Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 2)

This chapter is worse than the first chapter. You’ve been warned.

I’m not gonna recap, now or ever, so read the first chapter if you haven’t yet.

First chapter

Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter Two

Ana literally dashes out of Christian Grey’s headquarters or whatever it is. Why? I’m not really sure. She then goes on to be completely befuddled as to why Christian has affected her so. Is it his looks? His civility? Wealth? Power? (Yes. What civility? Yes. Yes.)

I want to make this perfectly clear: Ana cannot comprehend why a good-looking man about her own age has got her all hot and bothered. For that matter, she doesn’t even seem to understand her own reaction; she mentally calls it “irrational”. What? Is she a robot? An alien? An alien robot? I don’t want to jump to conclusions too hastily — maybe there’ll be some explanation later — but it seems as though Ana has actually lived her entire life without once experiencing any kind of sexual feelings, no matter what the reason. Is that something women reading this are expected to relate to? Because, frankly, I think she ought to see a doctor.

Anyways, onward. Ana gets in her car (Kate’s, technically) and heads home. She reflects on Christian some more, coming to the conclusion that he’s handsome but a dick. Then she tosses that conclusion aside and decides that since he’s incredibly wealthy, he has the right to be a dick. Can someone other than Ana please be the main character of this story? I don’t know how much more of this I can handle.

Cut to Ana arriving home. Home in Ana’s case is a duplex apartment Kate’s parents bought for Kate to live in (was a college education not expensive enough for these people?) and that Ana pays rent on. She’s lived here for the past four years. (So I guess she knew Kate in high school?)

Kate and Ana have a little chat about the interview. This is yet another opportunity for the author to demonstrate how terrible she is at dialogue. The characters don’t talk like they’re having a conversation; well, Kate sort of does, but Ana doesn’t even pretend to be doing anything other than exposition-dumping. Without any prompting, and oblivious to what Kate is actually talking to her about, Ana launches into multiple descriptions of Christian Grey. Here’s one of them:

“Mostly he was courteous, formal, slightly stuffy – like he’s old before his time. He doesn’t talk like a man of twenty-something. How old is he anyway?”

Old before his time? How sexy! He’s twenty-seven, by the way, as Kate helpfully informs Ana and the reader. They continue to talk to each other in a way that does not in the slightest resemble normal human communication, ending when Ana announces that she’s going to her job at Clayton’s. Kate makes a cursory attempt to convince her otherwise then immediately gives up.

Clayton’s is a hardware store — the largest independent hardware store in the Portland area. What a claim to fame. Ana’s worked there since she started college. (Her college, by the way, is Washington State University. I know nothing about the school but maybe I’ll look it up later.) Ana inelegantly uses the topic of hardware stores to tell us that she’s “crap at any DIY” and “much more of a curl-up-with-a-book-in-a-comfy-chair-by-the-fire kind of girl”. I don’t care! Ana arrives at her job and gets to work stocking shelves.

And then cut to… Ana back home. Why was that entire hardware scene necessary? Kate is busy typing up the interview. When she sees Ana, she wonders aloud why Ana didn’t accept Christian’s offer to show her around, since Christian obviously wanted to spend more time with her. This is evidently not the sort of wondering that requires answers, as none are forthcoming and Kate immediately goes back to her work, leaving Ana to fidget and bite her lip over the thought of Christian wanting to spend more time with her. Kate pays no attention. I’m beginning to think that Kate is this story’s best character.

A bit later, Kate brings up the subject of Christian’s good looks. Ana acts disinterested, but Kate doesn’t seem to buy it. Even Ana can’t be immune to Christian’s looks, according to Kate. Well, I’m immune to Christian’s looks, and unlike Ana I have an actual sexuality, so I don’t know what that says about me according to Kate.

Kate keeps insisting that Christian has an interest in Ana. Ana keeps denying it. Kate also reveals that she threw in the “gay” question because she’d never seen Christian with a date in the society pages. That is perfectly idiotic reasoning, since gay people date too. Ana works on an essay (on Tess of the D’Urbervilles) until midnight, then goes to bed and has vague dreams about Christian Grey. Really vague. Like, here’s the entire sentence describing them:

That night I dream of dark places, bleak white cold floors, and gray eyes.

See what I mean?

