I’m afraid this book has gone on to my small life is too short pile of unfinished books. The book was highly recommended to me by a friend so clearly not everyone feels this way!
It was just so humdrum and dull (IMO). I gave it a fair chance, I got to page 233 before I decided that I had no interest in finding out what happened to these characters and would quite easily shut the book and never think of them again (obviously I’m thinking of them now – but only because I’m writing the review).
The book gives us alternate chapters following our heroine then hero over the same time period. Our heroine is Vivian a very beautiful (we’re told this repeatedly) and slim (which we’re told over and over again) debutant. Slim, beautiful Vivian is a popular girl who hopes to make a good marriage and help raise her family’s flagging fortunes but then when she fears she is losing the attentions of the man she has set her sights on she has sex with him in an attempt to seal their relationship. This is a shocking thing for a high born young woman do to in 1914 and, although it is not clear that the details of her indiscretion are widely known, her reputation is damaged so her family rush her into a hasty marriage much more lowly than they had hoped for. Her husband is not cruel or anything but he is cold and unaffectionate so their marriage is rather unsatisfactory. It gets worse for Vivian when war breaks out her husband goes to war and it’s decided she should relocate from London to their relatively modest country home in the midlands where she is very lonely and isolated.
Our hero, Howard’s, story runs concurrently. He a handsome (we are told this repeatedly), tall and manly (we are told this again and again) playwright who has a promising career ahead of him. But then war breaks out and Howard is pressured to sign up, he resists because he does not agree with war and instead goes to the trenches as a journalist. There he sees the horrors of war first hand and becomes even more convinced of the futility of war. He returns to England just as conscription is introduced. He becomes a conscientious objector and is imprisoned because of this.
Howard witnesses the horrors of life in the trenches
At this point I felt the time was coming for our heroes to meet as Vivian had befriended Howard’s mother in the country and she had started to talk to Vivian about the plight of her son. That’s when I decided I just couldn’t go on.
It’s hard to put my finger on why this was so rubbish. I guess in a way it wasn’t terrible just so so, it seemed to have nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better elsewhere. There have been better books about lonely neglected wives and much better books about the horrors of war. The characters were very two dimensional with nothing about them that drew you in or made you feel an emotionally linked to their journeys. I just thought they both sounded fairly inoffensive but dull and I couldn’t imagine having an interesting conversation with either of them (even though I’m sure they would have been very nice to look at!)
I’d really like to hear from anyone who strongly disagrees with me on this. What is it about this that you liked so much? Does something extraordinary happen in the second half to make it all worthwhile?!
Am I the last person in Britain to read this book?
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.
Scene from the film adaptation: I haven’t seen it, wondering if I’d surprise myself my liking that 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!
The ‘saucy’ aspects of the book had surprisingly little impact on me.
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.