Chapter twenty-four starts with another one of Ana’s ever-so-meaningful ‘symbolic’ dreams.
Christian stands in a steel-barred cage. Wearing his soft, ripped jeans, his chest and feet are mouthwateringly naked…
This is my second favourite participle mess of the entire book. While it doesn’t quite come close to the one where he was wearing a tie with eyeballs and a shrewd expression, it’s still pretty special in context. Just a heads up – Thomas Hardy fans might want to grab something to bite down on before reading any further.
In his hands he holds a bowl of strawberries. He ambles with athletic grace to the front of the cage, gazing intently at me. Holding up a plump ripe strawberry, he extends his hand through the bars.
“Eat,” he says, his tongue caressing the front of his palate as he enunciates the ‘T’.
Have you guessed the literary allusion yet? If you’ve read Tess of the D’Urbervilles you probably have. And you’re probably already rocking back and forth in the foetal position.
Anyway, after a further spot of daintily sledgehammered ‘forbidden fruit’ symbolism, Ana stirs from sleep to discover that she has one hell of a cholesterol problem. And diabetes.
“Wake up, baby,” he whispers, and the effect of his sweet voice spreads like warm melted caramel through my veins.
Christian wakes her up and tells her to get up and out of bed because “I want to chase the dawn with you.”
“I was having such a nice dream,” I whine.
… “It was totally literary and reminded me how smart I am.”
Ana tells him about her dream because E.L. James just did a literary allusion and goddamit, she’s going to keep telling the readers until they notice. And they obviously didn’t, so here it is again.
…I frown as a scene from Tess crosses my mind: the strawberry scene. It evokes my dream.
The scene where Alec makes Tess eat strawberries from his hand is just one of many scenes where he physically imposes on her or frightens her to the point where she is in tears and begging to go home, a campaign of intimidation that culminates in him dragging her off into the woods and raping her.
Am I being an unreasonable old sourpuss in asking that an allegedly bookish heroine comes across like someone who has actually fucking read the one nineteenth century novel she keeps bringing up again and again as a prop for her supposedly formidable intellect? Maybe I am. I don’t know.
Anyway, Ana gets dressed and goes to find that Christian has laid out breakfast, all the better to have the same tedious argument they always have when he’s trying to poke food down her throat and she’s too twitchy to eat.
It really is too early for me. How to handle this?
“I’ll have some tea. Can I take a croissant for later?”
He eyes me suspiciously, and I smile very sweetly.
“Don’t rain on my parade, Anastasia,” he warns softly.
“I will eat later when my stomach’s woken up. About 7:30 am…okay?”
Plenty of people have pointed out how weird these books are about food. I think the idea is that Christian once recalled being hungry as a child, and so he is obsessive about not wasting food. Unfortunately the writing is so awful that it just comes across as yet another way in which he bullies Ana.
He threatens to hit her again and then tells her to drink her tea.
I notice the Twinings label, and inside, my heart sings. See, he does care, my subconscious mouths at me.
I feel like at this point in the current century women should be at a point where we demand higher fucking standards from men than this.
Finally they leave the room and head out in a ‘flash sports car with a soft top’. Christian is actually cheerful for once and Ana remarks on how ‘loveable [he is] when he’s playful and carefree’. This happens about five per cent of the time, since for the remaining ninety-five per cent he’s in constant sulky-but-chiselled Pout n’ Brood mode. Although to be scrupulously fair, this is par for the course when you’re dating a find/replaced version of Dedward Sullen, an undead buzzkill with all the emotional range of soil.
He programs the GPS and presses a switch on the steering wheel and a classical orchestral piece fills the car.
Oh fuckety. Here we go again. Not content with pointing out the literary allusion at the beginning of the chapter, E.L.’s about to beat us over the head with the oh-so-intellectual contents of Edward’s iPod.
Oh my…it’s lovely.
“La Traviata? I’ve heard of that. I can’t think where. What does it mean?”
Christian glances at me and smirks.
“Well, literally, the woman led astray. It’s based on Alexander Dumas’ book La Dame aux Camellias.”
“Ah. I’ve read it.”
Just like she read Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Because she is smart, you see.
“The doomed courtesan.” I squirm uncomfortably in the plush leather seat. Is he trying to tell me something? “Hmm, it’s a depressing story,” I mutter.
Unlike Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which was an endless laugh riot. I know I shouldn’t complain – at least little Miss English Major has managed to name more than one work of literature out loud.
“Too depressing? Do you want to choose some music? This is on my iPod.” Christian has that secret smile again.
There is nothing secret about that smile. That’s the smile that certain people get when they’re telling other people they have opera on their iPod. And when I say ‘certain people’ I mean ‘douchebags’.
