There are times in our lives when we do things that seem like a wonderful plan at the time, then quickly devolve into a miserable, gut-wrenching experience we later regret. In hindsight it was probably best not to engage in whatever pursuit it was that gives us heartbreak and despair at its unprecedented failure to enlighten or enrich our lives, yet we’re glad we had the experience anyway. These moments are learning curves, where we learn what not to do and end up, despite whatever bleak and horrible feelings the moments evoke inside our hearts, being a better, stronger person because of it.
Reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I got the first half of this moment; it seemed like a good idea to read it, so I could condemn its poor writing, flimsy characters and atrocious pacing from a place of experience and knowledge, rather than jumping on the “We hate Fifty Shades” bandwagon that I’m willing to bet most people jumped on for conformity’s sake. While I never go into a book ready to hate it by default (yep, even if it’s a Twilight novel…seriously), I was prepared to probably dislike it then be able to tell everyone I knew that it was a dross-riddled piece of feckless crap.
Well, I certainly can do that, but that wouldn’t go far enough. I have read innumerable books – graphic and textual – and I’ve read some bad ones throughout, but in terms of adult literature – which would discount the godawful books I had to read for my School Certificate in Year 10 – Fifty Shades of Grey is the worst, most horrific, most poorly written, most flimsily characterised, most atrociously paced piece of rank, vile, despicable, pus-filled garbage I have ever had the displeasure to pick up.
Now, while I did go into this knowing I’d probably dislike it I actually tried to do the opposite when reading it; I know a lot of people hate it, and I certainly was on the bandwagon and hating it through principle and Wikipedia summaries alone, but I was trying to just read it for what it was. It wasn’t going to Altered Carbon or Lord of the Rings, and it would not transcend the boundaries of what it is to be a novel. But surely, I thought, if there’s sex in it, it at least has to be more enjoyable than Twilight, right?
Oh, past-Chris, you are a naive little bitch.
I’m sure you all know the plot by now, or at least the scant salient elements that pass for one – ingenue Anastasia Steele meets and falls in love with Christian Grey, the enigmatic 27-year-old head of a company who’s secretly into BDSM. The novel explores not only her losing her virginity (in a scene that cannot possibly be taken as realistic in any sense of the word) but the escapades they both get up to as teacher and student in the ways of the Force.
For those of you who may not know, Fifty Shades actually started life as a Twilight fan fiction; when it was discovered the book could be marketed to more than just the patrons of FanFiction.net, the character names were changed, the story tweaked and de-fanged and presented as the abominably awful story that stands before you. Honestly, I’d’ve preferred it if it had been a Twilight fanfic – at least I would’ve had the satisfaction of seeing a franchise I’m not partial to get creepily torn down and displayed as the dross it actually is.
Working with the story as an original idea, however, it’s abhorrent. As I trawled through the horrendously-padded tale of sadomasochistic conquest I found myself not only grinding my teeth at grammatical and structural issues – not least of all being the fact that too many words are repeated within the same paragraph, with “breast” being the example that springs to mind for me – but also hating everyone presented within the story. Like, with a fiery burning passion hate.
Christian Grey – eponymous torture technician – is a dark, disgusting, twisted, hateful little man who has forever ruined the idea of wearing Converses for me. Anastasia Steele is a weak, unempowered little girl who brings the last few decades of the Feminism Fortress crashing to the ground in a pile of broken bricks. Kate Kavanaugh – Ana’s friend who first gets her to meet Christian – is a bitchy, self-obsessed, egotistical harridan who is unapologetic for putting her friends in hot water when necessary. And don’t get me started on former werewolf Jose Rodriguez. Seriously. Just don’t.
The story mainly deals with exploring BDSM pastimes, and while I’m not particularly familiar with the intricacies of the lifestyle beyond what’s presented in other forms of fiction, I have seen on the internet several leading BDSM experts who state that some of the scenarios presented within – as well as the mindset of Mr Grey himself – are completely missing the mark, and casting a shadow over BDSM as a whole. This could potentially damage what is regarded by its patrons as a valid, enjoyable method of social lifestyle, and while it may not appeal to everyone – personally, I’m not into the idea of being hog-tied and flayed with a whip anytime soon – it’s still something to be enjoyed by those it appeals to.
Fifty Shades makes BDSM seem akin to pedophilia, bestiality and rape in terms of how ashamedly awful and socially unacceptable the lifestyle allegedly is – and since a lot of its audience probably won’t be in tune with the actualities of the lifestyle and will take what the book says as read, then it’s a scary proposition for what should be a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice for anyone who partakes in it. As long as the participants are two willing, consenting adults, who’s to say they can’t enjoy the kind of elements a BDSM lifestyle contains?
See, I just used the word “lifestyle” four times in that paragraph, and even that dull repetition was better than seeing the words “gasp”, “breast” or “inner goddess” fifty or sixty times in a sentence.
This will not come as news to most of you, since as I said everyone’s been jumping on the Fifty Shades of Gay bandwagon for months now. One thing my father always taught me was that if you were going to condemn or lambast something, you should do it from a position of knowledge; know the thing before you destroy the thing. Knowing what’s really inside Fifty Shades of Grey, beyond what the cliff notes and internet summaries give you, doesn’t make it any better – all it does is make me fearful, annoyed, angry, resentful, bitter, sarcastic, sardonic, melancholic, homicidal, rage-filled, snarky and bored.
Under normal circumstances, a book producing that many emotions could be seen as a potential recipient for a Man Booker Prize – if the award-givers are reading this post, please don’t go there. Don’t give E.L. James impetus to write another one.