To read the first part of the two-part essay, click here.
I KNOW. YOU thought you were up for it, didn’t you? And now the time has come, it’s the last thing you want to do. It’s been a hell of a weekend, you’re tired, you’re a bit strung out, and all you really want is a cup of tea and a nice long nap.
Well. Life isn’t like that, I’m afraid. You make a commitment, you stick to it. So, my friends, let me reintroduce you to the wild, wild world of Anastasia Steele, a young woman whose very first sexual encounter has led her into the maw of a crazed deviant. The problem? She likes it.
You know the drill. We burned through the first half of the first book in the trilogy last week, bringing ourselves to the very brink of ecstasy but pulling back just in time. Now, we’ll see what’s in store for Ana and Christian. Quite frankly, they’d got up to disappointingly little in the first 13 chapters. We can only hope that the Red Room of Pain has held back the best until last.
Chapter 14: Brilliant. We’re straight in with a riding crop. Though I still detect a certain misunderstanding of what actually constitutes raunchola. For example: Christian is wearing a pair of old Levis “and that’s all.” What do you mean, that’s all? That’s what most men (and some women) wear in the garden if it’s a bit warm. You could walk down the road in a pair of Levis “and that’s all” and not get arrested. It’s not a lilac posing pouch! And it doesn’t make sense just because it’s “a dream.”
Anyway, who cares? IT’S GRADUATION DAY!!! And here’s your nice dad. Actually, I think he’s your step-dad, but I can’t remember, although I’m sure you very carefully signposted how identity confusion around father-daughter relationships might have led you to allow Christian Grey to be beastly to you. And speaking of CG, isn’t it awkward when your uber-powerful dominant gives a speech at your graduation and your fellow classmates chat about how sexy he is? Awkward, “Anastasia,” or do I perhaps mean… hot?
Chapter 15: So, we’ve discovered that he’s weird about food because he was a hungry child who got adopted. The sporadic mentions of Darfur are leaving us both bamboozled. But wait. This is a jolly information-heavy chapter: not only are you about to move house, not only is Christian’s sister “Mia” about to arrive from “Paris,” but you have also revealed you’re intent on pursuing a career in publishing. Wow! Are you crazy? That is one failing industry. The kind that needs some completely unexpected, counter-intuitive economic miracle to save it from dying on its arse.
From your nascent career ambitions to negotiations over whether you’ll accept fisting, on one page. I’ll tell you something for nothing: this book has range, and I’ll take on anyone who says differently. By the way, for almost the first time, I discern a glimmer of common sense in you: “How will I use safewords if I’m gagged?” is an excellent question.
Chapter 16: No, you’re right to point out that life as a submissive has some surprising aspects. Indeed, it is worth remarking on the versatility of baby oil as both a remover of cosmetics and a soother for a spanked bottom. It’s no doubt what many people would find the most unexpected element of being sexually enslaved by a weird tycoon.
Christ. It’s happening again. I’m on his side.
Chapter 17: OK, “Ana,” girls’ talk, my room, two minutes: now, what do we make of the fact that your irritatingly together, in control flatmate, whatshername, “Kate” (who, incidentally, I think is the one you’re really in love with), is going out with Christian’s brother, Elliot (two ells, one tee)? Do we think we’re going to discover that Elliot is also a mad spanker and Kate can’t tell you, and you can’t tell her, but at the end you’re all going to discover what you’ve been up to and there’ll be a tremendous spanky foursome, a bit like a naughty All’s Well That Ends Well? Do we think that? “Ana?”
Meanwhile, you’re taking this naive, unworldly act a bit far. You’ve just moved into your new flat, but “only Christian would send chilled champagne?” It’s true. Only Christian would send champagne as a housewarming present, along with every other freakishly unimaginative show-off with too much money in the western world.
Chapter 18: Oh, you’ve found a little limit of mine. Phew. I was beginning to think I wasn’t actually alive any more. But that bit where he pays a female doctor a fortune to come and see you privately and prescribe you contraceptives? Eww. Didn’t like that. She is a bad female doctor, in my opinion. Not that I’ve ever taken the Hippocratic Oath.
Oh, and stop calling him fucking Sir. It’s getting on my nerves.
Let’s give Christian the final word on this chapter: “Hold tight… this is going to be quick, baby.” If only. Sigh.
