I know, I know…I’ve come to this late, late, late! The fuss, the controversy, the film have all been and gone but here I am finally reading the book for myself.
It’s quite weird reading a book you already feel you know all about – on the plus side it’s unlikely I’m going to accidentally deliver any spoilers! You all know the basics but here you go away…
The plot involves innocent student Anastasia Steele meeting and falling in love with the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey. The tale is told from Anastasia’s point of view. She meets him while interviewing him for a student paper, they are immediately attracted to each other but she lacks confidence. She does agree to meet him for dates however and he quickly informs her that he doesn’t do romance and instead wants her to sign a contract laying out the conditions for their relationship (which includes, among other things, conditions about performing kinky sex acts). The rest of the novel is basically them getting to know each other and bargaining how their relationship will work. She has deep reservations about signing a contract (understandably!) but is also attracted to Christian and really enjoys having sex with him and exploring aspects of submission and domination. He is resistant about having a conventional relationship (partly because he was abused as a child which we don’t learn many details of at this stage) but he likes Ana so much that he is prepared to compromise his conditions too.
Now for the shocking bit…I liked it! It was the last thing I expected. All the articles either celebrating it for encouraging women to explore their sexuality or condemning it for romanticising abusive relationships and all the articles in between seemed to agree it was terribly badly written but I disagree and enjoyed the writing style. What I think James does well is capture the uncertainty, insecurity and fear that come with youthful first love. This was what I most liked about it. It really took me back to the early stage of my own relationships where along with passion and romance you’re bombarded with less friendly feelings. I think there’s a tendency to forget or deny the truth of this stage of love. If the relationship is successful you remember the early stages as an exciting blissful time conveniently forgetting all the jealous you felt when he mentioned an ex-girlfriend, the doubts ‘does he love me too?’ or ‘Am I ready for commitment?’ If the relationship quickly fizzles out or ends badly you like to pretend you were never bothered anyway forgetting the times you sat staring miserably at your phone waiting for him to text you back!
Overall I thought it was a good book about relationships, the sexual aspect made little impact on me I sort of forget that differences in their relationship were related to kinky sex! It seemed irrelevant as the style of compromise and negotiation they go through could have applied to any source of division such as who does the washing up! It’s probably just my reading of it but I took the extreme aspects to the book as almost metaphors for real life, his being a billionaire was symbolic of differences, the contract he asked her to sign was symbolic of the more informal ‘contracts’ we all agree to when entering a relationship. I supposes it’s a failure of the book that the sex scenes that caused such controversy neither aroused nor disgusted me.
In terms of other negatives I felt the book was too long. The interesting observations it has to offer on relationships could have been made in a much shorter book or even short story. I guess it’s a bit like listening to a friend whine about why her new boyfriend finished his latest text with just one x, rather than the usual xxx, you try to be sympathetic at first but when she’s still whining on and over analysing it an hour later you lose patience! It outstayed it’s welcome and I don’t feel any need to read the sequels but I did enjoy it and found it a gentle but thought provoking read.