Bella Squared

When we last left our heroine she was supine in the strong arms of our hero, in the kind of clinch that usually means you’re on the cover of a bad romance. Yes, it’s all gone a bit gaga ooh-la-la, and surely this finally means that something sexy this way comes?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, but like I said last chapter, this is the dirty book that cites Twinings when talking about teabagging. The heroine almost got knocked over by a deadly rogue cyclist, for God’s sake. Even the drama is pedestrian. I don’t hold out great hopes for the fucky stuff.

So. Spoilers ahead – he doesn’t kiss her. I can tell you’re all fascinated.

“Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you,” he whispers.

He used to be a vampire, you see. He’s better now – this fanfic cured him, although frankly his O-Neg habit was the least of all the things wrong with Edward Cullen.

Adrenaline has spiked through my body, from the near miss with the cyclist or the heady proximity to Christian, leaving me wired and weak. NO! My psyche screams as he pulls away, leaving me bereft. He has his hands on my shoulders, holding me at arm’s length, watching my reactions carefully. And the only thing I can think of is that I wanted to be kissed, made it pretty damn obvious, and he didn’t do it.

He doesn’t want me. He really doesn’t want me.

I can’t think why. You’re clearly a catch, what with your screaming psyche and strange inability to say the words ‘kiss’ and ‘me’.

Ana has a lot of problems. Her biggest problem is that she is a fictional character written by one of the laziest authors to ever nod off on a space bar. Her other big problem is that she’s Bella from Twilight, and Bella was awful.

Remember Bella? Remember how she hated the rain and hated the snow and hated her truck and hated boys paying attention to her and hated when they didn’t pay attention to her and hated making small talk with those trivial girls at school and hated being in love with Edward and hated not being in love with Edward and hated parties and hated presents and hated…

Yeah. Good times.

Bella Swann, a girl with all the charm of a sucking chest wound. Bella Swann is what would happen if you somehow managed to genesplice Eeyore with a black hole. Even if the glass had margarita sugar, jauntily placed slices of lime and sparklers, you could still count on Bella to point out that it was half empty.

There was a moment in one of the Twilight books, I don’t know which one, but I imagine it as the page that launched a million spit takes. (I think it might have been New Moon, actually, a sequel that would have been better titled The Whine Dark Sea, as a homage to the heroine’s new hobby of passive-aggressive cliff-diving.) It’s the line where Charlie says something to the effect that, for a teenager, Bella is remarkably ‘non-whiny’.

This was, of course, hilarious. Non-whiny? I know Charlie Swann wasn’t supposed to be an attentive parent as such, but you could hardly miss the fact that your daughter was such a Queen-Hell bummer that she could empty a room simply by being in it.

Except she couldn’t, could she? For some reason unknown to the reader, people liked being around Bella.

This is why Show Don’t Tell exists.

The trouble with Bella, and by extension Anastasia, is that the writer shows us one thing and tells us something completely different. It’s not enough to tell us that your character is ‘non-whiny’ – you have to show her being non-whiny, in the interests of consistency if nothing else.

It’s really that simple. Imagine if Margaret Mitchell had written Gone With The Wind just as it is but inserted lines about Scarlett’s selfless modesty and generosity of spirit. Imagine if Emily Bronte had insisted on telling us that, when he wasn’t hanging puppies and fucking with Isabella’s head, Heathcliff was actually a super nice person with a penchant for windowbox gardening.

Fifty Shades of Grey is full of such clumsy telling. Everyone in this book loves Ana. At one point even a passing gynecologist pauses to tell Christian how amazingly special and beautiful she is. I have no idea how a gynecologist can tell this from a quick gander at her cervix, but the pussy doctor knows. Oh, she knows. Because Ana is just that special.

This constant adoration makes no sense, because Ana has done nothing or said nothing to indicate why she is so desirable, so fascinating. In fact everything she has said or done thus far seems to indicate she’s a clinically depressed bore with no self-esteem and no conversation.

