Hello again. We return to Grey waking up from a nightmare, because apparently E.L James has a very limited repertoire of chapter openings and has already burned through them all; we also began the first chapter by waking up from a nightmare too. It seems that without Ana in his life- a woman he met all of three times and had exactly zero honest interactions with- he’s back to having recurring nightmares of his past again, after the last few chapters made it clear that her presence alleviated all of that.
No! My scream bounces off the bedroom walls and wakes me from my nightmare. I’m smothered in sweat, with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes, and poverty in my nostrils and a lingering dread of drunken violence.
Of course, given that we’re never given any details of what the nightmares might be about, and James is apparently content to just act as though everyone already knows what all this is- fuck new readers, right?- it’s hard to actually get invested in this dreck. From memory, I don’t think it’s any more fleshed out in the original series either, given that that’s from Ana’s point of view, and so we really have no basis at all to empathize with Grey here.
Not that it’ll stop James from just assuming that it has already happened. I’m getting pretty tired of this writer thinking that she’s owed engagement with the story she’s writing.
Christian hasn’t been sleeping well since rejecting Ana in the prior chapter, even when he has multiple meetings in the morning and also a golf game. Of course, Christian being the graceful loser he always is, considers simply cancelling the game instead of losing and getting shitty over it. The idea of just playing the game for enjoyment even if he loses doesn’t cross his mind.
Now, he’s rephrased what happened with Ana as “for her own good,” which doesn’t exactly jive with his actions over the past few chapters; the man followed her around for quite a while, engineering meeting after meeting with her, only to back out when it becomes apparent that she might want romance in addition to kink, claiming that it’s the best thing for her… sorry man, you get one or the other. You don’t get to chase her quite as hard as you did, and then back out because you knew that you wouldn’t be good for her.
The truth is, Christian didn’t really try, either. Despite the privacy invasion and stalking, he stopped pursuing her the moment she intimated that she wants a boyfriend, but that’s not mutually exclusive with what Christian wanted in the least. Ana could want a boyfriend and still be amenable to the idea of casual kinky sex with an attractive billionaire. The latter could easily precede the former, a girl can have fun while she’s unattached and then stop when she finds a romantic partner that better fits her. Frankly, Grey should know that the desire for romance isn’t uncommon outside of his weird head- hell, it’s extremely probable that his past submissives weren’t committed to being completely without boyfriends their entire lives either, that they were willing to have their fun with Grey and get together with someone else later- so this idea that wanting a boyfriend means not wanting anything other than that is completely ludicrous, just one more baseless assumption the man makes seemingly only because the plot requires it.
If my shrink was back from his vacation in England I could call him. His psychobabble shit would stop me feeling this lousy.
Okay, so I’m noticing that every time Christian talks about his psychiatrist, he does so in the same derisive, dismissive language, and I have to ask: does Grey actually gain something from his sessions with his shrink? If psychological treatment is ineffective for him then there’s little need for Grey to continue seeing the guy; it’s a waste of money and time, and I’m sure his psychiatrist would like to take on a new patient who doesn’t insult him and his profession. But if Christian actually does get something out of his sessions, then this constant barrage of put downs in his internal monologue is profoundly assholeish behavior. What kind of a man finds himself healed by a counselor and then does nothing but insult him whenever he thinks about it?
Anyway, the- all too brief- scene ends with Christian resolving to apologize to Ana for leading her on, which I guess is a human thing to do, though of course Christian phrases it in the least gracious way possible:
Maybe I should find some way to apologize, then I can forget about this whole sorry episode and get the girl out of my head.
Yeah, pay no mind to the fact that you obviously upset her and should maybe feel bad about meticulously arranging the situation so that she would be if she didn’t meet your exacting standards, all while hiding behind a mask of carefully tended indifference and intimidation; the only reason you have to apologize is because you think it might positively affect you!
For some reason there’s another scene break, this time to the morning, and again I don’t see why it’s necessary; all it does is break the flow of the story, and all of the information that was imparted in the first scene could just as easily be related in the second without dragging on the narrative nearly as much as this stop/start nonsense. Given how fast everything goes in this book, it might even be beneficial to slow things down and actually describe a scene for once, to layer in some detail rather than just have two or three breakneck, barely sketched infodumps in a row.