For the rest of the week, Ana does normal college-kid stuff — studies for finals, works at her job — and Kate finishes her last edition of her student magazine. Ana gives her mother in Georgia a call and learns that her mother is taking up candle-making. It seems her mother has no actual job and just tries random things to keep herself occupied. Is Ana’s mother permanently five years old? For that matter, is Ana herself permanently five years old? It could potentially explain a lot. Ana’s mother is on her fourth husband, and the latest one — creatively named Bob — is apparently “keeping an eye on her” in Ana’s absence. Those womenfolk sure do need looking after, men, amirite? I’m guessing Ana’s mother is, like Bella’s mother, supposedly scatterbrained even though we never really see any evidence of that behavior. Ana’s mother suspects that Ana’s met someone because Ana hesitates at one point while talking. Okay. Ana denies it, her mother tells her she needs to get out more, Ana changes the subject and ignores her mother’s excellent advice. Ana then calls her stepdad Ray (I guess her real dad is dead or otherwise out of the picture, because this guy — husband #2 of Ana’s mother — is who she considers to be her father). Ray is, like Bella’s dad, a quiet dude who seems perfectly content spending all his time doing man things like watching soccer and fishing. Also carpentry, which I guess is his job. Ana’s conversation with Ray is not even described, which makes me wonder why it even needed mentioning.

On Friday night, Ana’s friend José shows up unannounced with a bottle of champagne. José, who I’m pretty sure is this story’s Jacob Black except Mexican instead of Native American, has been friends with Ana since the first day of college. It also turns out that their dads were in the same army unit, so now their fathers are friends too. I don’t care! José is an engineering major even though his passion is photography. Once again I fail to give a shit. Through Ana’s narration, we learn that José is the first in his family to go to college. I wonder if the author majored in Racist.

José says he has news, and Ana asks him if the news is that he’s managed to avoid being kicked out for another week. Given that I don’t even know what he could possibly be kicked out for, as he sounds like a pretty good student and person from the author’s brief description, this joke was rather less hilarious than it was possibly intended to be. José’s news is actually that a gallery in Portland is going to be exhibiting some of his photos next month. Ana hugs him and Kate says she’ll put it in the paper. José then asks Ana to come to the opening with him, but the way he says it makes it sound like he’s asking her on a date. Ana gets embarrassed, because she likes José a lot but not as anything other than a friend, and she knows he’s got a crush on her. According to Ana:

He’s cute and funny, but he’s just not for me. He’s more like the brother I never had. Katherine often teases me that I’m missing the need-a-boyfriend gene, but the truth is – I just haven’t met anyone who… well, whom I’m attracted to, even though part of me longs for those trembling knees, heart-in-my-mouth, butterflies-in-my-belly, sleepless nights.

I think being attracted to someone generally brings on more of the hand-in-your-pants sleepless nights than the trembling-knees type, but what do I know? Oh, that’s right: more than Ana, because I don’t have a single-target sexuality. Is that an actual real-life thing? I don’t want to mock it if there are actually people who only ever feel attraction to one specific person in the span of a lifetime, but this just seems ridiculous. Am I expected to relate to her? Is anyone expected to relate to her?

She follows that up with this:

Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high. 

Or just far too weird. BTW, Ana, for future reference, Christian Grey is not one of your literary romantic heroes. I know the author’s probably setting him up to be all Byronic but no, it turns out that only works if you can actually write.

Ana is quick to point out to herself that she’s felt attracted to Christian, then immediately dismisses the idea and decides that she wasn’t attracted to him after all. Okay? And we’re expected to care why? She never answers José and the scene ends without resolving a damn thing.

The next day, Saturday, Ana is working at Clayton’s. For some reason, the store is incredibly busy. (Ana says it’s because it’s the start of the summer season. I’ll go along with that, as I know nothing about hardware stores and when they’re busy.) Around lunchtime, there’s a lull and Ana sits down to eat her lunch while checking on some orders. Then she glances up and sees Christian Grey standing at the counter. In the words of Ana’s narration: Heart failure. (And yes, it’s italicized.)

