Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

fiftyshades-cover

I’ve gone and done it – I read Fifty Shades of [Really, Really Bad Writing]. Why did I do that to myself, you may ask? I thought at length about the answer and it’s that I wanted to tell you about how bad it really is. Well, actually, it irks me when I make fun of something that I only have second-hand knowledge of, so I gained knowledge, processed it and will give you my interpretation now.

I told you after reading Twilight that I read those first two books to find out why people liked it. I never could find out and resigned to the fact that I can’t climb into people’s heads and feel what they feel, think what they think. So, the reasoning for reading Fifty Shades of [Boredom] had to be a different one. And I needed reasoning for myself, because I had promised myself early that I wouldn’t read it, wouldn’t put myself through this torture (which is not coincidentally ironic given the content).

The reason I mention Twilight here, is, of course, that Fifty Shades of [Abusive Relationships] started out as Twilight fan fiction. If Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey remind you of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen it was the intention of the writer and I’m almost saddened to say that the fan fiction doesn’t even live up to the low standards of the original text. I want to make it clear, however, that I’m not trying to diss fan fiction here. I have been reading fanfic for over fifteen years now, and some of my favourite romance novels have started out as Xena fan fiction. I’ve written and am writing fan fiction about various ships of various shows. I’m a fan, and fan fiction is a literary form I’m familiar with and cherish.

But as with every other literary form, there’s the good and the bad (and fifty shades of in-between) and Fifty Shades of [Can You Believe it Got Published?] is at the very end of the bad-spectrum where even wonderfully trashy fic won’t venture. You may call me envious, now, if you liked the books, because my fanfics don’t have a gazillion hits. And you would be right. Of course, I’m envious. Hell yeah, I would have liked to write about something I love and get published and earn a gazillion dollars with it. But beyond the envy is a lot of anger, because, honestly, between E.L. James and I, I think myself the better writer and I know a lot of fan fiction writers who are so much better than I am, that it’s a shame James got published and not one of them – or I, for that matter. Because I’m also a literary theorist and I have not in my whole life read anything that was so absolutely horrificly written, boring, stale, and over-exposed as Fifty Shades of [Word Vomit].

In case you want to know what it is about:

College student Anastasia Steele interviews Christian Grey who is a very successful business man in his early thirties. And he’s very pretty which is somehow important because Ana is fascinated by him and his looks play an important role in that fascination. He’s intrigued by her, too, though we’re not to know why because we have another I-narrator without a hint of self-worth and she can’t tell us what he likes about her. Anyway, Christian is a gruff young man who tries to scare Ana away, at least on the surface he does while simultaneously trying to seduce her. He’s successful in that as in everything he does but the lure into his bed is also a lure into his dark world of BDSM – or James’ version of it. He wants to spank her and Ana isn’t sure she likes to be spanked.

And then the reader has to endure fourhundred pages of arguments against being with Christan while she enjoys being fu**ed by him every one and a half chapters.

In the golden days of Xena fan fiction we called this kind of story PWP (Plot? What plot?). Nowadays, we refer to it as smut and the only reason it exists is for the sex scenes. I don’t condemn these kind of fictions or people who read them, because once again, so do I. But there’s so much better to be read than Fifty Shades of [You Repeat Yourself].

Now, I am a queer one. That is to say I’m queer in a LGBTQ-way and it’s true that the only people interested in straight sex are straight people, because the rest of us are frankly bored with it. That isn’t so say I’m not regularly exposed to it. We all are. So, yeah, I roll my eyes at another sex scene and am not much affected. Not much, as in sometimes I am. If the scene is good, if it’s interesting, if the characters are likable and believable, the scene erotic, or in other words, unlike those scenes in Fifty Shades of [Oh my].

This is becoming a rant, I know and am sorry. As I said, I’m angry. This first book in a trilogy, and I’m only talking about the first volume, is bad. I read one chapter each day, because I couldn’t bring myself to read more. The characters are cardboard 2D stand-ups, the story is non-existent (which is not a great problem since it’s smut), the writing is abysmal. After the tenth time you hear that Ana is biting her lip, you’ve read it all and it’s mere repetition. How pretty Christian is, how they call each other Ms. Steele and Mr. Grey when they flirt, how Christian is a stalker… these lame tropes are repeated so often, you’d like to roll your eyes at them, but then you remember that Grey used this as an excuse to smack his girlfriends around – all fifteen of them.

