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Got it? Good. Let’s get down to (horrible) business.
I’m running out of things to say about chapters that begin with Ana waking up, so I’ll just say this – for the love of Franz Kafka, please, please stop. Unless she’s waking up to discover that she’s turned into a giant bug, or that – oh happy day – someone has cut Christian’s throat in his sleep, I think readers can figure out that a narrator is subject to the regular lapses of consciouness that we fellow humans recognise as sleep.
…I finally succumb to wakefulness. A glorious Seattle morning greets me – sunshine pouring through the full-height windows and flooding the room with too-bright light. Why didn’t we close the blinds last night?
Because the author has just realised you probably should have closed the blinds while having sex, but can’t actually be bothered to go back and fix the beginning of this paragraph. That and it feeds into the ham-handed light/dark metaphor she smacked us over the head with in the previous chapter.
I love it when you can hear the authorial laziness just yawning forth from the page.
I lie back for a moment staring through the windows at the lofty vista of Seattle’s skyline. Life in the clouds sure feels unreal.
It really does, although that may be due to bad writing. Lofty vista? Really?
A fantasy – a castle in the air, adrift from the ground, safe from the realities of life – far away from neglect, hunger, and crack-whore mothers.
Crack-whores have no head for heights, apparently.
I shudder to think what he went through as a small child, and I understand why he lives here, surrounded by beautiful, precious works of art – so far removed from where he started…mission statement indeed. I frown because it still doesn’t explain why I can’t touch him.
Ana, he lives in an expensive penthouse because he’s really rich. There’s no deep psychological significance to it.
Speaking of mission statements this is pretty much Ana’s from now on. She sets to figuring him out with a vengeance and spends most of her time imagining him as a sad toddler from a Dave Peltzer book so that she can feel sorry for him.
I’m adrift from reality. I’m in this fantasy apartment, having fantasy sex with my fantasy boyfriend. When the grim reality is he wants a special arrangement, though he’s said he’ll try more. What does that actually mean?
It means that no matter how futile and stupid your relationship is, there’s still over a quarter of a book to go.
This is what I need to clarify between us to see if we are still at opposite ends on the see-saw or if we are inching closer together.
How do you even fail to figure out how a see-saw works? Three year olds have mastered this.
Ana wanders out to find Christian and then finds a (hiss, boo) blonde in his kitchen. This is the housekeeper, Mrs. Jones, a woman who I can only assume is being paid the equivalent national debt of a small Third World nation, because that is – speaking as a sometime professional domestic – the only kind of money that would make me even halfway okay with picking up his used condoms from the floor.
Mrs. Jones tells Ana that Christian is in his study, so Ana wanders off in that direction.
Why does Christian only have attractive blondes working for him? And a nasty thought comes involuntarily into my mind: Are they all ex-subs?
Involuntarily? How does that work? Does she otherwise walk around thinking ‘I think I’m going to think a thought about that thing I was thinking about the other day’? The inside of Ana’s head is a really weird place, notwithstanding the imaginary friends and the frequent sprinklings of hmms, craps, holys and jeezes.
And to answer your question, Ana – no. They’re not ex-subs. He’s not actually into blondes. He likes his subs to be brunettes, like his dead mother, so that he can think about his mom while he’s whipping and fucking them. (I’m serious, by the way. That’s the real reason – it’s in the second book. And no, I don’t know either.)
Anyway, Christian is on the phone. Doing ‘work’. I’ll just give you the full paragraph so that you can bask in the Roger Smith glory of it awhile.
“Unless that company’s P&L improves, I’m not interested, Ros. We’re not carrying dead weight…I don’t need any more lame excuses…Have Marco call me, it’s shit or bust time…Yes, tell Barney that the prototype looks good, though I’m not sure about the interface…No, it’s just missing something…I want to meet him this afternoon to discuss…In fact, him and his team, we can brainstorm…Okay. Transfer me back to Andrea…” He waits, staring out of the window, master of his universe, staring down at the little people below from this castle in the sky.
I still have absolutely no idea what he does.
He is without a doubt the most beautiful man on the planet, too beautiful for the little people below, too beautiful for me.
But he’s good-looking, so we’ll forgive his poorly written personality.
Christian does some more nonsensical shouting down the phone and then asks Ana when she’ll be back from Georgia. She says Friday and then they decide to bone. As you do.
