Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 8)

Jesus christ, it has been a while, hasn’t it? There’s no one reason why it took me so long to get this done — procrastination, schoolwork, and Tumblr all played a part.

This chapter contains a sex scene. I didn’t describe it in excessive detail, but I tried to be thorough, so goes without saying that this review is NSFW.

Chapter 1

Previous chapter

Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter Eight

Just in case you don’t remember, the last chapter ended with Ana confessing to being a virgin.

Christian, understandably, is annoyed at not having been told this earlier. He asks Ana again why she didn’t tell him, to which she replies:

“The subject never came up. I’m not in the habit of revealing my sexual status to everyone I meet. I mean, we hardly know each other.”

Oh, for the love of — Ana, honey, you planned on having sex with the guy. If you don’t feel you know him well enough to tell him you’re a virgin, then how can you possibly know him well enough to have sex with him?

The subject never came up directly, but, as I’ve said before, these two need to communicate better in general. Ana probably should have made her inexperience clear to Christian around the same time he decided to show her his playroom (that is, once the topic had shifted to sex).

Christian’s reaction is a little hard to decipher — he seems to feel bad about showing Ana his playroom, but I don’t know if he’s embarrassed or if he feels like he’s “corrupting her innocence”. My money’s on the latter, given what it is I’m reading.

Then he goes on to say something that makes me want to break things:

“And a nice young man hasn’t swept you off your feet? I just don’t understand. You’re twenty-one, nearly twenty-two. You’re beautiful.”

For fuck’s sake. First of all, twenty-one (nearly twenty-two) is not that old. Second, simply because Ana is attractive doesn’t mean she has to have sex. If someone’s a virgin, it’s probably because they’ve either never met anyone they wanted to have sex with or because the person(s) they were attracted to weren’t interested in sex with them.

Of course, Ana’s only reaction to being told that her status as a virgin is incomprehensible is to blush and say nothing. And she’s not blushing out of embarrassment, either; she’s blushing because the only thing she took away from that was “Christian Grey thinks I am beautiful, omg”.

Christian continues to say awful things:

“How have you avoided sex? Tell me, please.”

Sex is not something that “just happens” to a person. You decide to have sex with somebody. Otherwise it’s not sex, it’s rape. So Ana’s special talent in avoiding sex is just her ability to say “no”. That’s hardly some big secret, Christian Grey.

Maybe this is character development of a sort — it’s possible that Christian himself had an early (perhaps too early) introduction to sex. Perhaps he was even sexually abused, and that’s why he talks about sex as something to be “avoided”. But, given that the author’s views on consent seem to be very iffy, it’s just as likely (if not more likely) that this is simply another example of this book failing to understand the importance of consent.

Ana explains that she hasn’t really been interested in anyone before, then asks Christian why he’s so angry with her. He says he’s angry at himself for assuming… well, after the word “assumed” he trails off, but I guess he means he’s angry at himself for assuming Ana wasn’t a virgin. He asks Ana if she wants to leave. She doesn’t.

The conversation turns to Ana’s lip-biting:

“You’re biting your lip.” His voice is husky, and he’s eyeing me speculatively.
“Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s just that I want to bite it too, hard.”

This is at least the second time in the book that this line about Christian wanting to bite Ana’s lip has been used. I have the feeling the author is really proud at having thought it up.

Christian tells Ana, “We’re going to rectify the situation right now”. She asks what situation he’s referring to, and he says:

“Your situation. Ana, I’m going to make love to you, now.”

I’m somewhat bothered by this line. First of all, how about asking if she wants to have sex? It’s pretty clear that she does, but asking is still a good thing to do. Second, by “situation” I guess he could be referring to the situation of him wanting to have sex with Ana, but I worry that what he actually means by “situation” is Ana’s virginity. And… no. I guess being a virgin is a “situation”, but it doesn’t need to be rectified. It’s not like some illness that needs curing.

I also just wish we could see Ana taking a little initiative for once. Clearly she wants to have sex with Christian, so why can’t she be the one to ask him? Or could she at least be a little less passive?

On the positive side, at least Christian’s decided that going directly into kinky stuff with Ana is a bad idea and has decided to do something more vanilla. (Though shouldn’t this have been a given already, even if she weren’t a virgin? She’s never done anything BDSM either way, and starting out slow seems like it makes the most sense in general.)

Christian follows that statement up with “That’s if you want to”. Okay, this is the bare minimum of making sure your partner wants to have sex too, but bare minimums are all I ever expected from this book anyway.

Then we get this little speech:

“I can make an exception, or maybe combine the two, we’ll see. I really want to make love to you. Please, come to bed with me. I want our arrangement to work, but you really need to have some idea what you’re getting yourself into. We can start your training tonight – with the basics. This doesn’t mean I’ve come over all hearts and flowers, it’s a means to an end, but one that I want, and hopefully you do too.”

