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Grey – The peer review


E.L. James
576 pages
Language: English
Isbn: 1101946342
@: buy it online

Grey is, as you surely know, the inevitable sequel of Fifty shades of Grey. Shamelessly created to feed a 125-million (not counting those pirated online) copies business, it doesn’t tell any new story but exactly the one we watched in theatres already as well, following the reassuringly repetitive pattern of preschoolers’ tales. The novelty lies in its narrator: the clumsy and innocent Anastasia Steele this time is replaced by the brooding Christian Grey himself, merciless dominator and part-time billionaire.

An onus of being a BDSM expert unfortunately is having to read every book on the topic – including the vilest ones – so I took courage and I spent the last few days subjecting myself to 550 pages of further grayness. It felt quite like a punishment, but it probably depends partly on my not being a native English speaker. Anyway I made up my mind about Mrs. James’ latest literary achievement.

Starting with the good news, Grey is written better than its preceding trilogy. Not that better, mind you, but this time the text evidently went by an editor at the least, and it flows somewhat more smoothly. You can still find a rather creative use of the language here and there (like the… bizarre and frequent usage of ‘to fist’ in very un-BDSM ways which become hilarious in this context), especially in the copied parts. You read it right: a good half of the book is inevitably composed of the conversations, the emails and the contract from the original book. “To maintain the realism” the author didn’t change them a bit, Copy&Pasteing them to death. Any comment would sound ungentlemanly.

The other surprise was to finally learn what the job of Christian Grey is about after all. Judging from these pages, when he’s not jogging or kickboxing he spends quite a lot of time inflicting annoying phone calls to an army of personal assistants, to have them move spare clothes, mixed items, helicopters and copies of his very secret slave contract around. He really enjoys taking note of the number of rings before his victims pick up the phone, and when he really has to appear busy he fires people and shuts down businesses at random, without any actual financial analysis «because I just feel these things». Judging from his management style, he probably learned from the best One-percenters.
His only real interest is however to air-drop containers of food on Darfur, without coordinating with international relief programs, thus risking to start World War Three with his unannounced flybys. Using just a fraction of that investment to offer some hot soup to the homeless in his own Seattle naturally doesn’t even enter his thoughts – which are focused on other things anyway. Like stalking.

If one of the most frequent criticisms to 50 shades of Grey was about the predatory behavior of the protagonist, Grey cranks it up to horrific levels. Take this one example: do you recall the end of the interview where he meets Anastasia and walks her to the lift amidst love violins and quivering panties? Well, reading this book we learn that as soon as the doors closed he had her put under surveillance already, to learn her every secret with a disinterest for privacy and laws that would make the NSA blush. All of this in exactly 15 seconds.
Still, this is nothing compared to the other revelations about Mr. Grey, kindly provided via his constant confabulations. Anastasia’s nagging ‘inner goddess’ was in fact taken over by the borderline schizophrenic thoughts of the protagonist, who seems unable to do anything without arguing with himself. The following excerpt, for example, is from his first encounter with Ana. Christian opens the door, she stumbles to the floor, and his very first thought is:

She has a small, sweet face that is blushing now, an innocent pale rose. I wonder briefly if all her skin is like that—flawless—and what it would look like pink and warmed from the bite of a cane.


I stop my wayward thoughts, alarmed at their direction. «What the hell are you thinking, Grey?» This girl is much too young. She gapes at me, and I resist rolling my eyes.

How curious: that was exactly my same reaction. The eye rolling, I mean. Because the rest is exceedingly creepy. Seriously, how would you judge somebody whose gut reaction on meeting you was to imagine you nude and beaten? Someone who argues with “the voices in his head” and talks about himself in the third person?
This actually reminded me of what a lady friend of mine told me about reading 50 shades of Grey by chance, without knowing what it was about. «When he suddenly spoke about kissing her I was dumbstruck. Up until then I was convinced I had been reading a thriller, with Grey as a serial killer!»

In fact all the typical sociopath traits are well represented, including dissociation, flashbacks, contact aversion and the works. The author tries hard to justify them by opening many chapters on the protagonist’s dreams, showing his terrifying early childhood in such pathetic tones that they become unwillingly hilarious. Seriously, boy: I’m so sorry you lost a toy car under a sofa when you were little – but this really is no good reason to stuff your garages with sport cars now. And this is where the biggest problem of Grey (the book, not the character) is at heart. Let me explain…

Speaking as a longtime BDSM enthusiast, I must admit I really saw myself in Grey’s (the character, not the book) behaviors. Not just in our common taste for domination, but in many details revealed by his internal monologues. The obsession with control; the need to show my worth; the desire to possess; the terror of unrequited love; the anxiety for my beloved’s safety; the fear of being evil and dangerous; the inability to focus on serious tasks; the fun in manipulating people; the uncontrollable sexual arousal before certain gestures… I did experience all these things too. Then I became 12 and I grew up.
The great Christian Grey kept the head of a child – or a Chihuahua on crack – though, making it impossible to take the novel seriously.

This wouldn’t even be that much of an issue, if only this book was seen for what it is: a porny romance for the Jersey Shore/Kardashian crowd. It is however scarily easy to foresee a repeat of what happened with the first trilogy. In that case we witnessed the skyrocketing of accidents related with erotic games badly improvised by people who had taken 50 shades of Grey for a BDSM manual. Now I expect armies of naïve readers to go hunting for the worst childish douchebags in their neighborhood to try and redeem them “just like the heroine of the book” – and in the process getting badly hurt,  in ways not even masochists can enjoy.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn them to steer clear of Grey.


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