“I suggest you go and have your shower, or I shall lay you across my desk now?”
“I choose the desk,” I whisper recklessly as desire sweeps like adrenaline through my system, waking everything in its path.
Everything except for the line editor. I’m sure that question mark isn’t supposed to be there.
He starts to move, really move. This is not making love, this is fucking – and I love it. I groan. It’s so raw, so carnal, making me so wanton. I revel in his possession, his lust slaking mine.
If you have to tell readers – in the middle of your sex scene – that it’s raw/carnal/erotic/wanton/delete as applicable, it’s probably none of the above. Kind of like being a genius, you know? – if you have to tell people you’re one, you’re probably nothing of the sort.
Blah blah, sex on the desk, voice-activated orgasm, best orgasm ever etc. Then he grabs her and tells her once more that she belongs to him.
He’s so earnest, so impassioned – a zealot. The force of his plea is so unexpected and disarming. I wonder why he’s feeling like this.
Because you’re going to be out of his sight for a handful of days and he’s a loud, grabby toddler who’s still stuck in the ‘mine’ phase.
Christian turns ‘odd’ and ‘weird’ even before he’s refastened his fly buttons, perhaps because a bunch of realistic mood transitions once stole the author’s diary and read embarrassing extracts of it aloud in front of the whole class. Ana is confused by this, but again, this is nothing new; this is a woman who spends much of her spare time staring at her hands and forgetting where she lives.
…I scurry out of his office completely dumbfounded.
He seemed confused. Why? I have to say as physical experiences go, that was very satisfying. But emotionally – well, I’m rattled by his reaction, and that was about as emotionally enriching as cotton candy is nutritious.
What are you yabbering about, you madwoman? He stuck his dick in you, porked you clumsily for about five minutes, you had a voice-activated orgasm and then he grabbed your hair and was all ‘mine, mine, mine’ just like he always is. He’s probably just sulking because your magical ever-lubed vagina won’t be within easy humping range of his angry little weiner for the next few days.
He seemed fine when I went into his study. We had sex…and then he wasn’t. No, I don’t get it.
He didn’t seem that bad. In the light of his usual moods he seemed okay. Grabby, obnoxious, aggressive and dull, but that comes as standard. At least he wasn’t actually hitting you.
Oh dear. I’ve made myself sad now.
I look to my subconscious. She’s whistling with her hands behind her back and looking anywhere but me. She hasn’t got a clue, and my inner goddess is still basking in a remnant of post-coital glow. No – we’re all clueless.
When I first read this book I had difficulty believing it was real. It was hard enough to get my head around the fact that people were reading crudely repurposed Twilight fanfiction as if it was an actual novel. Reading Fifty Shades felt like I’d staggered through the looking glass into a strange opposite-land where everything I’d ever learned about writing was no longer true. Everyone was talking about this book and it was absolute garbage. It wasn’t so much that the Emperor had no clothes – rather that the Emperor had pranced naked out of the palace, pulled apart his cheeks and treated the assembled crowd to the Imperial goatse.
And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, I had to wrestle with the mindbending knowledge that this sloppy puddle of brainsick was outselling Harry Potter, a book series with original characters and an actual plot.
These days I’m a little more used to the Fifty Shades novels, but every now and again I’ll read a paragraph like the one I just quoted, and it’s like some kind of post-traumatic flashback. I’m hurled right back through the looking glass and left wondering if I’ve either lost my mind or if I’m the only sane person in a world of hopeless fucking lunatics.
Anyway. Ana gets dressed and then has a conversation over breakfast about buying a ticket to Georgia. Christian offers to lend her his company jet, but Ana demurs, thinking ‘Oh, boys and their toys’. Not to mention their carbon footprints.
Then they talk about her job interviews and she refuses to name the publishers she’s interviewing with, which leads to a playful back and forth which I think is supposed to mean it’s just precious when a man stalks you and interferes in your career. Like I say – opposite-land.
After breakfast Ana asks him why he doesn’t like to be touched. She does this totally apropos of nothing, but she’s got to be the one to figure him out otherwise she won’t be the best woman in the whole world or something. Naturally, he’s not forthcoming.
“I’ve told you more than I’ve ever told anybody.” His voice is quiet as he gazes at me impassively.