Ana switches songs on the iPod and Britney Spears’ Toxic comes on, prompting Christian to turn it down. In Ana’s head this is some kind of three-dimensional chess move into coaxing him to talk about himself, so when he turns it down again her inner goddess does something stupid (‘standing on the podium awaiting her gold medal’) and Christian pukes out the information she could have extracted simply by asking ‘So do you like Britney Spears’?
And no, I don’t get it either. Any more than I understand why Ana then apparently turns into an owl.
“I didn’t put that song on my iPod,” he says casually…
…What? He knows what he’s doing, the bastard. Who did? And I have to listen to Britney going on and on. Who…who?
The song ends and the iPod shuffles to Damien Rice being mournful. Who? Who? I stare out of the window, my stomach churning. Who?
At this point in the book I concocted an elaborate theory that Ana’s sudden owl impression was a brilliant Joycean joke based around the fact that Damien Rice wrote a concept album based on Pauline Reage’s S&M classic, The Story of O. In the novel the eponymous ‘O’ is eventually compared to an owl or similar bird of prey – trained to bring back new submissives to her master.
Or maybe my brain had just become so starved of anything remotely interesting that it started to trick me into believing there was a point to all of this. Kind of like the way we see faces on the moon or the Virgin Mary on a tortilla. Or something.
Anyway. Who? Who? Who?
“It was Leila,” he answers my unspoken thoughts. How does he do that?
Bad writing. And he used to be telepathic. And sparkly.
We learn that Leila was an ex-submissive and that she and Christian ‘finished’ – because he totally didn’t bury her in the forest or anything. What on earth makes you think he’d do a thing like that? Ana asks why they finished (she failed to put the lotion in the basket when he told her to) and he says because Leila wanted ‘more’. Naturally this sends Ana into a tizzy because nobody has told her she is a stonking great Mary Sue and therefore the one woman in the world who can break all the rules and fix him.
“I’ve never wanted more, until I met you.”
I gasp, reeling. Oh my. Isn’t this what I want? He wants more. He wants it, too! My inner goddess has back-flipped off the podium and is doing cartwheels around the stadium.
Ana has a stadium in her head now. I suppose that goes some way to explain the echo.
Then she asks him what happened to his other previous fourteen submissives, which is the moment where the iPod flips to Goodbye Horses by Q. Lazzarus and suddenly his obsession with making her eat until she’s close to bursting makes a new and horrible kind of sense…
Okay, no. It doesn’t. I’m once again hallucinating ways in which this book could become interesting. Yeah, so – Mrs. Robinson’s name is Elena, which Ana thinks is ‘all foreign sounding’ and continues probing Christian for more details of how his previous relationships ended.
In the course of this conversation we discover that Christian doesn’t want children, which you can guarantee is going to come back to bite them when she gets pregnant with a hungry, hungry vampire baby and he has to give her a c-section with his divinely beautiful godlike teeth.
I am reeling from his sudden, unprecedented attack of candour. Perhaps it’s the early morning? The Georgia air? What else do I want to know? Carpe diem.
For God’s sake, just fucking talk to one another. My head is going numb just reading these words. It’s no wonder these books are so grotesquely bloated. Every conversation goes nowhere, repeats itself or fails to answer any of the questions the author clumsily sets up in previous chapters. It’s like Lost, only without any of the elements that briefly deluded us into thinking we might be about to watch something exciting, only to find that we were about to be subjected to flashbacks upon flashbacks explaining that the junkie hobbit was sad because he’d once thrown up into a photocopier.
Whoa, a bucket-load of information to process. I glance in the side mirror of the car, and I notice the soft swell of pink and aquamarine in the sky behind. Dawn is following us.
“Where are we headed?” I ask, perplexed, gazing out at the I-95. We’re heading south, that’s all I know.
If the dawn is directly behind you then it’s unlikely that you’re heading due south, you ninny.
Funny story attached to this – I was reading this while writing Fifty Shades Later and doing a bit where Hanna inadvertently reveals that she’s so dumb that she doesn’t know east from west. I was debating cutting it because I thought it was a stretch of stupidity even for Hanna, but then I picked up Fifty Shades of Grey and realised I wasn’t doing anything the source material hadn’t done already.
Anyway, in case you cared (and I know you don’t) they’re going gliding. In the dawn. Because they went in a helicopter at night and goddamn you, you are going to get on board with the light/dark metaphor the author introduced in chapter twenty, even if she has to strap you down and clamp your eyelids open like Dr. Ludovico.
Viddy well, my droogies.
The sky has turned to a subtle opal, shimmering and glowing softly behind the sporadic childlike clouds. Dawn is upon us.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already feeling queasy. I’ll be barfing in time to Beethoven’s 9th before you can say ‘dystopian delinquency’.
