shadowkat: (work/reading)
[personal profile] shadowkat
Just finished the popular new novel by EL James entitled Fifty Shades of Grey. Last week, out of curiousity, I decided to try a free sample of this novel on my Kindle. The nifty thing about Kindles and e-readers is you can sample the first 50-100 pages of any book for free.

What I knew about Fifty Shades was that it was a risque S&M erotica novel based on a Twilight fanfic.

Vintage, a division of Random House, has come forward and asserted that the 50 Shades series is wholly original fiction and that the author has warranted it is original fiction, deviating substantially from the original fan fiction known as Master of the Universe.

As numerous reports have outlined, 50 SHADES OF GREY grew out of a multi-part series of fan fiction called MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, based on Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT novels, that James (a pseudonym for London-based television executive Erika Leonard) published online between 2009 and 2011 in various venues, including and her own website. When she contracted with Writers Coffee Shop in early 2011 to publish the works, lightly rewritten to take out any references to Twilight characters and situations, James took the fan fiction versions offline.

Vintage issued a statement to the AP Saturday defending 50 SHADES as an original work, and said to us that James had warranted the books were, indeed original. Messitte added she was “aware of the narrative that [50 SHADES] started as differently titled piece of fiction, but that they were and are two distinctly separate pieces of work.” A request for comment from Meyer’s agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, was not responded to at press time.

My take on the fanfiction world brohaha was the same as my take on Mark Watches. EL James isn't doing anything at different than Mark did, when he chose to sell his blog-meta of the Twilight novels. Neither are infringements of copyright. Both merely started as a blog fictional or meta post and were transferred to an e-reader and published for money. Of the two - Mark actually uses more copyrightable material in his work than James does. Nothing in James story, as far as I can tell, bares any resemblance to Meyer's works of fiction. Outside of the Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche tropes, which I'm sorry were established before Bram Stocker wrote Dracula. That trope existed before vampires. I know I studied it. It's a bit like saying Firefly is a rip off of Star Wars. Also, here's the thing about copyright law? It is not a crime to write a story using the physical description of a character from another book or actor. People do it all the time. Dan Brown describes his main character in the Da Vinic Code as looking like Harrison Ford. James merely states Grey has copper hair (so does my kid brother - so I kept having to change it to blond hair in my head and envisioning Spike) and stubble.

So, the fandom brouhaha came from the same exact place as my annoyance with Mark Watches publishing his meta - "ENVY". They were upset that someone took something they'd offered for free on the internet, and published it for money. Again? People do this all the time. Stephen King did. Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin and Catherine Valente have. Hell, The Girl Who Circumvented Fairyland was originally issued for free. As was Whedon's Doctor Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog and many things from Felicia Day. So the brouhaha was nothing more than the Green-Eyed Monster in Fandom asserting itself. Seriously, can people be this un-self-aware and in denile?
Apparently so. De Nil is a river that they are traveling upon. I admit, I was the same way. I see my demons. I kick them. Nasty things.

I wanted to hate this book. Because I despise Twilight. Tried reading it, and couldn't make it past the first 50 pages. Twilight reminded me too much of how I wrote when I was 15, except I had better characters. Flowery language. And a wimpy heroine who moped. Also, the whole teen romantic angst thing just doesn't work when you are 45. You roll your eyes. 28...yes, 45, not so much.
And...let's face it vampires have hit their saturation point. I burned out on them finally.
So, I'd never have read this book in its original incarnation. Plus Robert Pattinson does nothing for me.

And...there was the whole media marketing explosion over it. The hype got on my nerves. It still does. Actually I'm wary of the Avengers for the same reasons. But...word of mouth hype makes me curious...which is why I saw Cabin in the Woods (well that and Whedon wrote it), against my better judgement - because I hate that particular type of horror film. I want to know why people love something. I read Harry Potter for the same reasons - and was surprised by Harry Potter, it wasn't what I thought it would be either when I picked it up on a whim. Twilight I tried and hated. was based on a fanfic on the internet for free! Ugh.

So, I admittedly went into Fifty Shades with low expectations, planning on ripping it to pieces and making fun of it. Preparing to be offended by it like I was by Twilight. And unlike a lot of reviewers, I'd, as you know from reading past book reviews in 2011, read my fair share of this stuff. Most of the stuff that I'd read in 2011, with the exception of the historical novels, was incredibly chauvinistic and disturbing. One book in particular horrified me. This was His Indecent Proposal by Lyndia Chase. It wasn't really a book, so much as a novella. But the heroine literally allows herself to be raped, beaten and controlled by her former boss. Who tricks her into a marriage contract by using her fears of financial ruin. He takes control of her entire life, and she's weakling, unable to stop him. It's written as a romance, but it felt like a horror tale.