And it’s clear to me that he’s never confided in anyone. Doesn’t he have any close friends?
Nope. He’s that horrible. Think about that, Ana. You have friends, and you’re awful. And you’re not even rich and possessed of such drawer-dropping beauty that no human being can enter your presence without being reduced to a state of breathless sexual arousal. He is – apparently. And yet he remains friendless. He doesn’t even have sycophants. Maybe it’s something to do with his habit of hitting people and whispering ‘the woman who brought me into this world was a crack-whore’ into their ears before they lapse into unconsciousness.
And speaking of unconsciousness, hang out the flags and assemble the marching band, because here’s a section break that doesn’t include Ana falling asleep!
The next section opens with Ana waiting for her job interview, which at least has more potential to be amusing than watching her sit around and try to figure out why Captain Shitfit keeps tracking her cellphone. (Hint – he’s a psychopath.)
This is my second interview today and the one I’m most anxious about. My first interview went well, but it was for a larger conglomerate with offices based throughout the US, and I would be one of many editorial assistants there. I can imagine being swallowed up and spat out pretty quickly in such a corporate machine. SIP is where I want to be. It’s small and unconventional, and has an interesting and quirky roster of clients.
I don’t know why I’m surprised that Queen Mooch Ana blunders into her first job interviews with the same vastly inflated sense of entitlement as she claims rent free loft apartments, but there it is. She must be the only recent college grad who not only has two job interviews straight out of the gate, but also has the luxury of turning up her snotty little nose at a job because she doesn’t think it will cater to her desire to be the specialest snowflake on the entire West Coast.
The receptionist is a young African-American woman with large silver earrings and long straightened hair. She has a bohemian look about her, the sort of woman I could be friendly with.
This is maybe the first time in the entire book that Ana hasn’t immediately scoped out another woman – including her own so-called best friend, by the way – without a) thinking something disparaging about their appearance b) comparing them unfavourably to her oh-so-hideous self or c) worrying that they’re trying to hump her repulsive boyfriend. Now I’m not saying Ana is weird about minorities…oh, who am I kidding? I am. I’m totally saying that – Ana is weird about minorities.
The thought is comforting. Every few moments she glances up at me, away from her computer, and smiles reassuringly. I tentatively return her smile.
She keeps looking at you because you are staring at her, you disastrous social freak. The poor woman’s sat there thinking ‘Is she looking at me again? Oh my God – she is, isn’t she? She’s fucking doing it again. Why won’t she go back to staring at her hands?’
Then we meet Elizabeth, who is head of Human Resources. I’m not sure you could reasonably refer to Ana as a resource or even completely human, but hello Elizabeth. Thank you for not being Christian Grey and sparing me yet another few pages hearing what Ana thinks about him. Again.
Elizabeth introduces Ana to Jack, who will be stalking her in book two and kidnapping her in book three, but he’s the bad guy. His pants don’t hang from his hips ‘in that way’, you see. Apparently that makes all the difference.
“You have a very impressive GPA. What extracurricular activities did you indulge in at WSU?”
Indulge? I blink at him. What an odd choice of word.
Says the woman who regularly refers to her stepfather as ‘taciturn’. Talk about the cooking receptacle casting unwarranted aspersions on the stygian hue of the samovar.
I mention the two literary societies that I belonged to and conclude with working and Clayton’s and all the useless knowledge I now possess about hardware and DIY.
Knowing how to fit a washer, mend a deck or put up a shelf without drilling into the wiring is never useless, you astonishingly stupid girl.
Jack Hyde asks sharp, intelligent questions, but I’m not thrown – I keep up, and when we discuss my reading preferences and my favourite books, I think I hold my own.
It’s a good thing the author’s there to tell us that Ana can keep up. And what her favourite books are. Oh no, wait – she doesn’t. Let’s just savour that a moment. Twenty-one chapters into the book and we have no idea what the alleged bookworm’s favourite book actually is. And Tess Of The D’Urbervilles totally doesn’t count because she was probably holding the book upside down for all the fucking sense she’s made of it.
Jack, on the other hand, appears to only favour American literature written after 1950. Nothing else. No classics…
No classics. Did you get that? There were no American classics written after 1950. None. Not one. So the likes of Nabokov, Truman Capote, Maya Angelou, Ralph Ellison, Joseph Heller, Harper Lee, Alice Walker and all of the Beats had better hand back their various Pulitzers and other prizes and fuck right off.