I’m not into BDSM – not that you needed to know that – and I don’t know much about it but Tumblr tells me Fifty Shades of [Emotional Blackmail] is a poor reflection of those kinds of sexuality and I tend to believe Tumblr. As I’m no expert on the practices of BDSM, I can’t really comment on them, but I am uncomfortable how it is portrait as something depraved and unnatural – by the main character, at least. Ana feels that Christian needs to be cured and wants to lead him to the light – of vanilla sex. I’m aware that this may not reflect on the author’s view of BDSM, but she doesn’t go out of her way to say that BDSM is not evil and absurd or unnatural. I don’t agree with this kind of message that a sexuality in which two adults consent to engage in is something bad – given that it is informed consent, which is not the case in Fifty Shades of [I Consulted Wikipedia].

There’s so much to criticize about this book, but I want to stop here. I’ve already given too much room to something that is this bad. It is, without a doubt, the worst published work I have ever finished. And among those I haven’t finished I don’t remember anything so bad as this either. The worst thing you can do to me as a writer is bore me, and James did this very extravagantly and thoroughly. By the way, I did not spent money on this book, I rented it from the library which I would ask you to do as well if you feel you have to read it. A lot of people have made a lot of money with Fifty Shades of [Crap!] and continue to do so now that the first movie is coming out, don’t give them your hard-earned for something – among other things – poorly edited.

The Killing Room by Gerri Hill

thekillingroomWhile reading this novel, I did something I don’t usually do – I read reviews about it on Goodreads (you can find me under Cori Kane :)). However, it was still so early in the novel that I couldn’t agree with the negative ones and I guess, I still don’t. There were different things that bothered me from what bothered others, but let’s discuss that after I gave you a synopsis:

Jake McCoy is recuberating from a gun shot wound in her cabin in the mountains when she meets Nicole Westbrook who’s lost. The attraction is so sudden and so overwhelming that they spend a day and a night having fabulous sex in a tent. When they part the next morning, neither expects to see the other again, but when Jake gets back to active police duty her first case of murdered women throws her back in the way of psychologist Nicole. And their mutual attraction is not the only thing they will have to fight to survive.

It’s one of Hill’s thriller-meets-romance novels but it’s not one of her better. I think the beginning – while maybe a little too clichéd with all the fabulous sex they’re having – is very well written. I like how Hill buids the two paths that ultimately lead the two women to the same spot in the woods. Hill is able to build these scenes with a wink, saying: yeah, these two lesbians happen to be at the same spot at the same time, what a coincidence. And, of course, they’re having amazing sex with each other.

It isn’t really the story that has me discontent with this novel. Hill is able to build a conclusive narrative out of an unlikely premise. It was really more some details that put me off. Like the character of Jake McCoy, for example. I didn’t have a problem with the male name, I’ve given a character a male name myself once and was surprised why people had a problem with it. But the novel is in part about the sensitive topic of domestic abuse, mostly husbands/boyfriends beating and raping women, and to have a rather dominant female cop treating the proposed victim, Nicole, with sometimes careless force, sometimes condescending protectiveness – it didn’t sit well with me. I get that as a cop, Jake is competing in a testosterone-driven field but at times she comes over as a player, then a total macho, before Hill turns her back into a sensitive female cop who’s trying to protect the woman she is falling in love with. The characterization is sometimes a little wild. I also didn’t like the premise of these two almost comically attractive cops, like tv cops, who had little going for themselves apart from their looks. It was a little ridiculous at times.

In Nicole’s case, there was also some inconsistency in her character. While she was unhappy with her life and her circle of friends from the first she’s not able to break from it or them until the end of the novel. She just repeats that it’s ridiculous to be tied down in the closeted world of powerful lesbians but she doesn’t do anything to change it. She’s trapped in repetitive arguments either against the way she lives, or the woman she is falling in love with (because ‘she’s not her type’), and it gets boring. One might have expected for her as a psychologist to acknowledge the repetitiveness and break free from it but it doesn’t happen until Hill has set the stage for a defiant dramatic gesture that comes too late in the book.

‘Staging’ is actually a good key word when it comes to the novel, unfortunately it’s all done by Hill. She sets up spaces and conventions, like The Killing Room itself, but they fall flat within the narrative. I’m not sure what happened but it all felt very staged, plotted, unnaturally build, disjointed. If Hill weren’t such a sure-footed story-teller, this book would have been unreadable. But somehow she and the reader muddle through to a somewhat fascinating showdown – only to draw out the ending unnecessarily.

In the end, I felt like the novel was simply too long, that things could have been edited more, that some phrases have been repeated too often (anyone remember ‘we have shit on this case’? yeah). It’s not an abominable read, many have liked it on Goodreads and it actually won a GCLS award in 2007, but to me wasn’t an enjoyable read. Hill can do better than this.