Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 26)
Well, this is a giant fucking weight off my chest. I’m thrilled to be done with this garbage, I can assure you.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter Twenty-Six
Ana wakes up from a dream where she fell down some stairs. Well, at least it isn’t another weirdly symbolic dream (I think?), but that makes it come across as an even more random way to open a chapter, since all Ana’s previous dreams have been elaborate metaphors. It’s still dark, but Ana remembers she forgot to take her birth control pill, so she gets out of bed. Christian is playing piano in the other room, and she goes to watch him play. It’s sad music again, so I guess that’s supposed to be super meaningful, but it could be nothing more than a preference for melancholy-sounding tunes. Or he was trying to play something quiet so he wouldn’t wake up Ana, but I didn’t have Christian pegged as being that considerate.
What’s more telling is that he started learning piano to try and please his adoptive family and be the perfect son. I mean, at least there we’ve got actual character motivations, not just “he’s playing a song in a minor key, this obviously reflects his inner sorrow” or whatever bullshit.
Ana explains she got up to take her birth control, and Christian suggests she wait half an hour before taking it. His reasoning is that if she does this every day for a few days, eventually she can be taking her pill at 8 am PST instead of 8 am EST. Why doesn’t she just wait three hours the first day? It’s not like a three-hour difference would fuck up her birth control that much, would it?
Christian suggests they have sex on the piano (???), but first Ana asks him about the contract. He says he thinks it’s moot now. Why? What?
From what I can gather, the contract is still in place, she just doesn’t have to actually sign it. Which was what they were doing before anyway, so whatever. The rules about obedience and submission are also still in place, so, really, this changes nothing at all.
Ana asks to see the rules again, and Christian fetches them for her. After reading them over, Ana rolls her eyes without thinking, and Christian teasingly says he’ll have to spank her now. They get playful with each other and Ana pulls a “catch me if you can” thing on Christian, which he seems to find funny. It’s hard to tell whether Ana is enjoying herself or just making a game out of a scary situation, though.
Christian says to her “Anyone would think you didn’t want me to catch you,” and Ana replies:
“I don’t. That’s the point. I feel about punishment the way you feel about me touching you.”
So she was making a game out of a scary situation. It’s really disturbing she felt she had to resort to that, since that sounds like something an abused child would do.
Christian is shocked by Ana’s response and asks her if it’s really that bad. She amends that it doesn’t trigger her in the way that being touched triggers him, but it’s still pretty bad for her, and she only does it for him. She also clarifies that it’s punishment spanking that she dislikes, not the pleasure kind.
Christian says he wants to hurt her, but not go beyond her limits. She asks why he needs to hurt her, and he says he won’t tell her, because:
“If I do, you will run screaming from this room, and you’ll never want to return.”
The issues aren’t going to go away because you refuse to talk about them, Grey. All you’re doing is withholding information from Ana, thus preventing her from making an informed choice. You’re preventing her from looking after her own wellbeing, in effect. Nice.
They embrace and Christian pleads with Ana never to leave him. Foreshadowing, hooray.
Out of nowhere, Ana decides she wants Christian to show her his worst. It’s sort of a weird request, given Ana’s massive aversion to pain, and it sounds like a pretty bad idea since Christian’s idea of the worst pain he’d be willing to inflict on a sub may be far, far beyond Ana’s concept of the worst pain she’d be able to bear. Still, Christian agrees to potentially traumatizing Ana once she’s convinced him it will help her figure out whether or not she can sub for him.
He takes her into the playroom and bends her over a spanking bench, then takes a belt from a rack by the door and tells her he’s going to hit her six times. That’s his worst? I mean, it probably hurts quite a lot, but still, how anticlimactic.
By the third lash of the belt, Ana’s eyes are watering from the pain, and by the fifth she’s crying for real. When Christian’s done, he gathers her up for a hug, but she pushes him away angrily:
“This is what you really like? Me, like this?” I use the sleeve of the bathrobe to wipe my nose.
He gazes at me warily.
“Well, you are one fucked-up son of a bitch.”
“Ana,” he pleads, shocked.
“Don’t you dare, Ana me! You need to sort your shit out, Grey!” And with that, I turn stiffly, and I walk out of the playroom, closing the door quietly behind me.
This seems like a weird overreaction. I mean, I hate to side with Grey over Ana, especially when Ana’s calling Grey a fucked-up son of a bitch, because she’s right — he is a fucked-up son of a bitch. But this is not why.
Look. First of all, Ana expressly told Grey to do his worst. She was basically asking for something painful, and then got angry at him when it was painful. She could have safeworded and stopped after one or two lashes if she decided the full six was too much. She wasn’t coerced into this, for once; she volunteered for it.
Second, Ana’s basing her assessment of Grey’s fucked-up-ness on the assumption that he’s getting off on having beaten her to the point of teary anger, but… really, though I wouldn’t put it past this bastard, that’s a weird assumption to make too. He didn’t express arousal once he saw how upset she was; all he did was try to give her a hug, which I took as a “you stuck it out even though it was painful and you didn’t like it, well done” gesture. In fact, the word Ana’s narration uses is “compassionate”. The wording implies he feels bad that he’s hurt her to the point of tears. Is Ana even reading her own narration?