I thought, from everything I'd read about Fifty Shades, that it would be like "His Indecent Proposal" or at the very least like the other two books that I read, "Dom of My Dreams" - about a book editor who enters into a submissive sex game with her author, or "The Initiation" about a college student who gets initiated to an exclusive power club by becoming a submissive in a sex game for several months. Both of the latter books are basically wall to wall sex, and violent, graphic sex at that, with multiple partners. (Not for the squeamish and I found them distasteful).

In the past six months, I've read roughly 20-30 novels in the romance/erotica/chicklit genre. I can remember only a handful. They tend to blend together after a bit. The trope is the same - girl meets guy, he's a beast, she falls for him anyway, and gives herself over to him, body and soul.
After a bit, I got annoyed. I kept arguing with the writers - why isn't she running for the hills?
I'd be running for the hills. There are a few exceptions, but generally, she gives up her life, what she knows to join him. Loretta Chase's novels provided a hefty does of compromise but those were historicals. The contemporary romance novels, with the exception of Nora Roberts poorly written and edited, Sweet Revenge, it's about sex and capitulation. He fucks her into submission.

I'm writing this preamble, so that you can see my perspective on this book which is a bit different than the medias. And why it has captivated many women around the world.

Now to Fifty Shades of Grey Review.

What is different about this book and everything that's come before? Two things, the heroine is not a wimp. She's not physically strong, she's not a Lisbeth Salander or a Buffy. She has an interior strength. An internal moral code. And she knows what she wants, who she is, and she does love herself (not in a narcissitic manner). She is basically, normal. She's also not a Mary Sue - ie. not perfect in every way. Nor a fragile thing. Ana Steel is made of Steel. She gives back as good as she gets. And she's nobody's fool.

The other thing that is different, is 50 Shades of Grey - Volume One does not end happy. We don't have the heroine capitulating to the romantic love interest's way of life.

The sex that turns him on - receiving and giving pain, repels her. She can't capitulate to his control. She can't give herself to him completely. And she realizes he's abusive. That he may well be incapable of love. Too broken to be able to give her what she needs - which is what we all need on some level - to be loved and cherished. And she's not certain he can receive love in return.
Can she bring him out into the light? Can they find a middle ground? She's not certain. But she will not let him take her over. She's not going the route that most women, including Bella Swan, go in these books. He doesn't leave her for her own good, she leaves him.

The dynamic between the somewhat realistic. And reminds me a great deal of abusive relationships in real life. The woman or man who wants to save the broken woman or man, who hates themselves.

This surprised me a little...because most of the books I've read to date, find a way to make these two stay together. They don't deal with that disturbing conflict - his desire to control her, to beat or fuck her into submission.

Our society right now is struggling with gender issues. And that comes across well here. At the heart of this story is a battle between the sexes. A man and a woman who love each other, but can't figure out how to overcome the chasm that sits between them. Violence and sex come into play.
She wants to make love, he wants to fuck. She wants to talk. He wants to fuck. She wants to
caress him, he wants to spank her for not caving to his will, not doing what he wants. He has a stressful job, something has gone wrong at work - he takes it out on her, he wants to lose himself in her, then he wants to be her hero, to console her. Beat then console. She wants no part of that, and runs.

In vampire romantic fiction such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Being Human, Anita Blake series, True Blood, Vamp Diaries, Twilight...this relationship is disguised in metaphors. His violent nature, that demon inside is literally a demon. Love vs. Hate. Pain vs. Pleasure. The line blurs between.

But there's so much more to the story, it's not that clear-cut. And James, bless her, does delve deeper into these issues...establishing who these characters are and wondering why. I honestly didn't know where she was going with this story - it did not go in the direction the others went, at least not entirely.

Is there a lot of sex? Not really. The sex scenes are fairly tame. If you've read Nautibitz's Crave or unbridled_burnett or any of the other fanfic writers out there...nothing here should surprise you. It's actually really tame in comparison. No where near the sexcapades of the books listed above. And there's no multiple person sex or anal, at least not in Volume One. The media has exaggerated the sex, but our media doesn't know how to deal with sex and sort of deals with it the same way a teen boy who saw his first naked woman would. Violence, however, our media is disturbingly blase about.

The plot isn't that complicated, because it is a romance, so the plot is mainly how these two characters navigate their relationship. It's a thriller - because you don't know how these two people will deal with each other. How will Grey react to Ana? And vice versa. Can they be together, is it possible? Do you care? I did, which surprised me. I found myself genuinely liking and caring about both characters. I get enough on both, to care about them. Your Mileage May Vary.