Uh… how about just asking her “So what are you comfortable doing?” instead of assuming that once she’s lost her virginity she will automatically become okay with your kinky business?

Of course Ana needs to have an idea of what she’s getting herself into, but she also needs to know that she doesn’t need to get herself into anything. If she doesn’t wanna do anything kinky, she needs to tell Christian that. Christian, on the other hand, needs to stop trying to push his agenda on Ana. If she’s interested, she’s interested. If she’s not, she’s not. If she needs to think it over, that’s fine too, but he needs to hold off on the kinky stuff until she says she’d like to do it too, if she ever does.

Gosh I wish these two would just communicate like mature adults and respect each other’s wishes and all that jazz.

Ana and Christian kiss and he repeats the lip-biting line before actually biting her lip. Great. Can we be done with that line now? It honestly wasn’t that awesome to begin with.

Christian asks Ana to “let [him] make love to [her]”, and she says yes. Yay! Good going, kids! See? Consent isn’t that difficult! (Although I dislike the way Christian phrased his question; it makes Ana’s role in things sound very passive, and while she’s been nothing if not passive in general, would it have hurt for him to say “Do you want to make love?” or something else that implies that she actually gets to be an active participant in this?)

They go into Christian’s bedroom. There’s about half a page of Christian being beautiful and Ana being a mess of hormones over Christian being beautiful. It’s not that terrible, because it makes sense that she’d be all nervous excitement at this point; it’s just boring. The story has already established Christian’s utter sexiness so thoroughly that by the time we’ve gotten to the actual sexy parts, it seems dull and repetitive.

Christian takes off Ana’s jacket and shirt. She’s wearing the blue bra mentioned in a previous chapter, the one Christian had Taylor buy for her. I just thought you should know.

(I’m actually surprised. I thought the author was going to forget about the blue underwear.)

They have the world’s most boring dirty talk. Or, should I say, Christian has the world’s most boring dirty talk. I’m going to do a Boring Dirty Talk alert at the end of this review so you can see how boring it is.

There’s a lot of boring foreplay which I won’t bother to describe. This scene is actually very boring. I don’t know if you were picking up on how dull I’m finding this, but, just to clarify, I am finding this all incredibly dull.

After about two pages of kissing/description of how great Christian looks/description of how horny Ana is, Christian undresses Ana down to her bra and panties (I hate the word panties, by the way — it sounds so babyish). She lies down on the bed. More boring dirty talk. Then Christian asks Ana:

“Show me how you pleasure yourself.”

I guess that’s more of a command than a question, actually.

Ana frowns in response and tells him she doesn’t know what he means. I facepalm in response and throw myself out a window.

Okay, look, some people don’t masturbate and that’s fine. But how is Ana so damn innocent that she literally doesn’t know what he is talking about when he asks her to show him how she gets herself off? She’s twenty-one and she’s never heard anything about this? I just… I… no. That just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.

Christian rephrases the question, making it a little more obvious what he’s asking (though it was plenty obvious the first time):

“How do you make yourself come? I want to see.”
I shake my head.
“I don’t,” I mumble. He raises his eyebrows, astonished for a moment, and his eyes darken, and he shakes his head in disbelief.

That’s not the unbelievable part, Christian. The unbelievable part is that she seems to have no idea what masturbation is, or, at least, such a vague idea of it that she didn’t understand what he meant when he asked her to pleasure herself.

Christian proceeds to play around with her breasts for about three-quarters of a page, which eventually leads to this:

I fall apart in his hands, my body convulsing and shattering into a thousand pieces.

Hey, describing orgasms is difficult, isn’t it, author? I can’t tell if you’re trying too hard or not trying hard enough. All I know is that I read that sentence and my mental image is of glass breaking.

Christian doesn’t seem at all surprised that Ana came from having her breasts touched, even though this is not a terribly common thing in the real world. He does note that she’s “very responsive”, but gives no clue that he didn’t expect that reaction.

Now, I’ll buy that Ana could have orgasmed from that — she’s very sexually repressed and being touched sexually for the first time in her life could have been extra-exciting because of that, and some women really are sensitive enough to get off that way. However, if Ana really is that hypersensitive, doing anything physically intense — such as Grey’s kinky business — would likely cause her to respond very strongly, either positively or negatively. Which could be interesting, but I bet the author is going to forget about the hypersensitivity thing now.

Christian fingers Ana a bit. Apparently Ana knows what a clitoris is. I’m surprised, because she’s spent the previous seven chapters (plus most of this one) referring to her lady bits as “down there” or describing them as mysterious or some shit.

Christian takes off his pants (which earns a mental “Holy cow!” from Ana), puts a condom on, and they have penetrative sex. Christian’s rough when he enters her, and in fact tells her that he’s going to fuck her, hard, right beforehand. Great, so much for the whole “making love” vs. “fucking hard” distinction.