But no, it’s far more important to just arbitrarily accept every single first idea for a scene that E.L James gets into her head, no editing or rewrites necessary. And I guess all that is true, given that this crap is an inexplicable money spinner no matter how poorly it’s written.
The program on the radio is a welcome distraction until the second news item. It’s about the sale of a rare manuscript: an unfinished novel by Jane Austen called The Watsons that’s being auctioned in London. “Books,” she said.
Two things of note here: firstly, isn’t it an amazing coincidence that such a manuscript would go on sale in such a way as to facilitate this exact unconnected series of events a day later? Some might say too coincidental. Or just lazy writing.
Secondly, Christian’s memories of yesterdays events also contain the dialogue tags of the scene. That, my friends, is an impossible bit of fourth wall breaking brought about by the fact that nobody on the publishing team for this thing knew what they were doing, and editing is almost non-existent here.
See, the first mistake is that it has been established previously that italicized text denotes both flashbacks and Christian’s internal monologue- which is for some reason distinct from his narration in some cases but not others- which is confusing just on its own; if you’re going to use an altered text format to represent something in your story, consistency is important. You can’t have the same formatting mean two different things, and flip between them without making it clear which is meant at any given time. There are more font options than just italics, after all; there’s simply no need to double up.
The second mistake is that James didn’t just go back and rewrite the goddamn scene being referenced here so that Ana said more than just one word about books, and the dialogue tags wouldn’t be needed to represent that this is a flashback. I acknowledge that just having the word “Books,” alone wouldn’t be clear as a reference to the prior scene, but simply copy/pasting the tags in too just breaks the fourth wall, since there’s no way that Grey was privy to the tags and this is his narration: this flashback now contains something that he literally could not know, and does not exist within the context of the story. It’s like if Grey pointed out the page numbers; he’s not supposed to know they’re there, because he’s represented as a real person within the world of the novel, not a self aware protagonist.
James had access to the manuscript here before it went to press, she and the editing team had to have picked up on how awkward and metatextually inappropriate that line was; is she really so averse to any form of second draft that she’d just leave that in there, sticking out like a sore thumb, rather than just scrolling back a few pages to write a sentence or two of additional dialogue?
But then, given the apparently extensive copy/paste job that gave birth to this pile of garbage, it doesn’t really surprise me that the first writing pass would also be the last.
Even the news reminds me of little Miss Bookworm.
This insistence Christian has of giving everyone he meets derogatory nicknames is really getting on my nerves; the racially charged “boy,” for Jose is bad enough, but his inner snark track railing against literally every other person, including the one he’s supposed to be attracted to, just comes across as petty and weird. He’s so aggressive even in his own mind when he’s completely alone; how is this attractive to people?
Christian has the idea to send Ana original printings of some British lit greats, as an apology for vaguely rejecting her after absolutely nobody brought up the idea of romance, and I wonder if he’s just trying to be counterproductive on purpose? Because gifts tell the recipient things about the gift giver, and hugely expensive, rare, and personally tailored gifts say that the giver has very warm feelings regarding the recipient. They do not say that the recipient should never see the giver again, for their own good. Christian is giving a gift that Ana will have little choice but to interpret as the opposite of its intended statement; it’s not as if she’s aware of the fact that Grey splashes his money around like crazy on complete strangers. Given what she knows of him, this has to be a romance gift, not a “no hard feelings, but seriously, keep away from me,” gift.
Moments later I’m in my library with Jude the Obscure and a boxed set of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in its three volumes laid out on the billiard table in front of me. Both are bleak books, with tragic themes. Hardy had a dark, twisted soul. Like me.
Okay, so… E.L James has to know that all this “I’ve got a dark soul,” shit makes Christian sound like a sixteen year old’s deviantart account, right? Fucking Batman doesn’t brood as much or as overtly as this ass, and Batman is known as a dour, overly angst-ridden character.
Not only is it entirely on the nose, it’s also lazy, because “dark soul” is literally the only way that Christian’s mindset has been described, thus far. Word or phrase repetition kinda drives me nuts, I had that drilled into me by an editor that actually gave a damn and wouldn’t let me use the same root word multiple times on the same page.
So, Christian is going to send this woman pricey first editions as an apology for sort-of-but-not-really rejecting her when he had no obligation not to; if the gift itself didn’t send the wrong message, the utterly insane overreaction to something pretty minor that they constitute absolutely does.
But that’s not the point. Ana mentioned Hardy as a favorite and I’m sure she’s never seen, let alone owned, a first edition.