The plot? Ana Steel goes to interview philanthropist and billionaire, Christian Grey, for her sick friend and roommate Kate Kavanaugh. Kate doesn't give her much info and it is all last minute.
It's for the school paper. Grey is supposed to hand out the diplomas and give the speech - hence the interview - who is this guy? He's donating money to one of the schools at the university, which is in Vancouver, Washington. When they meet, fire. She trips over her own feet and is nervously polite, saying Yes, Sir, No, Sir. He is immediately smitten - mistaking her nervousness and politeness for submissiveness. He suggests that she'd like - she could set up a photo shoot for her school's magazine. Which she does, because she's taken with him. She begins to fall for him. They want each other. All through this - it's clear he's a control freak. To the point in which he drives her a bit nuts. Also a bit of a stalker - in that he knows where she is, and where she works, and where she lives...showing up at work-place out of the blue for example. But Ana negotiates around it. Until he makes her sign an NDA, prior to going any further. Then shows her his lifestyle. That's when she tells him she's a virgin, he freaks, but wanting her desperately, he proceeds to seduce her. They have sex. It's good sex, lots of orgasms. Somewhat erotic. Not that graphic - erotica is actually better if it's not too graphic in my opinion, less is more.
Later, he gives her his BDSM contract and tries to explain it to her. The conflict in the story is his dark tendencies...his BDSM, his fears, and her's. Unlike the other books I mentioned, this isn't skipped over. It's deal with in detail. Perhaps too much detail. Not sure.

The writer in a sense writes fictional novel exploring BDSM, the why's, wherefore's, and difficulty with it. She's also exploring from the female perspective, shipping the bad boy, or the
beast. How do you handle that? The heroine asks herself why of all the people she had to fall for, she's fallen for him? Why not someone safe, like her friend Jose or Paul or Kate's brother, Ethan.
Why isn't she more like Kate who falls for Christian perfect and sane brother Elliot. What is wrong with her.

Rarely do you get this much exploration of character in one of these novels. Usually it is all about the sex or you get some spy story or external conflict that has zip to do with it.
The writer skims over the characters, leaving meta writers to do the heavy lifting.

When a book takes off by word of mouth, like Harry Potter did, or this one has - it's usually because it does not fit the mold. The formula. It's doing something different. It's broken a few rules in the publishing handbook. This one has broken many of those rules:

* Discusses BDSM in detail and not in cliche or black and white terms.
* Delves deeply into the character's pysche's and uses sex as a means to an end, not an end to a means, by that I mean the sex arises out of the characters. It's there to tell us more about them.
Plot with porn, not porn with plot.
* The female heroine is steely, she has guts, and she is willing to break it off for her own sanity.
* there's a lot of talking and discussion
* Focus is on the characters

Is it a great book? No. While better than the 20-30 romance/chicklit novels I've read this year and definitely better than the Buffy comics (although that's not exactly hard nor is it fair to compare the two) - it's no great work of fiction. It delves into well established tropes, examines them in detail and doesn't come up lacking. But they are well-established literary and romantic tropes (hence the popularity of the novel). It's a bit over-written. I got tired of the constant mentions of inner goddess and subconscious after a while. The heroine does come across as a 20 something right out of college, but she is a 20 something right out of college - as written through the lense of a 45 year old women in mid-life crisis. So I identify. The writer is by no means great, but she's not bad either. Much better actually than 75% of the romance novelists I've read to date. And many of the mystery writers too. I'd say she's as good if not better a writer than Stieg Larrson. But no Neil Gaiman or Stephen King - they are better. As is JK Rowling, also much better.

Would you like it? Depends. If you like romantic erotica - then yes. If you don't like romantic erotica, it's not your thing. And don't waste your time or money. I still can't wrap my mind around Mark Reads reading Twilight. How bizarre is that?

Personally, I loved it. It hit my kinks hard. And it made me really want to read Thomas Hardy's Tess of D'Urbvilles'. I think in some respects this book is closer to that one, than it is to Twilight.

Date: 2012-04-30 02:13 am (UTC)
yourlibrarian: InterestingCordy-dragonydreams (BUF-InterestingCordy-dragonydreams)
From: [personal profile] yourlibrarian
It was interesting seeing your take on the book. I haven't read it and probably won't but I was intrigued to see someone addressing why the book is popular who isn't simultaneously saying stupid things about women reading erotica, and who is familiar with stuff women are already reading. The media is extremely tiresome in their pearl clutching. You'd think none of them had ever had sex themselves.

So seeing what you had to say about how the heroine was different rather than similar to many romance heroines made sense to me. I've found most romances not only unrelatable but also difficult to finish. And I'm not surprised the sex in the story isn't actually all that remarkable. What your review made me think of was the article I saw yesterday about male responses to the book, and particularly one guy who was apparently very taken with it because he'd never before taken on a woman's POV about a relationship and found it very life changing. What you've said here gives some inkling of why.

Date: 2012-05-01 12:51 am (UTC)
yourlibrarian: Angel and Lindsey (Default)
From: [personal profile] yourlibrarian
Ha, yeah when it comes to the desirability of the hero (and his general improbability) not much changes. But you're right about how fanfic writers tend to be pretty observant of tropes in different genres.

Date: 2012-04-29 09:34 pm (UTC)
elisi: (DT Balcony by iconbitch.)
From: [personal profile] elisi
Interesting. Thanks for sharing.


shadowkat: (Default)

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