Saturday 20 January 2018

Doing the Christian thing!

Grey, EL James, Arrow Books, €9.99

Sometime heroine: Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia in the film version of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Sometime heroine: Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia in the film version of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Grey by EL James

Gemma Fullam

I'm a subscriber to the Paddy Kavanagh 'through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder' school of thought. With Grey - Fifty Shades as told by the trilogy's male protagonist, Christian Grey - EL James has put herself firmly in the opposite camp; it's show-and-tell a go-go, with a side of prudish conservatism.

The Fifty Shades books sold by the bucketload, and despite the execrable writing, the clichés, the cringe-inducing dialogue, and frankly ludicrous heroine (Ana segues from a non-masturbating virgin to a sex goddess who comes like a train) there was something strangely compelling about them. Although I suspect many kept reading in the hope of unearthing James's magic formula to writing an €85m cash cow, only to get to the end feeling none the wiser, a little cheated and possibly more bemused as to the books' success.

Despite legions of detractors, James's staggering sales figures have given her the last laugh and she boasts an army of fans, who, she says on Grey's dedication page, "asked... and asked... and asked... and asked for this" (her phrasing a cheeky nod to the dom/sub theme of the book, perhaps?).

Perhaps the most bizarre (and, from a marketing aspect, spectacularly clever) thing about Grey is that the reader is essentially shelling out a second time for the Fifty Shades trilogy, albeit to re-read it from Christian Grey's perspective.

But is it any good? Well, no. It's like Groundhog Day, minus the subtlety, charm and wit. The apparent payoff for ploughing through the self-same story once again is that the reader gets a ringside seat in the mind of cane-wielding, condom-hating billionaire Christian Grey. And therein lies the problem: the mysterious allure he held in the Fifty Shades books rapidly dissipates, leaving in its wake a very bad whiff of dodgy. Once you've witnessed what goes on inside Mr Grey's head, he loses all appeal as a fantasy figure. For that is why women read books such as these; it's because we want escapism, titillation, a safe place in which we can explore our desires and naughty thoughts.

We want the well-hung alpha male to sweep us off our feet and give us a good spanking. We don't actually want to be thrashed to within an inch of our lives, but the release valve such books offer to allow ourselves to indulge in such imagined danger. But for it to work, it must remain in the realm of fantasy, or the spell is broken.

Grey, alas, makes the fatal mistake of breaking it. Christian Grey, laid bare, is utterly off-putting. He's creepy "I tracked your cell phone, Anastasia"; and despite his sadomasochistic predilections, has more than a hint of Bible-belt conservatism about him. "May God forgive me", he says, on finding out he's just deflowered a virgin; with shades of paedophilia thrown in: '"You look so young with these [braids]" But they're not going to stop me.' I mean, ugh!

He also calls Ana a "good girl" so many times I almost puked. Although, to his credit, he gets his anatomical terminology right, knowing his vulvas from his vaginas, and likes to impart a bit of sex ed, "Don't worry, you expand too" before he has his wicked way with our girl.

Our Bach-loving hero also has a disquieting habit of giving himself orders "Shut her down, Grey"; "Maintain some fucking dignity, Grey". It's as if he's got multiple personality disorder, along with the other quirks bestowed on him via his "crack whore" Mom. Who, it's suggested, Anastasia reminds him of - and this is why he gives her the deal-breaking six cracks with his belt: he's subliminally punishing his Mom for her spectacular failure as a parent. Nothing whatsoever to do with him being a screwed-up psycho, mind you.

Sometimes, EL, it's best to just let the mystery be.

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