Christian has not kissed her. This has left her bereft, distraught, full of adrenaline and wildly melodramatic. She wanders off into the parking garage, finds a cosy spot on the concrete, curls up in a foetal position and sobs. Really. Because that’s how normal, well adjusted people cope with rejection.

Look at this. Just look at it.

Placing my head on my knees, I let the irrational tears fall unrestrained. I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.

Jesus. It’s like Bella Swann was bitten by a radioactive mall-goth. She didn’t ask him to kiss her, or make a move indicating she wanted to be kissed. She lay back in his manly arms and stared at him, hoping he’d figure it out. Since he’s not telepathic (He used to be, but he could never read her white-noise thoughts anyway.) he didn’t take the hint and kiss her and her reaction is to go foetal in a car park and raid Roget’s for synonyms for ‘sad’.

Romantically, though, I’ve never put myself out there, ever. A lifetime of insecurity – I’m too pale, too skinny, too scruffy, too uncoordinated, my long lists of faults goes on.

Nobody’s ever made a career out of being a skinny, scruffy white girl. Really. They’re just not a desirable type. It’s not like they pose pigeon-toed in every single fashion magazine on the planet or anything.

So I have always been the one to rebuff any would be-admirers. There was that guy in my chemistry class who liked me, but no one has ever sparked my interest – no one except Christian damn Grey. Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and Jose Rodriguez, although I’m sure neither of them has been found sobbing alone in dark places.

I mean, seriously. Couldn’t you just chunder? Can we take this ‘I’m so ugly even though I’m really pretty’ trope outside and beat it to death already? It’s a deliberate inconsistency between Show and Tell – the heroine tells us she’s a total mirror buster while the author shows us she’s not, by way of the stack of prostrate suitors moaning on her doorstep. I think it’s one of those devices meant to demonstrate the heroine’s modesty, back in the days when any woman who felt remotely good about her appearance was clearly a shallow whore who needed a spell in the stocks to cure her of the besetting sin of Pride.

However, it’s kind of 2012. Maybe it’s about time we women were allowed to like ourselves. Just a little bit. It’s not like we don’t have a million other reasons for self-loathing. You know – because we’re worth it.

Eesh. Onward.

So, Sadsack McMiseryguts scrapes her lachrymose self up off the concrete and goes home to whine to Kate about how a billionaire didn’t slip her the tongue on the first date. It’s a hard life.

“You’ve been crying,” she has an exceptional gift for stating the damned obvious sometimes.

Sorry. Excuse me a second, but where the fuck was the line editor here? The use of a comma after dialogue indicates that a dialogue tag is coming. Even in this book, swarming as it is with bizarre dialogue tags, this separate sentence cannot perform the duty of a dialogue tag. Full stop, close quotation marks, capital letter.

This is fucking basic.

If I seem more testy than usual it’s because I’ve spent several weeks going through text with a fine-toothed comb, seeking rogue commas, unlikely em-dashes and misplaced quotation marks. Good proof reading gives a book polish and sparkle, and conveys the impression – however mistaken in some cases – that the author knows the English language from her own arsehole. Proof readers work extremely hard doing a largely thankless job and it absolutely boils my piss that while the publisher is making silly money from this dog of a book, somebody was still cheap or lazy enough to send it out into the world in this sorry, shoddy condition.

Excuse me ranting, but I really had to get that off my chest. It’s just disrespectful, to the readers and the industry in general. I know you can’t polish a turd but if you must try then at least roll that fucker in glitter and spray some Febreze about the place.

Anyway – Ana has another little moanette about how this gorgeous, godlike squillionaire Adonis is totally out of her shy, scruffy, delicate-boned, fine complexioned, large-eyed league and we all die a little more inside.

Kate he’s- ” I shrug.

