Disturbed

I’ve read plenty of books that left an impression on me. 1984 and In Cold Blood come to mind. I’ve been seriously affected by these books. You can imagine how surprised I was to learn that Grey will be another book which I will include on this list. I did not expect to include it on any list, except on the Reasons-to-dislike-E.L.-James list.

Having mustered through cca 150 pages, I was simply unable to finish this book. Not because it is badly written (though it is), not because there is no chemistry between the main characters (though there is none), and not because the characterization is not worthy of Teletubbies (though it is, barely, but it is). I can read bad books. If you stumbled upon this blog before, I’m sure you are aware of this. Grey takes “bad” and it fucking owns it.

It is a deeply disconcerting book. It disturbed me in a way I have not been disturbed for a long time. In Grey we get to meet the adored Christian Grey. But this is not your attractive, rich, renaissance man we came to know  in FSoG, oh no. This is a rich, controlling psychopath who is only inches away from becoming a rapist and a serial killer. In Grey we come to learn that Christian Grey is not a Dominant. He’s not a guy with troubled childhood and run-of-the-mill psychological issues. He is just a sick, disturbed man who needs to be institutionalized to ensure the safety of those around him. He’s got power. He employs thousands. He owns many cars and a helicopter, and he can find you and be there real fast. You should be afraid, very afraid.

“It places the lotion in the basket.”

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At the same time we get to meet a new Anastasia Steele. An inexperienced, bookish girl who stumbles into the orbit of a man who will have her under the scrutiny of a private investigator, who will punish her for writing “It was nice meeting you”, a man who does not want to dominate her – he wants to hurt her. He wants to earn her trust, and this he wants after making her sign an NDA.

The repetitive nature of Grey’s internal monologue only adds to the feeling that he’s not all there. He keeps thinking and saying things like “Oh, that smart mouth” and “Fair point, Miss Steele“. He feels inexplicably threatened by unimpressive kids and, even though he notices that Ana likes him at the very beginning of the book, he keeps noticing it as something new, always revelling in this “discovery” in the same way. The fact that there is no chemistry between them only enhances the level of disturbance because his insistence on making her his is simply unfathomable.

Christian is horribly fragmented. His thoughts are all over the place, mixing dialogue with internal monologue. He takes a moment to talk to himself and then he talks to people –  but not out loud. Remembering it makes me shudder. It is creepy beyond reason.

Essentially, Grey takes “badly written” to a level I did not believe possible. It transcends genre and reads like a psychological thriller. I kept expecting Christian to kidnap and murder Ana or Kate (or both). Then we would get introduced to some very cool FBI agents who delve into the mysterious ritualistic murder of a young woman (or women) following a trail of evidence back to a rich CEO. There might even be some introverted profiler who’d try to get into the murderer’s mind…. and find Christian Grey while he’s finishing his fava beans and drinking a nice chianti.

Saying that a book is “the worst book ever written” is ungrateful because it would imply I have read every book which was ever written and it might imply that I’ve actually read Grey. So I’ll just phrase it this way: “Grey is the worst book I have ever tried to read“. The statement lacks decisiveness and it’s tepid (much like Grey) but it’s the truth. I mean, come on. She tried to write a sexy adult novel (one she has already written) and all I could think about while I was reading it was the following five things:

  1. That poor, poor girl, I hope she manages to get away from him.
  2. My God, this man is really disturbed, this is just so creepy.
  3. Dear Lord, this man is really disturbed, this is just so sick.
  4. I should really read Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs again.
  5. Will Graham is one of the hottest characters ever.

I hope I’ve managed to show you just how many shades of fucked up Grey really is (hint: it is not 50).

To hell with niceties. This IS the worst book ever written.

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Grey & Steele Do Hollywood

To say that I am not a fan of the 50 Shades of Grey (book) would be an understatement. Still, I’ve watched the movie. Call it masochism or using every opportunity to get self-righteous, but there, I did it.

The movie transfers the book to the screen almost perfectly. Dialogue swerves left and right with no rhyme or reason (reminded me of The Room on more than one occasion). The motivation of the characters is completely mysterious and baffling and the effect does not seem to have absolutely anything to the with the cause.

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Dakota Johnson is perfect as Anastasia Steele. She has that clueless look about her and she stares stupidly at Christian just the way I’ve imagined it while reading the book. Dakota’s Ana is flustered, all over the place. At one point she’s all for some power play, and then she’s this empowered woman who will not be pushed around.

Y so funny?
Y so funny?

Jamie Dornan is a decent Christian Grey because throughout most of the movie he lacks definition (not talking about his muscle tone, that’s acceptable) and he seems to be a guy controlled by an invisible string and not by any recognizable human desires or emotions. He fails at a couple of instances and exhibits smidges of a third dimension, but not enough to diminish the adherence to the book. He’s also good in showing that one of the most important parts of Grey’s personality is actually a joke to him, even though it causes great social and emotional pain. For instance whenever he asks Anastasia to obey him, he slips in a smirk or something, showing that he doesn’t really mean it that way.