Christian greets her fairly politely, though the whole time he’s staring at her intently in a way that I pictured as being kind of creepy, so I don’t know how polite that is. He explains to Ana — who has of course been rendered practically speechless — that he was in the area and needed to “stock up on a few things”. Let me guess: rope? Ana continues to internally freak out, heart pounding, face flushing, etc. She goes on and on about how he is the “epitome of male beauty” or something before the plot finally resumes and she manages to ask him what she can help him with. His reaction is to smile, “like he’s privy to some secret”, which I imagine means that he wants to tell her he has a nine-inch steel rod he’d like her to inspect for him or something else of that nature. Instead, he tells her he’d like some cable ties. I had to look “cable ties” up, but it turns out they’re exactly what they sound like: ties for fastening bundles of cables (usually for electronics) together.

(Side note: Christian is not in the area to see Ana. He’s funding research at the university she attends and wanted to check in on how it was going, or something like that. He may well be at the hardware store to see her, though, which would be creepy.)

Ana leads him to the cables while wondering what he’s going to use them for. Christian picks up some cables, smiles at her, and asks for masking tape. She asks him if he’s redecorating. He says he isn’t, and smirks. Ana wonders if she’s funny-looking and that’s why he’s laughing at her, a conclusion which really makes no sense. While he’s picking out the masking tape (he takes the widest kind they have in stock), he makes some small talk by asking her how long she’s worked there. At one point, while he’s selecting rope (called it), he asks her if she was a Girl Scout. This is only slightly less of a non-sequiter in context. She tells him organized group activities aren’t her thing, so he asks her what her thing is. Ana tells him she likes books, mainly classic British literature. This more or less ends the conversation.

Ana asks Christian if he needs anything else, and he asks what she’d recommend. She doesn’t know what he’s doing, but going on the assumption that he’s doing some type of DIY she recommends coveralls. So as not to ruin his clothing, she explains. He smirks and says he could always take his clothes off. Why am I expected to like this guy? Ana blushes, and then Christian decides to buy coveralls anyway. Uh, why? I assume that this stuff is actually for kinky purposes rather than DIY, so why does he need coveralls? Unless he plans to roleplay as a DIY enthusiast, I don’t see how this makes sense.

Christian asks about the article, and Ana explains that she’s not writing it, her roommate is. Ana also mentions that Kate wants some original photos of Christian Grey, you know, for the article. He says he’s in the area and that maybe they could arrange a shoot, and hands her his business card.

Just then, Paul Clayton, little brother of the hardware store’s owner and yet another of Ana’s male friends, shows up and gives Ana a hug. He’s home from Princeton (of course he is) for his brother’s birthday. Paul keeps an arm draped around Ana’s shoulder after releasing her from the hug, because like every other male in this book he is required to have a crush on Ana. (I think he must have been Mike Newton in the original.) Christian isn’t too happy, and the two of them exchange hostile looks while Ana babbles through introductions. Once Paul realizes who Christian is, he’s awestruck and tries to be friendly, but Christian brushes him off. Christian pays for his things and leaves, telling Ana on the way out that he’s glad Kate couldn’t do the interview. Ana somehow interprets this as “I am definitely attracted to him but he can’t possibly like me”, and resolves to simply admire him from afar.

Omitted from this summary: several pages’ worth of pure sexual tension.

Holy Cow! Alert:

I halt at his expression, his eyes darkening. Holy cow.

This chapter also contains two instances of “holy crap”.

Great Prose Alert: The entire chapter could qualify. Here’s a few examples worth your notice:

  • His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.
  • My heart is pounding a frantic tattoo, and for some reason I’m blushing furiously under his steady scrutiny.
  • With my heart almost strangling me – because it’s in my throat trying to escape from my mouth – I head down one of the aisles to the electrical section.
  • “Are you in Portland on business?” I ask, and my voice is too high, like I’ve got my finger trapped in a door or something. Damn! Try to be cool Ana!
  • Quickly, with trembling fingers, I measure out five yards against the fixed ruler, aware that his hot gray gaze is on me.

Clueless Virgin Ana Alert: Ana and Christian accidentally brush fingers again, and once again she feels as if she’s been shocked:

I gasp involuntarily as I feel it, all the way down to somewhere dark and unexplored, deep in my belly.

Please just go and explore and stop being so completely clueless you are in your TWENTIES for god’s sake

Christian Grey Has Gray Eyes Alert: As we’re informed nine times in this chapter alone.