“Ana! For heaven’s sake – how many times must I tell you? You’re a total babe,” she interrupts me. Oh no. She’s off on this tirade again.

“Kate, please. I need to study.” I cut her short. She frowns.

“Do you want to see the article? It’s finished. Jose took some great pictures.”

Do I need a visual reminder of the beautiful Christian I-don’t-want-you Grey?

“Sure,” I magic a smile on to my face and stroll over to the laptop. And there he is, staring at me in black and white, staring at me and finding me lacking.

Our heroine, ladies and gentleman. Not only can she not take a compliment, she’s so thin-skinned and self-loathing that she thinks a photograph is judging her. Is it just me, or is this girl exhausting?

I pretend to read the article, all the time meeting his steady gray gaze, searching the photo for some clue as to why he’s not the man for me – his own words to me. And it’s suddenly, blindingly obvious. He’s too gloriously good looking. We are poles apart and from very different worlds. I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result.

I’m sorry, but I’m supposed to believe an English student wrote this? Someone on nodding terms with the likes of D.H. Lawrence, George Eliot and all three Brontes guffed out this perfect shitstorm of cliches? Poles apart? Different worlds? Fucking Icarus?

You would think somebody so supposedly well read would have more of a gift for language, wouldn’t you? You would think they’d season their speech with quotations and paraphrases, be prone to puns or character references. I’m not exactly convinced by this English Literature student who speaks in cliches and makes no reference to literary works beyond the occasional author namedrop. In fact I’d been surprised to learn she’d ever even read a book, since Ana doesn’t write like someone who reads. Someone who reads would know how to punctuate.

But never you mind, my lovelies. It doesn’t matter, you see. It doesn’t matter that our literary-minded heroine’s deathless prose is actually nothing more than word salad with comma croutons. We can fix the whole thing simply by smacking the reader over the head with a book and insisting loudly that Ana has totally read it. Yuh huh. Because she has. Totally.

The book in question is Tess Of The D’Urbervilles. Christian has a first edition sent to her apartment as some kind of romantic gesture. Or just to hammer home that he’s filthy stinking dirty rich. I don’t know. Either way, he’s a creep.

I open the parcel, and inside I find a half leather box containing three seemingly identical old cloth covered books in mint condition and a plain white card.

Written on one side, in black ink in neat cursive handwriting, is:

“Why didn’t you tell me there was dangers? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks…”

Ana confesses to being ‘stunned by the irony’ because she has just spent three hours answering essay questions on Thomas Hardy in her final exam. I call bullshit.

“This quote – Tess says it to her mother after Alec D’Urberville has had his wicked way with her.”

“I know,” muses Kate. “What is he trying to say?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care…”

Four years of studying ‘classic British novels’ and you don’t know what that quote means? You don’t know its context? It’s almost as if she’s never read Tess of The D’Urbervilles, isn’t it? If I didn’t know better I’d say that Ana had never read the fucking book and instead idly flipped through the Cliff Notes while diddling herself to Twilight.

But I do know better. I’ve read ahead and can tell you she didn’t diddle herself – somehow she got through puberty without even riding a bicycle down a bumpy road. And she definitely hasn’t read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, because anybody who had would at this point have been of a mind to call the police.

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2 responses to “Bella Squared

  1. I agreed, though I admire your resilience. I could only aggressively skim this book. The real question is … and this makes “50 Shades” interesting in a way the text emphatically does not … why is it popular? I understand good trash being popular. I will give thumbs up to good trash being popular. I don’t understand what looks to me like bad trash being popular. What is this book doing for its readers that it makes some many people like it?

  2. Honestly? I haven’t got a single fucking clue. My current theory is that it kind of piggybacks on the Twilight bandwagon – limp female lead, male lead who should be in lockdown – and carries on the stalky psychodrama but with added sex. It’s probably a similar carcrash effect as Twilight too – half the people who read the books and went to see the movies were doing so just so that they could hate them and/or laugh at them.

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