One thing that the movie does better than the book is sex. But that really isn’t difficult. However, even in the movie there’s no chemistry between the protagonists and the hotness level is pretty much down there with the one in the book (minus the need to answer the question: What he fuck? Does she have three legs or something?).

Maybe the biggest fault with the adaptation is the fact that we don’t get an opportunity to experience the rich internal life of Anastasia Steele where things like Holy crap! and Holy cow! come into play during intercourse. I think that they should have introduced a third character (the movie just pretends to have more than two characters, just like the book) called Inner Goddess. Imagine that! Anastasia and Christian are talking and …. PUFF! Inner Goddess appears and does some idiotic dance.

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All in all, 50 Shades of Grey, the movie, is all it can be. If you don’t agree, consider this:

It was based on a book which was based on an AU fanfiction (partly written on a mobile phone) about the characters from young adult novels about glittering vampires and werewolves, whose main protagonist has a blank stare and is unable to close her mouth.  

Blackberry is mightier than the sword
The Blackberry is mightier than the sword

So, haters gonna hate, but if you were given a job to make a movie which was supposed satisfy millions of fans, this is how you would do it. Myself, I’d have probably hired James Spader to play Mr. Grey, having in mind that me being in charge of making any movie is as likely as James Spader rejuvenation.

One good thing came from this experience – I remembered that I haven’t seen The Secretary in a while and I remedied that immediately. You should too.

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Books that Change Lives (Fear of Flying)

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2nd edition, 1978, the one I read

En Route to the Congress of Dreams or the Zipless Fuck

Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, one of the books that changed my life. I read it some 15 years ago, when I was 12. It changed those few notions I had of life, love and sex – and I believe helped shape my personality. I will not say whether that was a good or a bad thing, it’s a fact. Let’s just say I realized that being a woman is not as simple and straightforward as I thought, and that love and pursuit of a mate is not all there is to it. Self-actualization got redefined.

To contextualize things. It was 1998, a small town, no computers, no smartphones, no Internet – the only source of information, aside from my parents’ library, were idiotic teen magazines. This is I guess why I still remember the honesty of the book. Jong’s vivid description and detailed comparisons of toilets in different countries – used as a cultural analysis – surprised me to no end. Writing about toilets? Really? I vaguely remember a scene of lesbian sex, but I clearly remember the shock. What I recall rather well is the relationship Isadora had with her husband, the coldness of it, the terrible absence of getting what you need from the person sleeping next to you, sharing your life. That freaked me out. I though marriage was love, understanding and all that jazz. Erica Jong made sure to burst that bubble for me. She showed me relationships are far from simple and straightforward and that the human factor invariably fucks things up.

Erica Jong wanted to give a “rallying cry for women who wanted the right to have fantasies as rich and raunchy as those of men.” Until I read Fear of Flying, I thought that was abnormal.

I think Fear of Flying is part of the reason why I hate 50 Shades of Grey and the idea that some 12-year old girl will think it somehow depicts life, love and sex. I cringe at the thought that a book which has no realism, no feminism and no sense of self will shape personalities. I’m not saying it will be a generational thing, but if only one person comes to believe what 50 Shades is selling, it’ll be a very, very sad world. An insulting claim from an article which pissed me off:

This was the erotic publishing phenomenon a la Fifty Shades Of Grey, selling over 27 million copies worldwide to become one of the top 50 bestselling novels in publishing history

Although, I would love to see the 40th anniversary edition marketed as something akin to 50 Shades of Grey, only to make all those fans who think E. L. James wrote something groundbreaking see what kind of books real writers with real cojones wrote in 1973.

Allow me to quote Goodreads:

Originally published in 1973, the ground-breaking, uninhibited story of Isadora Wing and her desire to fly free caused a national sensation—and sold more than twelve million copies. Now, after thirty years, the iconic novel still stands as a timeless tale of self-discovery, liberation, and womanhood.

Who wants to bet (hope) that forty years from now nobody will remember 50 Shades of Grey?

Let’s move away from my pet hate. This year, to mark the anniversary, I have decided to revisit Fear of Flying, and the reason why I’m reflecting upon it before I embark on the journey is to see just how much a 15-year gap has affected me as a reader, how much all the life between two readings is going to change my perception of the book.

I wonder, can Fear of Flying teach me new things, 15 years after the first reading? At the same time I wish I could forget about reading the book long enough to read it again and write a review. I want to find out just how much of an impact would it have on me in the digital world where sex is everywhere and kids don’t read about it surreptitiously but rather practice it (hopefully with some form of contraception).