What the hell was Ana’s degree actually in?
“And where do you see yourself in five years time?” [Jack] asks.
“I hope to have finally learned not to eat paste. And maybe figure out what my thumbs are for.”
With Christian Grey, the thought comes involuntarily into my head. My errant mind makes me frown.
It makes me frown too, Ana. And sometimes it makes me laugh so hard that snot flies out of my nose.
Obviously, because this book takes place in a strange, dumb-ass looking glass world where people think Ana is ‘bright’ and ‘intelligent’ just because the author says she is, nobody kicks her out of the building for being hilariously illiterate even by the standards of modern publishing.
Having been interviewed, Ana then bimbles off back home to compare herself unfavourably to Kate, who is unpacking boxes. Yes – Kate’s been doing the unpacking from the move while Ana has been off being bent over desks and taken roughly in the boathouse. (Again – still not a euphemism for anal, so don’t get excited.)
“How did it go?” she asks, excited. Only Kate can look gorgeous in an oversized shirt, tattered jeans and a dark blue bandana.
“Good, thanks, Kate. Not sure this outfit was cool enough for the second interview.”
Item – Ana is wearing Kate’s clothes. Again.
“Boho chic might have done it.”
Kate raises an eyebrow.
“You and boho chic.” She cocks her head to one side – Gah! Why is everyone reminding me of my favourite Fifty Shades.
You have more than one fifty shades of something in your life? I’m so confused. And who the fuck says ‘boho chic’?
Anyway, having briefly discussed Ana’s fashion sense, it’s time to talk about something far more important – boys.
Ana tells Kate not to goad Christian like she did at dinner yesterday (Kate reminded Christian that Jose exists) and Kate is unabashed, saying she only did it to help Christian with his ‘commitment issues’. After eight days, lest we forget.
Then Kate asks Ana is she’s running away to Georgia to get away from him, and Ana says no. There’s some mindless burble about how she’s probably in love with him and Kate agrees, but Ana says she’s frightened to make the move and tell him.
“And how do you know he’s not feeling the same?”
“Christian, afraid? I can’t imagine him being frightened of anything.”
I can. The word ‘no’, real-world legal consequences for his actions, women with more than four braincells – all of these things would probably turn his trousers fifty shades of brown.
Luckily for him, Ana’s not getting any smarter. In fact, ever since he casually told her his mother was a crack-whore, she’s been merrily ambling down a whole new avenue of stupidity.
But as I say the words, I imagine him as a small child. Maybe fear was all he knew then. Sorrow grips and squeezes my heart at the thought.
Kate says that Ana and Christian need to sit down and talk to each other, which would be good advice if we were talking about anyone other than these two nitwits. As it is they would just descend a lot of lips quirking upwards and various self congratulatory smirkings and smarmings as they ‘Miss Steele’d and ‘Mr. Grey’d through another ten pages of meaningless noise.
“We haven’t been doing much talking lately.” I flush. Other stuff. Nonverbal communication and that’s okay. Well, much more than okay.
“That’ll be the sexing! If that’s going well, that’s half the battle…”
No it’s not. You’re not going to be young, beautiful and hot to trot forever, you know. Well, I mean, at one point you were, but since you’re no longer vampires…
God, wouldn’t you just love that? A Twilight sequel that takes place maybe a century later and Edward and Bella are absolutely sick of each other. They realised after about six months that they didn’t even like one another that much – they just thought they were frantically in love because they were desperate to have sex. And every time he opens his mouth to speak she’s like “OH MY GOD, SHUT UP EDWARD. I HATE YOUR FACE. I HATE YOUR WHOLE STUPID HEAD. JUST FUCK OFF AND DIE!”
I would read that. Does that make me a terrible person? I don’t care.
Anyway – Kate wanders off and leaves Ana to think about Christian.
Is Christian afraid of his feelings for me? Does he even have feelings for me? He seems very keen, says I’m his – but that’s just part of his I-must-own-and-have-everything-now control-freak dominant self, surely.
So she basically admits that he thinks she’s a thing he can own, but once again just flaps her silly wrists and is all “Oh, that’s just his dominant/control-freak side talking.”
I realize that while I’m away, I will have to run through all our conversations again and see if I can pick out telltale signs.
