I set out to read this novel for one main reason. Because as I realized this was actually going to be a real thing, I saw it going one of two ways. Either James would've acknowledged the criticism of Christian's character and, since she'd already written the first story, try to explain/justify his actions. Or, she simply didn't give a shit about the legitimate criticism and decided to continue milking the cash cow. After finishing it, I now have my answer.
The criticism was lost on deaf ears. Or ignorant, if you will.
There are many elements and details that together makes this book unhealthy, both in regards to plot and for the people reading it. Due to this, I'll divide this review (that will be quite long, I believe).
Part One: Writing
This is the easy, non disturbing part. Okay, it's disturbing considering how awful it is, but that most people knew from the previous books. It's not like James could change the dialogue into something less stilted. No, the dialogue is still in need of a few rounds of editing. However, if we disregard the dialogues - okay, I won't do that completely - it's bad.
Clear, embarrassed eyes meet mine and halt me in my tracks. They are the most extraordinary color, powder blue, and guileless, and for one awful moment, I think she can see right through me and I’m left…exposed.
If I have to explain why this awkward writing makes me want to gauge my eyes out, than this book is perfect for you.
For all her maladroitness, she has a beautiful neckline, one that I'd like to kiss from the bottom of her ear right down to her shoulder.
Another detail about the writing... For the majority of the time, it's simplistic to a fault. Until someone realized there are these things called thesauruses, and suddenly words that is a clear break from the rest pops in there, crushing the tone and rhythm. Disorientating, I'd call it.
I trace my fingers around her ass and insert one into her vagina.
I don't know why nobody told James that words like vagina, penis, and vulva (and more) should never be used in sexual situations. They are clinical, which, unless you're into that kink, is about as sexy as a visit to a gynecologist.
Her words travel directly to my dick, passing "Go" on the way.
This calls for - what did she call them? SHOUTY CAPITALS.
I laughed for about ten minutes at this alone.
I have never slept with a woman. I've fucked many, but to wake up beside an alluring young woman is a new and stimulating experience. My cock agrees.
This takes the prize, though. Christian's cock is like a separate creature. It twitches, stirs, agrees, and whatnot half the time. Hell, one time, Ana addresses it. Someone is taking men think with their dicks way to literal.
In conclusion, James' writing did not improve.
Part Two: BDSM
Fair warning, if anyone as much as breathes "you don't get BDSM" my way, here's my response.
Grey is not an accurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship. If you argue that it is, then you're insulting those who actually live this lifestyle.
First of all. The contract. And before you get your panties in a bunch, I'm not talking about the fact that despite that Ana never signed it, she did consent, so this is not about rape or any of that. I'm talking about this fact.
"Would you like another drink? It's making you brave, and I need to know how you feel about pain."
I am talking about the fact that Christian intentionally makes Ana drink when they are discussing it. He claims it's to make her braver, to make her face herself, or whatever bullshit he feeds her. Even if it's true that she speaks more freely when inebriated,Christian, a supposedly seasoned Dom, should know better than to give her alcohol while discussing something this important. Look at it this way: Ana is determined to do whatever (or close to) it takes to keep Christian as a partner - notice the usage of the word partner, not Dom. This combined with the state alcohol puts her in - we've already early in the novel established that Ana isn't used to drinking at gets drunk fast - is enough to make her trivialize her own health (physical and mental) and agree to actions that she normally wouldn't. In short: she might very well agree to sexual activities that she would never do otherwise.Given that Christian is aware of Ana's inexperience, this is beyond irresponsible on his part. It is dangerous. Most importantly, this is not BDSM. It is not healthy, in the least.
Second, BDSM is between two consenting and enthusiastic partners. Ana is not the last. She states (many times) that she is doing the activities Christian proposes simply for a chance to be his lover (although fuck knows why). BDSM relies heavily on consent, trust, and communication. All which can be dubious in this one. Communication is about zero, and consent is sometimes questionable. I am not claiming Christian ignores Ana safewording. That's no my concern, and I don't intend to take that debate. However, Christian has an phrase that is used repeatedly.
that's not a "no"
This quote is seen quite some times. For some reason, it's still, 2015(!), necessary to point out that not a "no" isn't a "yes" either. I can't stress this enough, because clearly Christian's understanding of no is fucked up to hell. Let's take a look.
"And if I break on of the rules?"
"Then I'll punish you."
"But won't you need my permission?"
"Yes, I will."
"And if I say no?"
"If you say no, you'll say no. I'll have to find a way to persuade you."
Clearly, no isn't no. No to Christian is a word that means he'll need to find another way to manipulate her into saying yes.Hello, rape culture! And manipulate her is something Christian does repeatedly. He's, as said, aware of her wishes. Still, he uses her wish to coerce her into his kinks (spanking and more). Even if she doesn't really want to. This is not BDSM, this is manipulation. It is not two enthusiastic partners.
The last thing on this part.
"Maybe that's why she and Kavanagh are friends; she's content to be in the background and let Katherine take center stage.
Hmm... a natural submissive.