I’m going to skip most of the gliding part for the same reason I skipped most of the helicopter part at the beginning of the book – because it’s completely irrelevant. It’s basically Ana gushing about how amazing and competent Christian is and serves absolutely no purpose beyond that.
Holy fuck – it’s exciting. The plane banks and turns as the wing dips, and we spiral toward the sun. Icarus. This is it. I am flying close to the sun, but he’s with me, leading me. I gasp at the realisation.
Beg pardon – it has one purpose. And this is it. There’s a moment where he hands her the controls of the plane and talks her through flying, which in the hands of a competent author could be an illustration of how they are both learning to trust and face their fears. But obviously this is E.L. James and so instead we get Icarus.
Maybe I was reading it wrong, but I always thought that the message of that myth was to pay attention to the warnings of people smarter than yourself. Particularly your parents.
But nah – it’s probably something about flying while horny. Right?
Sadly, the glider lands safely and with their feet back on the ground our protagonists return to the things that preoccupy them more than anything else – mainly the constant twitchings of their hyperactive genitals.
Holy cow – his erection…we’re in a field. But I don’t care. My hands twist in his hair, anchoring him to me. I want him, here, now, on the ground. He breaks away and gazes down at me, his eyes now dark and luminous in the early morning light, full of raw, arrogant sensuality. Wow.
For once Ana and I have the same reaction to a sentence in this book.
He turns, clasping my hand, and we head back toward the car.
“What about the glider?”
“Someone will take care of that,” he says dismissively. “We’ll eat now.” His tone is unequivocal.
This is one of the moments in this book where I’m reminded of that theory about monkeys, typewriters and Hamlet. These three lines are nothing short of brilliant. Christian spends several pages before the flight telling Ana about how gliding is his ‘passion’, and his ‘second favourite pastime’, but immediately afterwards he is dismissive and bored. It’s subtly done and yet one of the most revealing moments of characterisation in the entire book.
Unfortunately – given the rest of the novel and the way the author wants us to feel about Christian Grey – it probably happened by accident. And the monkeys have shat everywhere.
They get back in the car and an alarm goes off on Ana’s phone – a reminder for her to take her birth control pill.
His lips quirk up.
“Good, well done. I hate condoms.”
I flush some more. He’s as patronising as ever.
“I like that you introduced me to Mark as your girlfriend,” I murmur.
Ana, you are pathetic.
After that they drive to IHOP for breakfast and Ana is surprised that Christian would even be seen dead in such a place. He says his dad used to take them there secretly when Gresme was away at medical conferences. Since Christian doesn’t explain the secrecy I’m going with my assumption that snob-queen Gresme would shit bricks (of purest Carrara marble, of course) if she discovered that her bargain-bucket brood were being fed anything that wasn’t served on a bed of golden Iranian caviar.
Ana is hungry. Then she’s not hungry. Then she’s too horny to eat. Then she’s hungry again. Then the waitress turns up and is predictably tongue-tied ‘as she gets an eyeful of Mr. Beautiful opposite me.’
So like every other time they’ve eaten together in this book, only this time we’re going full-Twilight.
“You know it’s really not fair.” I glance down at the Formica tabletop, tracing a pattern on it with my index finger, trying to sound nonchalant.
“What’s not fair?”
“How you dazzle disarm people. Women. Me.”
“Do I dazzle disarm you?”
Isn’t it lucky for E.L. James that Stephenie Meyer is too Mormon to read this book for herself?
There are some brief moments of mooing about the sad, broken mess they call a relationship and Edward Christian busts out the bullshit in response to her asking him if he’s changed his mind about their initial nonsense of an ‘arrangement’.
He strokes his chin thoughtfully with his long, skilled fingers.
“I don’t think I’ve changed my mind per se. We just need to redefine our parameters, redraw our battle lines, if you will…”
I still have no idea how anyone is managing to juice their box to the thought of this pompous, charmless, dry white dog-turd of a man. Per se. Redefine our parameters. Fuck’s sake.
Ana offers to pay for breakfast.
He frowns at me.
“Are you trying to completely emasculate me?”
No, but it’s a lovely thought.
“This is probably the only place that I’ll be able to afford to pay.”
“Anastasia, I appreciate the thought. I do. But no.”
I purse my lips.
“Don’t scowl,” he threatens, his eyes glinting ominously.
It’s so romantic when a man is old-fashioned, isn’t it? It harks back to a time when a man could beat his wife for not having his martini at the correct temperature when she came to greet him at the door. Or threaten her with violence when she got uppity and tried to pay for breakfast.
Oh wait – it doesn’t hark back to anything. Other than what just actually happened.
Gentleman that he is, he takes her home.
Of course he doesn’t ask me about my mother’s address. He knows it already, stalker that he is. When he pulls up outside the house, I don’t comment. What’s the point?