Chapter 19: It’s true to say that when most people meet their new boyfriend’s parents, they prefer to spend the hours immediately preceding having a blow-dry, selecting a dress that looks neither dowdy (he’s settling for her) nor tarty (he’s being ripped off) and brushing up on their bland table-talk. However, being tied up and prodded with a riding crop is preparation of sorts, so tally ho! And hello, Mr and Mrs Grey, Carrick (really?) and Grace, and little sister Mia. Hello Kate and Elliot! Are we going straight to the canapés, or are we going to have a bit of light bondage first?
Chapter 20: Of course! He’s going to do you in the boathouse between courses! I bow to your ability to keep cool, by the way: it’s not every newly deflowered prude who would have the poise to remark on the halogen lights as they’re being carried up a flight of stairs. After all, you need your wits about you for this slightly tedious conversation about who’s turning who on more and who’s really controlling who, though don’t worry: it won’t last long before you can “revel in the fullness of his possession”. Goodness.
Meanwhile, I’m developing my theories about “Kate.” I still think you’re in love with her, but I’m beginning to think it might not be unrequited. Why else is she trying to wind up Christian and come between you? Unless… Gasp! Does she want a spanking too?
Chapter 21: I’m extremely sorry that I’ve rushed over the love eggs and the shagging on the desk. I’m just really anxious to get to the bit where you go for your interview at the publishing house, or “Seattle Independent Publishing,” which is “small and unconventional, championing local authors, and has an interesting and quirky roster of clients.” I know, it takes all sorts, and the minutiae of the publishing world is my thing.
OK. Bohemian receptionist: check. Woman with Pre-Raphaelite hair: check. (By the way, about this description: “She could be in her late thirties, maybe in her forties. It’s so difficult to tell with older women.” EL James, I’m no expert but this is probably your demographic. Learn some manners.) Young man with a ponytail: check, check, check! Oh, God. This “Jack Hyde,” who you describe as charming and unnerving. Is he your next dominant? Is publishing riddled with perverts as well? Who knew?
You know what you need to do? Go home and see your mum. Though don’t tell her about the sex dungeon, it’s not fair.
Chapter 22: When I said don’t tell her about the sex dungeon, I obviously didn’t mean say things like, “He’s very complicated and mercurial.” To mothers, that means one thing, and one thing only: “I have met a lunatic with a sex dungeon.” Especially your mother: she’s been married four times.
Chapter 23: In which your mother meets Christian, realizes implicitly he’s a lunatic with a sex dungeon, but that he’s your lunatic with a sex dungeon and advises you to tread carefully. And invites him for dinner.
Chapter 24: This is clever stuff: one minute, he’s flying you across the dawn-streaked sky in a glider, the next minute you’re making out in an International House of Pancakes. I get the point. Billionaire or pauper – this book is for everyone. Though perhaps a bit less for someone who finds it difficult to accept that the heroine’s mother takes her daughter’s new boyfriend bailing out of dinner when she’s already made the soup with quite such equanimity. This might be fiction, but let’s not push it.
Chapter 25: Ah. Usually when the new bf blows out dinner, it’s not a great sign. But it’s ok this time. He just had to go home to buff the whips and shackles up.
Chapter 26: WTF! WTF! It’s all over? “Ana,” what are you thinking? The guy’s got a massive condo, a fleet of private planes and a recovery rate of about 1.3 minutes. Whaddya mean you can’t put yourself through this anymore? Whaddya mean you can’t fulfill his needs? Grit your teeth and think of the film rights! Don’t leave him sobbing into his cat-o’-nine-tails while you run off to your new job in “publishing” with Mr “Hyde” (as in “Jekyll and…” or “I’ll tan your…,” I wonder?). And, don’t leave us hanging: what about Kate and Elliot? What about Darfur? When will we discover the truth about Christian’s crack whore mother? And the older woman who turned him on to a life lived on the dark side?
So many questions, so little resilience left in my frazzled little head. Can I really put myself through vols 2 and 3? EL James: can I really give you what you need from me? Or, is it better than we remember this beautiful moment but decide to go on to pastures new? Me, a favourite edition of The Magic Mountain, you a life spent liberating women from the evil taboos that prevent them from a frank and unfettered expression of their sexuality. Who knows if we can ever be together again? Let’s say our goodbyes as if they were final, just in case. Just in case. Farewell, my darling. And you take care of yourself: it’s a cruel, cruel world out there.