And precisely what the fuck makes you say that, Christian? Because she’s not as rich as you, there’s no possibility that she’s ever been exposed to what you consider to be the finer things in life? I’ve seen first editions at bookstores, you shit; they’re not that hard to come by.
This is what really irritates me about the way Christian is written, the utter indecisiveness of his character; he’s both an irredeemable classist and utterly absorbed in the continuation of his childhood circumstances. The guy wants to make “ooh, I was a poor boy with a rough upbringing,” into such an integral part of who he is that he never stops bringing it up, and yet he makes completely baseless assumptions about what a common person like Ana’s life is like without a hint of irony. It’s so completely, flatly a real part of his character that it makes the “dark soul” crap come off as even more of an affectation, if that were possible.
There’s another scene break, and we come back to Christian in his car, leafing through his books to find an appropriate quote to write to Ana with. We get the briefest of hints that there’s an actual person beneath the Christian Grey exterior, some character insight to justify an additional book being written, when Grey relates that he used to read heavily as a teenager to escape into fiction, but because that might actually be an interesting thing to read about that would make the man into a more fleshed out being, it’s only like a sentence long and seems to exist only to tell us that Christian is so much smarter than his brother Elliot, who never read ever, you guys.
Taylor drops Grey off at his office, and I want you to look closely at how he interacts with his female staff, versus his male ones. Okay, so here’s the girls:
The young receptionist greets me with a flirtatious wave.
Every day…Like a cheesy tune on repeat.
Ignoring her, I make my way to the elevator that will take me straight to my floor.
And here’s the guys:
“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” Barry on security greets me as he presses the button to summon the elevator.
“How’s your son, Barry?”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
I wonder, can anyone see the key difference there? I dunno, they’re so similar!
Besides, how does Grey know that Barry wasn’t flirting with him too?
Just in case you think that this disrespect to women is a one time thing, you need to know that it continues with literally every other woman Grey interacts with in his office:
I step into the elevator and it shoots up to the twentieth floor. Andrea is on hand to greet me.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey. Ros wants to see you to discuss the Darfur project. Barney would like a few minutes—”
I hold my hand up to silence her.
He has her heel like she’s a fucking dog.
“And I need a double espresso. Get Olivia to make it for me.”
But looking around I notice that Olivia is absent. It’s a relief. The girl is always mooning over me and it’s fucking irritating.
Olivia doesn’t even have to be present to make it into Grey’s eternal bitch fest.
“Would you like milk, sir?” Andrea asks.
Good girl. I give her a smile.
“Not today.” I do like to keep them guessing how I take my coffee.
First of all, what patronizing bullshit. “Good girl,” what a fucking asshole.
Secondly, what kind of person plays mind games like this with the people in his employ? He “keeps them guessing,” how he takes his coffee? What does that even mean? Why does he find that satisfying? So he just intentionally obfuscates his expectations around his subordinates so that they tiptoe on eggshells for fear of displeasing their boss? Because you know with Christian, any deviation from his exacting and arbitrary standards will be met with the same sorts of sulking temper tantrums that have characterized him so far. Talk about a hostile fucking work environment.
Christian gets Welch on the phone, the same private investigator he used in the first chapter, and has him invade Ana’s privacy some more, and we get another scene break. What’s notable here is that a large amount of this scene is nothing more than one line paragraphs that are nothing but dialogue without the tags. This type of writing is okay in small doses, or to indicate rapid fire conversations, but it’s so very overused in this book, to the degree that it just feels bare bones. It’s just E.L James rushing through shit, instead of a stylistic choice.
Oh, also? There’s this line:
“I’d like you to find out when her last final exam takes place and let me know as a matter of priority.”
Ignore the obviously flawed phrase “a matter of priority,” since it’s clear that the final word encapsulates all the others in a way that renders them unnecessary. No, what we need to talk about is the other careless redundancy here: “last final exam”? As opposed to her last penultimate exam?