I don’t know, Ana. I just don’t know. What’s the point of anti-stalking legislation or rape alarms? What was the point of the entire fucking Sexual Revolution? – because right now I’m not sure if I even know myself.
Why do I want to spend every single minute with this controlling sex god?
You have catastrophically low standards, no self-esteem and even less sense of self-preservation?
Oh yes, I’ve fallen in love with him, and he can fly.
Or that. Whatever.
This chapter is going on forever, by the way. It’s like now that I can see the end in sight the book is taunting me by making the chapters even slower and duller than before. Ana goes inside to talk to her mother, in order to pad the pages even more.
“How are you, darling?” she asks, and I flush because she must know what I was doing last night.
“I’m good. Christian took me gliding this morning.” I hope the new information will distract her.
“Gliding? As in a small plane with no engine? That sort of gliding?”
No, Mom. The kind where you put on your slipperiest socks and zoom around on a hardwood floor like small children on a dance floor at a wedding. And I love that Ana is once again flushing like a cruise ship toilet because her mother knows she was getting her muffin buttered last night, even when Mommy-dearest more or less told her to go upstairs and fuck Christian.
Last night. It seems such a long, long time ago, doesn’t it?
Christian is coming for dinner tonight and Ana is worried because ‘my mother’s cooking is pretty hit or miss.’ I think she should be more worried that her boyfriend doesn’t have the good manners not to mention the quality of the food, but then I wouldn’t be dating Prince fucking Joffrey here.
Meanwhile, because Ana and Christian have currently spent an entire page apart, Ana decides to e-mail him.
Once again, it’s total guff, aside from the revelation that Ana talks in her sleep.
Jeez. Supposing I’ve said I hate him, or worse still, that I love him, in my sleep.
I wouldn’t worry too much, Ana. Going by the things most people mutter in their sleep you probably said something like ‘tell the bar I said hi and don’t feed the peacocks’. Although saying that, you are in a poorly written novel, so your deranged sleep bibble will probably turn out to be something of huge significance to the paper-thin plot.
Amazingly the chapter is still not over.
Ana goes to a supermarket with her mother and gets a phone call from Elizabeth at Seattle Independent Publishing. Surprise surprise, Ana has got the job – mostly so that she can be sexually harassed by Jack Hyde in book two. Ana’s mother is thrilled, as you would be if your idiot daughter somehow not only managed to get a college degree but also stumbled out of her graduation gown and straight into full time employment. In 2011.
“Congratulations, darling! We have to buy some champagne!” She’s clapping her hands and jumping up and down. Is she forty-two or twelve?
Yeah, fuck you Mom. Fuck you for caring and being happy. You’re so immature.
Ana is a horrible daughter.
I glance down at my phone and frown, there’s a missed call from Christian.
And a comma splice. She just got a job in publishing.
He never phones me. I call him straight back.
“Anastasia,” he answers immediately.
“Hi,” I murmur shyly.
“I have to return to Seattle. Something’s come up….Please apologise to your mother – I can’t make dinner.”
Christian says he has a ‘situation’ to deal with, which of course sends Ana into a flapping, holy crapping, finger-staring tailspin.
Oh no. The last ‘situation’ was my virginity. Jeez, I hope it’s nothing like that.
You’d think at this point the chapter would end, but no – not yet. It’s time for Ana to do what any young woman would do, having just landed her dream job; agonise over every aspect of her boyfriend’s demeanour and tone of voice the last time they spoke. Which was about three hours ago.
After a couple of paragraphs of this drivel, she remembers that he had dinner with Elena, and that said dinner might account for the ‘tidal shift in Christian’s attitude’.
I love how she just keeps going on like we care.
My scalp prickles at the realization. Did she say something to him? Oh…to have been a fly on the wall during their dinner. I could have landed in her soup or on her wine glass and choked her.
Anyway, she doesn’t turn into a bug, but instead e-mails Christian to make sure he arrived safely. I am so tired of these people.
There’s another fucking e-mail exchange and I’m just…ugh. I’m done. When he turned up in Georgia I was like ‘Well, he’s a creeper but I suppose it means I won’t have to read any more e-mails’. And for a brief second I was happy because I thought it was over. But it wasn’t. It will never be over.
He says the ‘situation’ is not resolved. I don’t actually care, but if you do the ‘situation’ is his ex – Leila. She’s attempted suicide because – surprisingly – she’s not the most stable of people. If you were of a suspicious frame of mind this might lead you to the conclusion that Christian Grey is in the habit of preying on emotionally vulnerable or mentally challenged young women and twisting them to do his nasty-ass bidding.
Obviously he doesn’t tell Ana about Leila, but luckily Ana – with her usual wonderful sense of priorities – is more interested in finding out what she said in her sleep.
Oh no…what have I said? It’s as bad as I think, I’m sure.