The penetrative sex goes on for a little under a page before Ana comes again. Christian still hasn’t. I have no sense of how much time has passed because that’s how boring this is.

Christian asks Ana if he hurt her, and Ana finds this funny because he likes to hurt his partners. The book still fails to understand/explain the difference between pain as a means of sexual gratification for both partners involved and just regular old painful pain.

Ana asks if they can do that again. They can. I’m yawning.

He takes her from behind this time. Still yawning.

Actually, a question here. Wouldn’t she be pretty sore after her first time? Especially since it was described as painful when he entered her? I’m no expert, but it just seems like she’d need a break at this point.

Anyway. This time they both come. Ana falls asleep immediately afterwards — no, literally, immediately. I feel like this should be potentially concerning to Christian. Sure, I get why she’s tired out, but from his perspective it might look a little weird to have her suddenly collapse into unconsciousness.

When Ana wakes up, it’s still dark out. Christian is playing the piano half-naked in the other room. It’s sad music, which is supposed to be a reflection of Christian’s mood and show us what a sensitive soul he is. But, really, he’s just playing the piano half-naked. If the author wants us to think he’s sad and a sensitive artist, how about actually showing us Christian being sad and a sensitive artist?

No, really, during this scene, there’s no indication of Christian’s mood other than the piano playing. He seems a bit drowsy. That’s it.

Ana asks him how long he’s been playing. He tells her he started when he was six.

They go back to the bedroom. Ana takes a good look at Christian — he’s shirtless, and she hasn’t got a good look at shirtless!Christian before. (He didn’t take off his shirt until near the end of the sex scene, and at that point he was behind her anyway.) She touches his chest and he pulls away sharply. Seems like he’s definitely got some sort of phobia about being touched (possible past trauma?), which likely plays into his kinks; if his partner is tied up they can’t touch him, right? Not terrible in terms of character motivation, but, like I said, if the book gives Christian a definite reason for having a kink (and if the reason is due to trauma), then it sets up the possibility of Ana “curing” him of it.

Ana goes to sleep thinking about how Christian has a “sad side”. Blah blah. End of chapter.

Holy Cow! Alert: 

Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow…

Bonus: three “Holy hell!”s, one “Holy Moses!”, one “Holy shit!”, and one “Holy fuck!”

And Now, A Word From Ana’s Subconscious Alert: Only once this time.

  • [Ana is surprised that Christian thinks she’s beautiful] Perhaps he’s near-sighted, my subconscious has reared her somnambulant head.

Boring Dirty Talk Alert: All of it.

  • “Oh, Ana,” he breathes. “You have the most beautiful skin, pale and flawless. I want to kiss every single inch of it.”
  • “I like brunettes,” he murmurs, and both of his hands are in my hair, grasping each side of my head.
  • “You’re very beautiful, Anastasia Steele. I can’t wait to be inside you.”
  • “You’re so deliciously wet. God, I want you.”
  • “Don’t worry,” he breathes, his eyes on mine, “You expand too.”
  • “You’re so tight. You okay?”
  • “You really have the most beautiful skin,” he murmurs.
  • “You are mine,” he whispers. “Only mine. Don’t forget it.”
  • “You’re so wet, so quickly. So responsive. Oh, Anastasia, I like that. I like that a lot,” he whispers.
  • “We’re going to go real, slow this time, Anastasia,” he breathes.
  • “Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I’ve been here. Only me. You are mine.”
  • “You. Are. So. Sweet,” he murmurs between each thrust. “I. Want. You. So. Much.”

Murmuring Alert: The author uses this word a lot, though I haven’t commented on it before. In this chapter she used it 18 times. Seriously. Eighteen times.

Does Ana Have A Foot Fetish? Alert: There’s a bit of a focus on feet in this chapter. First, when Christian takes his shoes off:

He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually. Christian Grey’s feet… wow… what is it about naked feet?

I don’t know what it is about naked feet. I could frankly care less about naked feet. Though I’m glad you clarified that he took his socks off individually.

Then, about a page later, we have this:

Still kneeling, he grasps my foot and undoes my Converse, pulling off my shoe and sock. I raise myself up on my elbows to see what he’s doing. I’m panting… wanting. He lifts my foot by the heel and runs his thumbnail up my instep. It’s almost painful, but I feel the movement echoed in my groin. I gasp. Not taking his eyes off mine, again he runs his tongue along my instep and then his teeth. Shit. I groan… how can I feel this, there.

Yeah, feet are sensitive and all, but this strikes me as a bit more foot focus than is usual in bad sex scenes. I guess the author has a kink.

