – rather than any actual real writing ability on her part. Grey, like Fifty Shades of Grey, is clumsy, repetitive, extremely unpalatable and irritating at best. In fact, it’s the antithesis of sexually arousing literature, if you ask me. I don’t mind reading trash, but it had better be good trash.
Just one example of EL James’ many writing fails: On pages 5 and 6, there are no less than three references to the fact that Miss Anastasia Steele does, in fact, have brown hair. What the actual fuck? Did no one go through this thing with a red pen (if even a virtual one)? And who the hell cares so much about the heroine’s godforsaken hair? Is it central to the plot? Why didn’t anyone rein the author (pictured) in?!
Then there’s all the millions (okay, maybe not that many) of Christian’s creepy, salivating, first-person, maladroit references to the fact that Ana, as she prefers to be known, is “very young.” It’s just pure bad taste, a lot of it – if you thought Christian was plain unlikable in Fifty Shades, you should read Grey! EL James must have a very dim view of men and their base natures, as Christian seemingly rarely has a thought that’s not sexual, demeaning to women and/or punctuated by “cock” or “fuck” or “baby.” He’s akin to a damaged, emotionally-retarded fuckwit with all the maturity of a school boy.
And, hilariously, in Grey, Christian makes multiple references to his therapist – the poor soul clearly isn’t doing a very good job with this client!? He’s such an offensive, nasty and distasteful character, the book is intensely cringe-worthy reading from page 1. I did my best, dear reader, to devour the book in a few days for this feature, but I made it to page 33 and I just can’t go on, sorry. It’s killing me! I can’t even be bothered skipping to the sex scenes because I care so little about such a repulsive male protagonist.
What was EL James thinking?! Did we really need a novel seen from the eyes of Christian and his penis? Surely, for many women, Grey diminishes a lot of Fifty Shades’ narrow charm and appeal, as seen through the eyes of an awkward virgin who falls in love for the first time? While Fifty Shades may have reminded us of the harrowing angst and discomfort of first love, Grey takes us to an ugly, dark place I certainly don’t care to revisit in the limited time I have to read as a busy working mum of two toddlers.
And the fact that US fans queued around the block for the release of this sadistic, nasty, little novel hurts my head. Surely they were bitterly disappointed upon reading it? Interestingly, Grey was already heavily discounted on sale at MYER, where I bought it, on the day of its release. Is this a clever marketing ploy to sell truckloads of books, and/or are they expecting it to be a sales disaster? Did it set even one woman’s pulse racing? I wonder.
Then there’s the book’s aforementioned sinister subject matter to consider. Is this something young women are reading and aspiring to – relationships with violent, damaged emotionally-challenged fuckwits with stalker tendencies? Some media commentators have even accused EL James of glorifying domestic violence with Grey; they say it gives far too much credence and sexed-up appeal to the soul-sucking, often life-ending reality of the cruel, dangerous and self-esteem-sapping emotional, sexual and physical violence many women are subjected to these days.
Celebrated Brisbane erotica author Krissy Kneen (pictured), who’s no fan of either Fifty Shades or its recent film adaptation starring beautiful, young Dakota Johnson and Irish hottie Jamie Dornan, is equally despairing of Grey. Krissy, who’s arguably Australia’s most accomplished sex writer, released her new erotic adventure The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine, published by Text Publishing, on April 22.
And, like me, Krissy abhors EL James’s clumsy writing and struggled to find any joy and/or appeal in Grey. To be fair, I did ask for her thoughts on the book when she was only nine pages into reading it. So, why does the author think Grey is such an awkward, uninteresting mess – indeed, not even a hot mess?
“Well, at only nine pages, I have underlined a clunking moment of telling not showing: ‘I hate the unexpected’. Right – well if you hate it, show it through action not just by telling us,” Krissy says. “Also, it seems Anastasia and Christian have eye-rolling in common. She so often rolls her eyes and he says: ‘I resist rolling my eyes’ on page 5.
“I’m so bored by page 9, I am so tempted to skip forward to the sex, but I will resist just as Christian is resisting sexualising Anastasia on page 7 because she is ‘too young’. At least there will not be any ‘inner goddesses’ in this [as per Fifty Shades] – I hope not.
“So far, it seems to be of a similar quality [to Fifty Shades]. I am really irritated by the asides in italics. I am just glad we don’t have any ‘holy hells’ or ‘inner goddesses dancing’. I will be interested to see how she handles the sex from a male perspective. I can’t see how it won’t become very ‘rapey’ in her hands. I did hate how we started with a flashback to Grey as a damaged child. I can tell where this is going and I am uneasy already.”
Do you mean EL James is trying to garner sympathy for Christian’s controlling and sadistic tendencies and emotional fuckwittage, I ask?
“I mean yet again angering the S&M community who are not ‘damaged’ people,” counters the author, “Those sexual practices have little to do with damage as a child.”
What do you think? Is Grey a stinking pile of shit or a masterpiece?
Images via Vanity Fair, 680news.com, Fox News
Nicole is a Queensland-based writer and bona fide word nerd whose first love (apart from heels) is feature writing. Follow Nicole on Twitter.