Yes. I did it. I read the whole trilogy. My brain has turned to mush and I find myself apologizing to my inner goddess for the badness of this series.
And yes that is a little joke, because anybody who believes they have an inner goddess residing inside them needs a smack upside the head.
I could snark review this book. I could. I think I probably will snark review each individual novel. But right now I need to get this semi-serious rant off my chest. This review deals with ALL THREE BOOKS. If, for some reason I can’t even comprehend, you don’t want spoilers from this trilogy, then don’t read it.
I will also be referring to Christian as Chrisward and Anastacia as Anella. For obvious reasons.
Unlike the Twilight series, I’m going into the review all guns blazing. It took me until Breaking Dawn to finally lose my feminist shit in review, but this. THIS. This novel is Twilight on viagra. Get yours today! Double the length and double the misogyny!
It is important to note, there is barely a description of either character in here. When all we know about the main characters is she has pale skin, dark hair and blue eyes, and he is ‘OMG so FUCKING HOT’ with unruly copper hair and grey eyes, we actually don’t really know anything. These characters are 100% empty vessels for every reader to pour their own fantasy into. We are never told about the shape of a face, or the imperfect aspects of either of them. What we are told about their character traits are soon disproved through the rest of the narrative. They are just blank images. This is important. This right here partly explains why thousands of women are swooning after Mr Grey; an otherwise abusive, self hating, control freak, as though he were a god. They don’t need to know what he really looks like, or how his actions reinforce disturbing patriarchal constructs. They can just imagine him as their dream guy. Who’s really really good in bed. (Which, is a matter of opinion anyway. Let’s just say, I’m not particularly down with somebody RAMMING me repeatedly.)
This review will come to you in 5 parts. I promise to try and make them as coherent as possible, but my rage knows no bounds.
1. Virgin vs. Whore: ‘I want to fuck your mouth!’
Of course Anella is a virgin. OF COURSE. She has to be for the crux of this story (if that is what we are calling this hot mess) to work. She had to be either a virgin or a whore, because that is all women ever are. She couldn’t ever have been a whore to win Chrisward’s love, there is only room for one person to have the sizeable baggage he brings with him, so she was always going to be a virgin.
A virgin of her choosing. Because she hadn’t found anyone to meet her high expectations of romantic love. As displayed to her through her love of the glorious works of Mr (original-woman-hater) Rochester or Heath(i’m-psychotic)Cliff.
As we all know girls thrive on romance. And boys thrive on sex. This is a construct that is perpetuated throughout society. Which is why men having lots of sexual experience is acceptable. Whereas girls who are sexually experienced must have something wrong with their romance gene.
But that isn’t really the reason she is a virgin. She is a virgin because it would be unheard of to have an experienced female in control of her sexual desires. She has to be trained by her super experienced, super large hunk of man meat. It is acceptable for him to be experienced, whilst it would whorish for her to be so.
I am not taking issue with this being a story that portrays a virgin. More power to Anella. I am taking issue at this novel perpetrating the patriarchal expectation that female virgin = innocent, but female experience = whore. Anella is so innocent she can barely refer to her female organs as anything other than “there”. Hee hee, giggle giggle.
As Chrisward experiences new things such as actually sleeping with a woman, taking her home to his parents, somebody daring to speak back to him; they are noted by him as ‘another first’. They are all largely emotionally related. Yet the Anella overwhelming firsts are all sexual, something Chrisward revels in, glad that ‘some fucker’ hasn’t touched her before him, and that he owns her body and soul. She would have been dirty property if any man had got there before him, obviously.
It is a double standard that is just as much at play today as it was 10, 20, 30, 40, 500 years ago. What gets my goat is books like this encourage it. Books like this make it normal for the man to have the experience and for the woman to want ‘hearts and flowers’. Anella only enjoys the sexual acts performed on/with her, because she believes she has feelings for Chrisward. She knows he’s messed up, but she loves him anyway. Would she participate in sex if she didn’t have an emotional connection? Probably not. Because she is the innocent, virginal maiden; saving herself for The One.
2. Control: “I want your world to begin and end with me.”
I can’t really explain how disturbing I found Chrisward and Anella’s codependent relationship. From the moment she meets him she can think of nothing but him. Already a girl who seems to have only one female friend in the whole world, she is soon wrapped up in his world. They only ever do things that he enjoys, they visit all the places he likes, they inhabit his environment.
Let me make this clear, this isn’t anything to do with the Dom/sub relationship he initially wants to start up with her. I deal with the BDSM implications in my final point. No this control is the incessant emotional manipulation of another person. He uses sex to distract her from any argument. He uses sex as a punishment. He buys out the company she works for so he can essentially be her boss. On honeymoon when he is utterly furious at her daring to disobey him and go topless on a beach, he gets his own back by covering her breasts in love bites, insuring she won’t ever be wearing a bikini top again!
At every step she is worried over his reactions. She apologises consistently over things that don’t even need to be apologised for. She wants to keep her maiden name at work, he goes ape shit and turns up at her office to argue with her, she gives in. She wants to go to her friends photography exhibition, he goes with her and forces her to leave early because he doesn’t like her friend. She goes willingly. She doesn’t want to be spanked, he spanks her, makes her sob uncontrollably, then explains how it is her fault for not being honest with him.