Really? I’m looking forward to reading this. Almost as much as I look forward to pap smears. Or e-mail exchanges. And here’s one now – she e-mails him to ask how his day was and that her interviews went well and she thought he might be interested.
Dear Miss Steele
Everything you do interests me. You are the most fascinating woman I know.
God, you must be bored.
He refers to the desk fuckage this morning, prompting Ana to once again cram a cactus up the English language’s rectum in the way that only Ana can.
This morning was exemplary for me, too, in spite of you weirding out on me after the impeccable desk sex.
This whole exchange goes to the heart of why I hate the e-mail exchanges more than anything else in these books. They speak in the smug, silly way that stupid people think clever people talk. Nothing is ‘good’ or ‘fun’ – it’s always ‘exemplary’ or ‘impeccable’. They use long words in the same demented cargo-cult way that Ana appropriates passages of nineteenth century novels.
As always, one of the characters is on hand to pick on some small, trivial detail while ignoring the bigger, massively fucked up picture. Only this time it’s Christian, which I suppose is vaguely refreshing.
‘Weirding’ is not a verb and should not be used by anyone who wants to go into publishing.
Actually ‘weirding out’ is one of the few twenty-one year old things that twenty-one year old Ana has said in the entire book. But by all means carry on. Ana replies:
Language evolves and moves on. It is an organic thing. It is not stuck in an ivory tower, hung with expensive works of art and overlooking most of Seattle with a helipad stuck on its roof.
Language is currently rocking back and forth in a corner, crying for its mother and wondering what the hell it ever did to deserve these repeated indignities. Can anyone even parse that sentence? I’m reminded of the time Sarah Palin kept complaining that people were being ‘elitist’ because they expected her to speak in actual sentences, instead of whatever weird, feral Nell-language she’d been jabbering away in previously.
Anyway, having dropped that word-turd on us, Ana then goes on to wipe her bum on the curtains by asking him if Mrs. Jones (the housekeeper) is a former sub of his.
Christian replies, saying he never has sex with anyone he employs, but that he would make an exception to this rule for her – ‘because you are a bright young woman with remarkable negotiating skills.’
I can’t think of a single thing Ana has successfully negotiated in this entire book. He says ‘sign up for my horrible terms and conditions’ and she’s like ‘okay’, because she can’t stand for a second to think that she might one day be boyfriendless again. So far I think she’s managed to tell him she doesn’t want him to hang her from the ceiling or shove his entire fist in her vagina or anus. Let’s face it – she’s not exactly Mo Mowlam.
There’s some further blither in which Ana briefly anthropomorphises her sense of irony in a sad attempt to be witty. The real irony here is that she’s still yet to use the word ‘irony’ correctly. Finally, after a short geological epoch, they sign off e-mails and there’s another novelty section break in which nobody falls asleep. Two in one chapter! Oh, E.L. – you’re just spoiling us now.
The next section sees Ana taking her leave of Kate at Sea-Tac Airport. Kate buggers off to Barbados and out of this book forever – lucky girl. Ana then presents her ticket to a crude gay stereotype behind the check-in desk.
“Ticket please?” The bored young man behind the desk holds up his hand without looking at me.
Then he discovers she’s been upgraded to first class…
“Ma’am, if you’d like to go through to the first class lounge and await your flight there.” He seems to have woken up and is beaming at me like I’m the Christmas Fairy and the Easter Bunny rolled into one.
“Surely there’s been some mistake.”
“No, no.” He checks his computer screen again. “Anastasia Steele – upgrade.” He simpers at me.
Are you sure he was simpering, Ana? He might have been trying not to laugh at your hilariously amateur-porn-star handle.
This is another one of those annoying carry-overs from Twilight, by the way. Everyone ignores sad sack Bella (except for the dozen or so men who are violently in love with her) until she’s been gilded by the blessed presence of Edward Cullen’s big fat filthy stacks. After which everyone exists to kiss her ass. Bella is, of course, as gracious and delightful about the ass-kissage as she is about everything else. And not even the magical powers of find/exchange can prevent Ana’s essential Bellaness shining sweetly through.
Ugh. I narrow my eyes. He hands me my boarding pass, and I head towards the first class lounge muttering under my breath.
She’ll have a long walk. Last I checked the nearest first class airport lounge was in Los Angeles.