24 August 2015: In Defense of EL James and Grey

As you know, I’ve been chipping away at my To Be Read pile these past few weeks.  This week I finally got around to reading Grey, the fourth book in the Fifty Shades of Grey books. Technically it’s a retelling of the first book, but this time it’s written from Christian’s point of view, not Ana’s.   Why am I in defense of EL James?  Well, because once again, Entertainment Weekly has given an unwarranted review (see previous post on Go Set A Watchman)  Here is the review in EW:img404

First of all, true fans of the Fifty Shades of Grey books should have been well prepared for what was to come in Grey.  Why?  Because at the end of the last book(Fifty Shades Freed), EL James wrote out the first few scenes of Book 1 from Christian’s POV as a bonus.  In actuality, it was a sneak peek at Grey and I’m sure what prompted her readers to request the full book (see beginning of review above)  That said, if you’re a fan of the books, Grey was exactly what was expected.

I take umbrage at the statement “The appeal of Fifty Shades lay in James’ ability to describe sexual excitement from a woman’s point of view.”  If that were its sole appeal, I find it hard to believe that readers would suffer through more than half the book before the sex parts start.  The appeal of Fifty Shades is in the characters, in how they evolve and awaken to new ideas and sacrifice for one another.  Yes, the sex stuff is fun, but really it’s a book of exploration, one with one hell of an ending!  If it wasn’t a good book, no one would have suffered through the first half of the book to get to the sex stuff.

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Was I disappointed as the review states, that I didn’t gain insight into Christian in Grey?  No, I can’t say that.  In Fifty Shades, it’s quite obvious that Christian, although a complex and tormented man, up until Ana, he’s been satisfied to live his life at one speed, coasting along as best he can, simply managing his inner pain.  So naturally that’s where he is at the beginning of Grey.  His motivations towards Ana were never pure, he wanted her as a submissive and nothing else.  Is it a bit disappointing to read that after you’ve finished the series?  Yes, but that’s who he was, dark and twisted.  If you wanted him to be the more mature Christian that he is at the end of Fifty Shades Freed, you will be disappointed because he hasn’t evolved to become that man yet.

So what insight do you gain in Grey?  Christian really is stuck on one speed, master/submissive speed.  When Ana tries to change gears on him, he’s totally confused and doesn’t get it.  Let’s face it, Christian is a bit self-centered, no surprise there, so when Ana acts differently that his usual partners, Christian doesn’t understand why.  Again, no surprise there.  I think a lot of the insight comes from the other characters that you get a more in-depth glimpse of.  Elena’s relationship with Christian for one.  It’s insinuated in the series that Elena sent Christian to Georgia to sink Ana’s relationship with him, but I don’t get that so much in the Grey.  I have to say I think I like Elena a lot more after Grey.  Yes, she’s a bit of a pedo as Ana says, but not half as malicious as Ana thinks.  Seeing it from Christian’s POV allows you to see Elena as less of a predator and more of the confidant that Christian had always described her to Ana as.  The same goes for Taylor and Mrs. Jones.  Both of Christian’s employees are described as highly concerned for him when things go south with Ana, but also happy for him when things go well.  I like that they seem more human in their caring for him as almost a family member.

Things I’d have liked to have seen:  Christian knows Taylor and Mrs. Jones are an item, I guess I’d have liked to have a bit of that tossed into the story, just a glimpse of them together helping to give a more accurate description of the Grey household.

I like that the book has a bit more of an upbeat ending (as opposed to Fifty Shades) since a sequel is not guaranteed, but I think Christian should have been more in the depths of despair before his ray of hope fills the last few pages.  I only say this because his despair is supposed to be his low point in the series.   Given that, I think he should have been a bit more broken up, you know the pounding your chest, howling in misery sort of thing.  I guess I always pictured that in my mind.

The review ends by saying that Christian’s staffers should have called the police at his scariest behavior.  This seems like a silly statement to me.  Let’s face it, Christian is a man who takes women into the Red Room.  Both Taylor and Mrs. Jones are fully aware of what goes on in there.  It’s done between consenting adults so why call the police?  After Ana leaves at the end of the book Christian takes to jogging by her apartment several times to see if her light’s on.  Ok, that’s a little stalkerish, but really, how uncommon is that?  Certainly not something to call the cops over.

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Does Christian love pain or Ana?  At this point in the story, he’s not ready to love anyone yet.  He still hasn’t evolved into the man who can feel as if he’s worthy of loving or being loved.  Yes, he loves pain, very much.  He loves that, unlike his messed up early years, he has total control.  What he loves is the control, and in order for him to really love Ana, he needs to let go of that ideal that control is the only way to happiness.  He’s just starting to realize that at the end of the book, but he’s not quite there yet.   I think the reviewer was disappointed that this development hasn’t happened at the end of the book, but I’m not sure what they were expecting.  It didn’t happen in Fifty Shades so I’m not sure why they’d think it would happen in Grey.

So again, Entertainment Weekly gives an unwarranted D+ review.   Me, I’d give Grey a B+.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, Author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love Is A Lie: Finding and Losing Love Online.

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