Look, I’ve said it a hundred times, but subs are supposed to be as into their punishment as Doms are into inflicting it. I can’t speak for every Dom, or for Christian’s case in particular, but certainly a lot of Doms out there want their sub to enjoy being dominated and disciplined. (I mean, if you don’t want your partner to have fun with it too, you’re almost certainly a bad Dom as well as a bad person.) When Christian said he wanted to hurt Ana, but not beyond what she could take? Let’s work on the assumption that he was being genuine. He wants to inflict pain — that’s his kink — but if his partner isn’t enjoying it, it’s not enjoyable for him. Isn’t that how we were supposed to interpret that?
Ana seems to be interpreting the situation as “Grey hit me really hard because he gets off on beating women to the point of tears”, when, really, what happened was that she asked him to hit her really hard, he hit her really hard, and then she got upset because… I’m not really sure, it makes no sense.
Anyway. Ana goes back to her room (the one she sleeps in when she’s with Christian) and curls up on the bed, sobbing. She treats the whole situation like it’s some kind of wake-up call, but, honestly, what has she learned except that she doesn’t like being hit with belts? She knew about Christian’s sadism already. He’s already spanked her several times. Hell, he said he wanted to take her over his knee and spank her way back in chapter 5 or thereabouts. She’s known about this side of him for most of the book. You can’t treat this as a revelation, author. It’s not.
She decides she has to leave Christian because of this. Oh, for god’s sake.
Yes, Ana, you should leave him. You should leave because he doesn’t respect you or your wishes. You should leave because he has violent mood swings and you live in fear of his temper. You should leave because he’s raped you, more than once. You should leave because you’re fixated on him and it’s unhealthy for both of you. You should leave because he stalks you across the country, you should leave because he tracked your phone without permission, you should leave because he’s manipulative and volatile and likes nothing better than to show off his money and power while insisting it’s all about what you want.
This? This is not a reason to leave him. If we take Ana’s mindset into account and pretend that Christian has done nothing worse than act a little moody and buy Ana expensive things she didn’t ask for, this is a nonsensical reason to leave him. All she has to do is tell him, “Hey, I really hated that, let’s never do that again” and then they won’t ever have to do that again. It’s not like the guy has any trouble getting off when they do it vanilla-style. It’s not like he’s the one who even suggested hitting Ana as hard as he could with a belt.
After some time, Christian enters the room and lies down in bed with Ana. He puts his arms around her. She doesn’t protest or pull away from him, and they lie like that in silence until morning.
Christian breaks the silence to tell Ana that he brought her some Advil and arnica to put on her bruises. Look, I get that we were just having a long poignant silence, but that’s the sort of thing you maybe want to tell her right away instead of waiting for hours. She’s been lying there in pain this whole time and you could have helped her out with that, Grey.
Ana apologizes for snapping at him and he apologizes for hurting her. She brushes it off and says she asked for it. Then, after a moment’s silence, she says that she doesn’t think it’ll work out between them, because their desires and needs are totally different. Grey agrees, and then they both get upset because even though they realize they’re incompatible as a couple, neither one wants to leave the other.
This isn’t such a bad scene, honestly. The characters are finally doing something that makes sense. They have mixed feelings, but they’re talking it out, and it seems like they’re going to take the sensible adult route and call it quits. (Well, until Fifty Shades Darker, at least.)
Ana tells Christian she’s fallen in love with him, and he reacts in horror. I guess he’s upset because he can’t make her happy, yet she loves him anyway, and he knows that she’s going to get hurt whether they stay together or break up. The implication is that he must love her, too, or at least care about her more than he lets on, but he’s stuck in a catch-22 where no matter what route he takes, he’ll hurt both her and himself. That’s… surprisingly decent for this writer. Nuanced emotions! Wow! And it’s left open to some interpretation instead of spelled out for us! Double wow!
Ana gets up to leave, feeling numb, and there’s a long sequence where she wanders mechanically through the apartment getting dressed and collecting her things. It’s not badly done for this author, but I can’t help thinking of how anticlimactic it’s all going to seem in retrospect when they get back together in book 2.
When Ana heads to the great room, Christian is having an angry phone conversation, probably regarding whatever issue still hasn’t been resolved from the other night. He hangs up shortly after Ana enters the room. She piles the computer and BlackBerry he gave her on the breakfast bar, along with the keys to her new car, and tells Christian she needs the money Taylor got from the sale of her Beetle. Christian is upset that she doesn’t want to take these things, but Ana explains that she never wanted them to begin with and especially doesn’t want them now because they’ll remind her of him. He finally gives in, albeit angrily so.
Taylor leaves to get the car to drive Ana home — Ana said she could get herself home, but Christian insisted. Once alone, Christian approaches Ana and tells her he doesn’t want her to go, but she tells him she has to. Grabbing her things, she heads for the elevator. They say goodbye in a way that’s obviously meant to echo their farewells back in chapter 1.