No. See, I don’t actually think this is that kind of dumb mistake, I think it’s another sort entirely. Grey is set in America, but E.L James is British, and those two cultures have very different terms for referring to things. In America, it’s “finals,” but in Britain it’s “exams,” and the original Fifty Shades is somewhat notorious for having exactly zero concessions for the setting, in that James insists upon her own British-isms rather than more accurate American slang, leading to a book that’s entirely inauthentic for the setting it purports to inhabit. It’s just another symptom of her complete disinterest in writing a decent work of literature, and unwillingness to actually research anything at any time- it’s literally the level of work one would expect from a fan fiction and nothing more, despite the professional publisher. What I think happened here was that James had written “exam,” and either the find/replace function on her word processor or, more charitably her editor, missed the requisite deletion when replacing the word with the more appropriate “final.”
It’s one of those little, telling moments where the absolute minimum of effort put into this boondoggle shines through the gloss and sheen the publisher haphazardly slopped over James’ nakedly greedy fan fic cash grab. But no matter how much you attempt to polish a cynical, mercenary turd, the stink will make itself known in the end. You can’t escape it.
The next scene begins with that bastion of entertainment and engagement, the business meeting:
“So the next topic is where to site the new plant. You know the tax breaks in Detroit are huge. I sent you a summary.”
“I know. But God, does it have to be Detroit?”
“I don’t know what you have against the place. It meets our criteria.”
Okay, so I want to make something clear: Christian is from Detroit. It’s where he grew up, it’s the tough life that he was rescued from when he was adopted. If there are any people that he should have nothing but sympathy for, if there’s one area on the planet whose plight he should fully empathize with, it is Detroit, and yet he’s resistant even to the idea of siting a plant there. Christian Grey, this supposed big time philanthropist whose childhood trauma prompted him to funnel incredible amounts of money into ending world hunger, is willing to facilitate the further decay and poverty of the very city that hosted the same experiences that made him so charitable, even at great personal cost to himself because he’s avoiding huge tax breaks. He simply refuses to help the very people he should, both logically and emotionally, be the most interested in helping; he’s apparently feeding the world so that nobody would have to go hungry like he did, but he’ll actively work against helping children who are in situations that are as similar to his own as it is possible to be, not for any good business reason, but for no reason at all.
It’s not like he has to go back there. It’s not like he even has to look at the place again, yet he’s still being an obstacle to revitalizing the area even though that goes against his stated goals.
What the fuck is wrong with this man?
The meeting scene seems to only exist so that Grey can get his phone call from Welch, making the entire rest of the scene completely irrelevant, but the upshot is that he learns the date of Ana’s last exam, and so is for some reason pressed for time in sending her his apology gift. It’s not really made clear why, but I’m actually happy with that: whatever rationale James would see fit to write would inevitably be petty and needlessly complicated. We’re probably better off with a random ticking clock out of nowhere.
Hey, in the next scene, Olivia gets to actually be in the room when Christian is an unrepentant cunt to her!
AT 12:30 OLIVIA SHUFFLES into my office with lunch. She’s a tall, willowy girl with a pretty face. Sadly, it’s always misdirected at me with longing. She’s carrying a tray with what I hope is something edible. After a busy morning, I’m starving. She trembles as she puts it on my desk.
Tuna salad. Okay. She hasn’t fucked this up for once.
So, Olivia is literally shaking when she has to do something that her boss will pass judgement on. When I was saying earlier that I suspect that all his (female, seemingly) employees would have to walk on eggshells around their completely unreasonable boss? I was not fucking joking on that.
Christian has selected a quote to write to Ana to go along with her gift, and it’s an… interesting selection:
Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks…
So after all those derisive and belittling assumptions he had about Ana and English literature, that she’d clearly only read the romances and so on, he selects a quote that endorses women reading as a way of educating themselves. Which is it? Is Ana’s chosen major a frippery-laden excursion through romance novels, or not?
And… that’s actually kinda it, for this chapter. Grey has the books and his note shipped to Ana- for some reason the entire exchange is rendered in full, but also without anything but the bare bones dialogue, so that any possible additional details we might have gotten have been rendered impossible from the outset- and then the chapter ends. So little actually happens here that I’m hard pressed to find even a single reason that it should be its own chapter; it’s a scene that wasn’t present in the first book, but at the same time, we don’t get any real insight into Grey as a character other than that he’s an unrepentant, bloody minded sexist, which we already knew from his interactions with Ana.
It’s just a guy having a bad night’s sleep and then sending a creepy note to a girl, in between passive aggressively torturing people under his power.
I feel like that’s a near perfect encapsulation of the series as a whole.
Thanks for tuning in again, and I hope you’ll join me next time, for more of this complete and utter tosh.