It is never ending, the hits just keep on coming. Chrisward’s reactions and control towards Anella are so unhealthy it is ultimately abusive. Which leads on to my next point.
3. Abusive relationships: “Argue with me, and I am going to take it out on your body somehow.”
We all remember that delightful scene where Chrisward has taken his new toy home to meet the parents, at some point she does something that annoys him, he responds by dragging her out the the boathouse to teach her a lesson. Whispering, ‘Please don’t hit me’ with genuine fear and trepidation is not the hallmarks of a consensual BDSM relationship, it is one of a victim to their abuser. Chrisward punish fucks Anella often, consistently attempting to bend her to his will. If she steps out of line, she will be in trouble. She soon understands these rules. Whilst she may come off as annoyed about his reactions initially, she always always ends up sacrificing to his wants/needs. Perhaps the only thing we don’t see her back down on throughout the whole series is her insisting on having a job. If this is supposed to represent a strong, independent woman, well… it doesn’t. As already established, Chrisward has already bought out that company, so she ultimately works for him anyway.
Anella is isolated throughout the series, often trapped up in his apartment under guard. His non-disclosure contract handed to her at the very beginning ensures she is not allowed to discuss anything with anyone. Chrisward uses this time to ‘train’ her as a sub.(The NDA is later abandoned when he realises he ‘loves’ her.) Abusers rely on their victims not sharing with anyone, it is easier to instil fear.
As the series goes on Anella is informed by people that she ‘handles’ Chrisward well, or that she needs to be patient with him. More often than not domestic abuse victims stay in their situations for a long time, they do their best to control their abusers mood swings so as to not be punished. Or they blame themselves for doing something that they knew their partner wouldn’t like. Anella’s ‘handling’ of Chrisward is no more than a wife making sure she doesn’t do things that would upset her husband.
Saying I love you and apologising after the incident doesn’t mean that person loves you. Domestic abuse is a very real and very serious issue, so to read a relationship in a trashy novel that has the ingredients for one is disturbing on many levels. If she can just be patient enough with him, if she can just be more careful around him, he’ll be okay. That is NOT okay. Victims of domestic abuse are often left with low self worth, emotional problems, they find it difficult to make simple decisions or don’t judge their instincts.
Anella at one point during another example of emotional abuse says, ‘Holy fuck, I can’t even remember my own name.’ This sums it all up. She loses herself consistently, is put under untold pressure, puts up with situations that nobody should have to, until eventually - she can’t remember herself at all.
4. Saviour Complex: “And I know in this moment that my heart is big enough for both of us.”
Amongst all this we have the dangerous trope of female as saviour running through the novels. Not female as strong character. Female as independent. Female as capable. But female as the person who is able to ‘save’ ie, CHANGE the man.
Chrisward has a terrible history of child abuse, this is the reason given to us to explain why he is like he is. He is also the victim of prolonged rape by an older woman who introduced him to the BDSM lifestyle. (This is an issue that is never fully dealt with. But that is a WHOLE OTHER RANT.) His background is used as reason, excuse and explanation for his violent, controlling, manipulative tendencies. And who is the only one who can change him? Anella of course.
THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. Domestic violence is domestic violence. No matter how much you think you can change the person, you can’t. A whole narrative that deals with the magical ability of a little lady to change the crazy man is nauseating and least. Dangerous at worst.
5. BDSM lifestyle.
Finally, I must make it clear I know very little about BDSM. What little I do know is based on feminist articles and thoughts of it. Often from people holding differing ideas about BDSM as a feminist friendly practice. Personally I have no opinion. If you’re in a consensual sexual relationship, each to their own!
My issue in this novel is BDSM is portrayed at this thing that crazy issue driven men delve into! Chrisward does it because he likes to beat women that look like his biological mother! Call me naive, but surely anybody out there participating in S&M is offended by this!? The idea that he is pervy and fuelled by issues just doesn’t sit well with me. Who is to say what is pervy in the first place? What isn’t pervy for some, is for others and vice versa! Personally anything to do with food in the bedroom creeps me the fuck out. CRUMBS. MESS. THE SHEETS. UGH. But food works for others! The idea that these practices are a little bit of naughtyness was just weird for me. And that is speaking as somebody who has no experience of BDSM! His REASON for doing it was disturbing, sure. But I felt like the actual situations were trying to be portrayed as kinky, and they really, well… weren’t.
Not only that, I would think a lot of Dom/sub relationships would be offended at the portrayal. E.L.James did her best to try and explain (through Chrisward) that the sub actually is the one who has the power in the relationship. But she tried to explain that THROUGH CHRISWARD. The crazy, abusive control freak who clearly DID have the power. It was just all a bit messed up.
The end novel tries to show that Anella does finally have the control, she makes the decisions, she gets off on it as much as Chrisward. He even says to her, ‘You know, you’re topping from the bottom.’ (Something she had no clue about because apparently the stupid girl still didn’t have the basic grasp of the lingo. GOOGLE.) But it just doesn’t work. All the points above mess up the end point James seemed to try to make of BDSM.
It was a mess. I am more than a little terrified that women out there are holding this up as some erotic romance. This wasn’t romance. This was spousal abuse. This sets female equality back into the middle ages, where women are trophies to be owned and controlled.
Shame on society for perpetuating this shit. Shame on E.L.James for writing it. Shame on me for reading it.