Once in the car, Ana finally breaks down and starts crying. Taylor hands her a handkerchief, which makes her cry even more.
Upon getting home, Ana collapses onto her bed and continues sobbing. Her inner goddess interjects that this emotional pain is much worse than the physical pain from being spanked. I think we’re supposed to agree with that even though that’s completely besides the point.
The end. Thank whatever gods you do or don’t believe in, readers; it’s finally over.
Title Drop Alert: Ana calls Christian “Fifty Shades” twice.
Holy Cow! Alert: One “Holy crap!”, one “Holy shit!”, two “Holy fuck!”s.
And Now, A Word From Ana’s Subconscious Alert:
- [Ana looks at her reflection in the mirror] My subconscious nods with approval. Even she knows not to be snarky right now.
Does “Inner Goddess” Mean What I Think It Means? Alert:
- [Ana collapses on her bed, in tears] Deep down, a nasty, unbidden thought comes from my inner goddess, her lip curled in a snarl… the physical pain from the bite of a belt is nothing, nothing compared to this devastation.
That’s Too Many Inner Voices For One Sentence Alert:
- [Ana bends over the spanking bench] My subconscious has passed out, and my inner goddess is endeavoring to look brave.
- [Ana is upset after having been spanked] My subconscious is shaking her head sadly, and my inner goddess is nowhere to be seen.
Oh My! Alert: Twice.
Before we get to what I thought of the book on a whole, I’ve got a few things to say about this chapter specifically. A lot of you commented on the last few chapter reviews saying that the ending of this book was sure to be completely anticlimactic; while that wasn’t exactly the case, it’s still a bit of a weird end to the story. There’s no sense of a buildup to this breakup scene; it comes out of nowhere. It’s actually moderately satisfying as an ending (less so knowing that there are still 2 more books to suffer through), but it doesn’t really qualify as climactic when there was no buildup to said climax.
Now, let’s step back a bit and look at the bigger picture here.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Fifty Shades to be as bad as it is. I expected that a lot of its bad press was just moral guardians getting outraged at the idea of a smutty BDSM novel being so popular, and literary snobs bashing the book for its origin as a Twilight fanfic. I didn’t expect Fifty Shades to be a good book, but I didn’t think it would be this bad, either.
To recap, this book:
- has some of the worst prose I’ve ever seen in a published novel
- stars a protagonist who is constantly and infuriatingly carrying on mental dialogues between her “subconscious”, who mostly makes snarky and pessimistic comments, and her “inner goddess”, who comes off a lot more like an inner horny 14-year-old than any sort of deity
- inaccurately portrays BDSM and has such a skewed view of consent that it ends up simultaneously demonizing BDSM as akin to sexual abuse and trivializing sexual abuse as “kinky”
- has the male love interest rape the female protagonist multiple times due to its view of consent being so screwy (the author is almost certainly completely unaware that Christian’s behavior counts as rape)
- fails the Bechdel test miserably; the secondary female characters seem only to exist so that they can talk to Ana about boys
- has cardboard cutouts for a supporting cast; the two main characters are a little more fleshed out, but certainly not enough to be compelling or interesting
- takes place in Washington State but the characters use British terms all the time
- is apparently incapable of realistically portraying college students; Ana is unrealistically unfamiliar with technology for a college-educated 22-year-old living in the 21st century (she didn’t even have an email address before meeting Christian, let alone her own computer or smartphone?), nor does she speak and act like a woman in her early twenties
- features an incredibly creepy seduction sequence in the story’s early chapters, where Ana, who is ridiculously sexually clueless, is being pursued rather aggressively by Christian, who makes it seem as though it’s her fault somehow and won’t tell her he’s into a very specific type of BDSM lifestyle until she’s been seduced by him
- actually does a rather convincing job of portraying an abusive (physically and emotionally) relationship between the two main characters, but seemingly fails to realize that no, such a relationship is not ultimately romantic and your readers have no real reason to want these characters to stay together (unless, for some reason, they like your poorly-written sex scenes)
- gave the male lead a backstory where he was “seduced into the BDSM lifestyle” when he was fifteen by a woman twice his age; sometimes treats this as child abuse/molestation, which it is, and sometimes treats it as if it was only bad because it was BDSM
- slutshames, takes agency away from the female main character by having her sexuality be completely dependent on a man, perpetuates various outdated and problematic gendered stereotypes
- attempts to convince the reader that the two main characters are in love when they clearly don’t understand each other, respect each other, or like each other for anything other but appearances
Et cetera, et cetera. I could go on forever, but you get the idea. This book is shit. This book is garbage. This is an irredeemably bad piece of writing. This is probably the worst book I have ever read.
I’ve made up my mind to read the rest of the series to see where it goes from here, but my hopes aren’t high. I’m not sure how much hope I even have left after reading this. I’m gonna be taking a break for a while, but I’ll come back to Fifty Shades Dark eventually.
To everyone who’s suffered through this with me: thank you. You guys are brave.