Here's the thing. If you're shy and awkward and likes to stay in the back, that does not mean you're a submissive. You can be, but that does not mean you're a "natural submissive". You can be a cursing, loud, impolite, brazen bitch and still be a submissive. Basic line, all submissives aren't the same. To claim this is once again to defend stereotypes that can be harmful.
Part Three: Christian
He's a stalker. Quite possibly a psychopath too. But mostly a stalker. Creep on the highest level.
Let me expand on this. Christian reads like a serial killer in the making. He's one of those you see in horror movies when the killer plays with his victims before performing the murder. Stalking them, taunting them, teasing them. That's Christian. He reads exactly like that. After his first meeting with Ana, he is obsessed. The minute she walks out of his office, he demands a background check on her (an extensive one at that, too). For the coming days he is obsessed with her. He ignores his company/work, makes adjustments in his life so he can follow her and find out details about her life. At one point, he even admits to himself that he's showing stalker tendencies.He even considers consulting his therapist for a fleeting moment right before he goes on to make excuses for his behavior. He jokes the tendencies away, or trivializes them in attempts to justify them.
Anyway, continuing. In most of their early interactions, he finds it amusing to tease her and torment here. (Which can be understandable given his sexual preferences.) However, the writing isn't good enough to show the difference between light teasing and him being a stalker and A-level creep.
Apart from the stalking, he's a terrible person. And I mean that if we disregard the obvious. He's sexist, misogyinc, and probably a bit homophobic.
What the hell happened to Mr. Love 'Em and Leave 'Em? Kavanagh must be good in the sack.
Katherine Kavanagh is Ana's best friend. THe Mr. Love and Leave is his brother, Elliot. As you probably understand, he's the type that has tenfold of women for a night or two. However, Katherine is able to keep him coming back. That, of course, according to Christian, means she has magic lady bits. He's so fucking disrespecting here it sickens me. But there's more.
Kavanagh has an internship at the Seattle Times, no doubt set up for her by her father.
Now, Katherine was valedictorian. It's stated (or implied) that she's a bright young lady that likes to take charge. A personality that would most likely make her able to land her own internship.But no. Because, again according to Christian, no woman is able to manage a single thing on her own. Misogynistic, that's what he is.
So the last part. The homosexual/gay theme in this book is... complicated. When Ana asks him in the interview at the beginning of the book if he is gay, he has an internal fit. Overreacting, that's an understatement. While I agree it's a ridiculous question (you're sexuality is your own and no one's business unless you decide so), his reaction is awful. He makes it sound as if him being gay would be the end of the world, which in itself is quite offensive.
However, it becomes hilarious when his double standards kicks in. Remember the background check I mentioned? Yeah, that one states that Ana's sexuality is unknown as well as her relationship status. Grey's immediate wonders if she might be gay. (A thought that he keeps for a while.) It gets even better when Ana admits to being a virgin. Christian goes from is she gay to how come no guy has banged her yet. So yeah, complicated, mixed messages, and a tad offensive.
Part Four: Ana
I feel sorry for Ana. Her inner goddess was one of the worst characters in fiction since a long time, but I felt sorry for Ana in this book. James did nothing to put Ana in a good light here. In fact, I thought Ana's personality was bland in FSoG, but in this one, it is nonexistent. A balloon has more personality than her. Unfortunately, this creates a new problem. There's no understanding what connects her and Christian.Christian's perspective gave no insight on this (apart from his weird obsession that is more serial killer than potential boyfriend). The lack of personality in Ana's character increases the creep factor in Christian's as there's really no reason for him to be interested in her.
Part Five: Copy Paste
For a few moments I considered rereading FSoG simultaneously to this one, but decided against it. It's clear most of the scenes are more or less exactly the same with no to little additions. Basically, this really is a retell of the first book. By doing this, James missed the opportunity to humanize Christian.She does not expand on his childhood (traumatic as it was) apart from a few strange written dreams that did little to expand on his character. As his internal monologue consists mostly of Ana's looks and how to make her agree to his kinks, there's not much to his character either (except for establishing his status as around the clock creep). Neither is the relationship to Elena (the woman who introduced him to the BDSM lifestyle at the age of fifteen, make of that what you will). The one scene she is in is over in about five pages, adding nothing to the dynamics of their relationship. So James truly missed out on the chance to deepen this story in any way by taking the easy way out and mostly recycle the scenes from the first book.
Epilogue or whatever
In conclusion, Grey is awful. It, once again, described BDSM in an offensive - yes, deal with it - way. It reinforces the stigma that is already surrounding this lifestyle. Not only that, it reinforces rape culture. Remember that rape is something that (statistically) happens to 1 in 5 women in America, and that the most vulnerable are women in their early twenties. (Sounds like Ana.) And don't anyone tell me this is only fiction while at the same time claiming some other book changed your life.
Grey is unhealthy. There's no other way to put it, and I'm not going to. It is not romantic, not harmless, and not just fiction. It's dangerous for, especially, young people that will be told this is romantic by people who disregard the troublesome elements in this story.