Did The Author Minor In Geology? Alert: Not once, but twice in this chapter a metaphor involving tectonic plates is used. Not the same metaphor. Two different metaphors. Involving tectonic plates.

And Now, A Word From Ana’s Subconscious Alert: One of the things I heard about this book before beginning it is that Ana has a lot of mental conversations with her “subconscious”, and, later, with her “inner goddess”. Her inner goddess (is that what she calls her lady bits?) hasn’t made an appearance yet, but her subconscious is just starting to get chatty.

  • [After Ana reflects on never having felt attracted to anyone] Until very recently, the unwelcome, still small voice of my subconscious whispers.
  • [Ana wonders why Christian is at Clayton’s] And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: he’s here to see you.
  • [When Ana learns why Christian is in the area] See? Not here to find you at all, my subconscious sneers at me, loud, proud, and pouty.
  • [Ana tries to calm herself down while talking to Christian] Try and be cool, Ana, my tortured subconscious begs on bended knee. [Foreshadowing?]
  • [In answer to the question “What is your thing?”] “Books,” I whisper, but inside, my subconscious is screaming: You! You are my thing!

I would think that an actual subconscious, being, you know, subconscious, would have a little less to say to Ana on a conscious level. But hey, I’m not an English major, so what do I know?

Thoughts So Far: 

Though this chapter is the same number of pages as the preceding one, it seems like a lot more happened in it. This is probably due to the first chapter being about 90% sexual tension, by my rough estimate. However, a lot of what happened in this one was just inelegant exposition-dumping. The prose also seems worse in this chapter, especially during the Christian-Grey-comes-to-the-hardware-store scene. I worry that the author typed portions of it one-handed.

We learn a little bit more about Ana in this chapter, but we don’t learn a damn thing more about Christian except that he sometimes goes to hardware stores. Neither character is compelling so far. On the other hand, despite possessing a very stupid name, Katherine Kavanagh (did I not mention that that’s Kate’s full name? It is) is shaping up to be my favorite character, because at least she acts sort of like a normal human being.

Two more of Ana’s friends are introduced this chapter, both male, both based on Twilight characters, both with crushes on her. Oh, how lovely. I’m starting to wonder what exactly makes Ana so attractive. She must possess simply amazing good looks to make up for her lack of any personality other than “I only get turned on by creepy businessmen”.

While we’re on the subject of Ana, let’s add two more things to her list of annoying traits: 1) her obliviousness to the obvious fact that Christian is attracted to her, and 2) her mental conversations with her “subconscious”. Is there anything likable about this character?

Let’s talk about the hardware scene, shall we? I guess it’s a semi-plausible way for them to bump into each other again, though I don’t get why Christian goes out in public to buy this stuff instead of ordering it online (since I’m sure he values privacy greatly), and I don’t know why a girl as clumsy as Ana would be working in a hardware store. It still seems like a bit much of a coincidence. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Christian knew she was working there, which, like I said before, is creepy. However…

…all that aside, the scene is still crap. We get tons of description of how hawt HAWT HAAAWWWWWT Christian is, but that doesn’t do a damn thing for me as a reader. I get that he’s attractive; that’s practically the story’s premise. At this point, the author should be showing, not telling, how sexy this dude is. I don’t care whose damn POV it’s from, and if Ana is so incapable of coherent thought around this guy, maybe it shouldn’t be first-person.

The closest this scene gets to showing instead of telling is when Ana and Christian brush fingers. It’s obvious that this really turns Ana on, even though her narration doesn’t tell us “Holy cow, I’m so turned on right now!”. Instead, when she speaks again her voice sounds “husky and breathy”, which surprises Christian. When he answers her, he sounds like he’s getting turned on too. This moment is also remarkably concise, only a few lines long. You know what annoys me, though? The only damn reason the author showed us instead of telling us was because Ana is so virginal she doesn’t recognize her own arousal or anyone else’s.

Which gets me back to the subject of Ana’s status as a clueless virgin. Would it have ruined the story if she wasn’t a virgin? Or if she was, but was less clueless? Or if she had actually experienced sexual attraction before in her life? I can’t relate to her in the slightest, and if I can’t relate to a girl not much older than me with not much less romantic experience than me, I really don’t know how the middle-aged housewives buying this crap can.

Two chapters in, I’m beginning to hate this book. And they haven’t even started fucking yet.