Great Prose Alert:

  • Christian is running both his hands through his hair and pacing up and down his study. Two hands – that’s double exasperation. His usual concrete control seems to have slipped a notch. [This is the opening paragraph, incidentally. Off to a great start.]
  • My blood’s pumping around my body. [Well, yeah, I should hope so.]
  • The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion. The pain is so sweet and sharp I want to close my eyes, but I’m hypnotized by his gray eyes staring fervently into mine.
  • He grasps my hair tie, pulls it free, and gasps as my hair cascades down around my shoulders.
  • His hand flexes over my backside and squeezes gently.
  • I can hardly contain the riotous feelings or is it hormones that rampage through my body.
  • “Ah,” I groan.
  • Seeing him on his knees in front of me, feeling his mouth on me, it’s so unexpected,, and hot. [Two commas after “unexpected”? Did no one proofread this?]
  • His words. He’s so seductive. He takes my breath away.
  • My skin is burning. I’m flushed, too hot, too cold, and I’m clawing at the sheet beneath me.
  • My nipples bear the delicious brunt of his deft fingers and lips, setting alight every single nerve ending in my body so that my whole body sings with the sweet agony.
  • His hand moves down my waist, to my hips, and then cups me, intimately… Jeez.
  • It’s only now that I register he’s still wearing his shirt.
  • Two orgasms… coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow.
  • His pants hang from his hips, in that way… oh my. [I swear this exact line was used in a previous chapter.]

Oh My! Alert: Five times this chapter.

Thoughts So Far:

We’re almost 100 pages into the book and the sex has finally begun.

I wish it hadn’t begun.

The best thing I can say about this first sex scene is that it didn’t make me mad. However, it’s still unbearably boring, poorly written sex. Now, I haven’t ever made much of an attempt at writing smut, but I have enough general experience writing and reading things to know that this is being done all wrong.

I realized when I was reading this that I don’t think I’ve ever read a sex scene written in the first person. Thinking about it, it does feel pretty awkward trying to inhabit a character’s mental space — as one normally does when reading first-person writing — while that character is having sex. Trying to properly convey that sort of thing from a first-person perspective would require a skill beyond what E.L. James possesses, I think.

Nonetheless, I’ve read better porn written by teenage virgins. (And they weren’t charging money for it, either.)

Part of it is that the author’s prose seems to alternate between bland descriptions of events occurring (example: lines like “He palms my clitoris, and I cry out once more”) and using far too many adverbs/adjectives (example: most of the chapter). We’re also reminded multiple times that Christian is hot, that the sex Ana’s having is enjoyable, etc., as though we’d otherwise forget. For the millionth fucking time, everybody: show, don’t tell.

Despite this book’s promise of kinkiness, this first sex scene is tame to the point of tedium. I wonder if that’s part of the appeal. I’ve heard it suggested before that maybe the draw of the series is that it bills itself as scandalous but that the actual sex that occurs is comfortingly vanilla, meaning that the readers can feel as if they’re reading something that’s perverted and “naughty” while not actually being thrust out of their comfort zones.

Either way, it’s dull. Yawn.

Next chapter

8 Responses to “Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 8)”

  1. badcompany1014 Says:

    That was one of the most boring sounding sex scenes ever, of all time. Also, Ana must failed every part of a sex ed class except for any lessons on the clitoris. I find really hard to believe she has no prior knowledge on masturbation.

  2. “Two commas after “unexpected”? Did no one proofread this?”

    I thought that was patently obvious :P

  3. The worst part of Fifty Shades is that we all know “her”.

    that one female who won’t shut the fuck up about how OMGHOT it is.

  4. What James doesn’t seem to understand (like a lot of writers who attempt smut, unfortunately) is that emotional intensity in a sex scene is much more arousing than any physical description could be. That’s the key difference between porn and erotica – porn is strictly about gratification (and there’s nothing wrong with that), while erotica focuses mostly on stimulation. It would be one thing if James was going for steaminess mixed with awkwardness – like the first time tends to be – but there’s a major difference between fumbling innocence and face-palming stupidity (as you’ve conveyed very well). I could go on and on about all the missed opportunities for relationship/character development in just this chapter alone.

    Also, part of the problem is that it’s extremely difficult to write about having sex from a first-person perspective without sounding like the most conceited person in the world. If the narrator has that kind of personality, then maybe it can work, but Ana is definitely not like that and James definitely does not have the skill to pull it off either way.

    Great job with these recaps so far! Keep it up! :)

    • Thanks! I agree with what you’ve said — this sex scene is bad for many, many reasons, but the ones you’ve mentioned are some of the key ones.

  5. “His words. He’s so seductive. He takes my breath away.”
    Maybe that’s why she passed out.

  6. Ugly kid Says:

    Well then. That sufficiently lengthy scene of boring sexual intercourse was alarmingly atrocious.

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