Next chapter

18 Responses to “Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 2)”

  1. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to read every review of these chapters. I won’t have to read the book itself, of course and thankfully, but just reading about what happens… ;-; Also, ugh, that prose!

    You know what would be great? I wish that some good fan fiction would be rewritten into original novels and published. Stuff like this is probably giving fan fiction an even worse name than it already has, which is a shame for the good authors out there. I’d like to do that myself sometime, actually.

    By the way, have you ever read “The Aperture Games?” As the title suggests, it’s a crossover between “Portal” and “The Hunger Games,” and it’s probably the best “Portal” fan fiction I’ve ever read. I literally cannot even begin to describe how amazingly in character GLaDOS is. <3

  2. Waffle2789 Says:

    After reading this, I have a question to ask.
    I’ve noticed I’m suffering from a lot of I don’t care moments, what you say when given unnecessary detail. But I wanna strike the balance between Too little and too much detail.

    • Waffle2789 Says:

      I forgot to add this in—I may be suffering the “I don’t care!” Moments from the fic me and my friend are writing. I wanna make sure I’m not putting in too much detail.

    • Well, here’s the thing: if your characters and settings are well-written and interesting, then it’s much harder to write an “I don’t care!” moment. If you’re doing a good job, your readers will care. A good rule of thumb, though, is to cut out any details you don’t think add to the story or develop the characters. Generally, if the detail doesn’t establish something about the setting or character and won’t be important to the plot later, you can cut it. (Doesn’t mean you HAVE to cut it, but you don’t want too many unnecessary details.)

      Hope that helps!

  3. Oh, my. This book sounds soooo great…/sarcasm

    I can think of more attractive guys than this Grey bloke sounds. *sigh* Benedict Cumberbatch…

    Never read this crap, but my you survive the rest of the experience, my friend. Should I deploy smooth jazz to help for the next chapter?

  4. Scrambled Bananas Says:

    Have you read Twilight? If so, can you tell yet which one is worse? Judging by your MST alone, I think this sounds worse, but I’m curious about your opinion. :3

  5. Progeny Ex Machina Says:

    To answer your question way back in the middle of the review, it is possible in the real world for a person to experience sexual attraction to only one person. It’s like how some people go their entire lives completely straight and then find themselves inexplicably attracted to someone of the same sex. Maybe Ana is asexual and Christian is her “gay exception”. (It’s also possible for one to develop these feelings later than most people do.)

    That said, I highly doubt James sat down with her keyboard and thought, “hmm, let’s highlight a less common form of sexuality!”. I’m sure it’s just an attempt to make her an ingenue or something.

    • It’s certainly possible, but I think it’s probably very rare, and it seems an odd choice for a story like this. Aren’t the readers supposed to relate to the main character? I doubt many asexuals-with-one-exception are reading Fifty Shades.

      If the author had done some research and actually wanted to portray someone with an unusual sexuality, that’d be one thing. I think what we’re actually dealing with is bad writing.

      • I’m an asexual myself. I did a bit of a research when I first suspected I might be one. There are plain asexual people, no exceptions, but there are also demisexuals (they feel sexually attracted only to people who they are in love with, though I doubt it’s the case, seeing as they had just met when she first lusted after him) and grey asexuals, or greysexuals (people who have a low sexual-drive or low sexual attraction, even a few exceptions, which might or mgiht not be the case here. It’s likely that it is, just like you say, only bad writing).

      • Ugly kid Says:

        Asexuals with one exceptions are demisexuals, like me.

      • Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that demisexuals are people who can only feel sexual attraction to someone if they’ve got a strong emotional connection with that someone.

        That wouldn’t fit in Ana’s case, anyway. Maybe next chapter I’ll discuss her sexuality a little. I’ve been meaning to but never got around to it.

  6. His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.

    That has to be an intentional bit of humor on the part of Mrs. James, to think otherwise results in madness. Though it probably is otherwise.

  7. “I worry that the author typed portions of it one-handed.”

    Given your analysis, I’m pretty sure it was. Does Mr. Cullen really inspire that kind of mental sexual frenzy?

    • Not in me he doesn’t. I can’t get off to badly written characters. But evidently some people can, because both Edward and Christian (can we call him Edward 2.0?) have many, many fans, sad as it may be.

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