Fifty Shades Darker
by EL James, contemporary (2012)
Arrow, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-09-957992-2
Fifty Shades Darker is the continuation of the story of Christian Grey and Ana Steele, whom we first met in Twilight under different names. Author EL James gave these characters a new varnish and digs, made them have sex in ways that Edward and Bella only hinted coyly at, and is right now rolling happily on a pile of money while the rest of the world wait with bated breath for her next literary masterpiece, where Henry Prolloux and Hermina George, a traveling Mormon missionary and a runaway circus clown respectively, meet and shag up a spanking new five book series.
You can read this book on its own, though, because the story in this book is so thin that if we stretch it a bit farther, it'd disappear completely. Let's see, where we last left off, Ana broke things off with Christian before he took out the studded gloves and ceiling harness, but in this book they get back together even before a week is out since the last break-up. Or, simply put, I get the same runaround of a "courtship" all over again. Only this time, the plot goes a bit more deeper than the previous book, in the sense that the author trots out some skanky hos and trashy slatterns to compete with Ana for Christian (including the infamous Mrs Robinson of his misspent youth), these characters serving only to emphasize Ana's "rightness" for Christian in the always charming Madonna/Whore divide. Ana's not a whore, you see, because she only lets one guy into every single one of her body orifice, because she's doing this (and that and this and that and then some) in the name of true love. Of course, some of the other skanks claim to love Christian too, but they are not Ana because Ana is the avatar of the reader's own insecurities and thus will ever be triumphant in a cat fight for the man.
I thought Ana was on her way into becoming a decent character after reading the last book, but here, Ana turns into the Bella clone everyone knows and loves. Self-centered, needlessly bitchy about other women in her thoughts when she doesn't even know those women, and collapses when she isn't with her man - Ana here is pretty obnoxious to follow. She's only friends with women who are clearly no threat to her relationship with Christian, and everyone else is a competition. Ana is that desperate wide-eyed woman in a party who clings jealously to her man and stares daggers at other women who made the mistake of even accidentally looking at her guy. Creepy. Her attributes in this story are all informed. She's said to be talented, capable, et cetera, but I never get to see her display any of these amazing attributes.
Christian is even more of a control freak here. Sending her roses and then emailing her to demand to know whether she has received them is the most benign of the ways he looms suffocatingly over Ana. Like Ana, his attributes are informed. Everyone is awed by him, he's said to be admired for his brilliant mind, et cetera, but he spends his time at work sending banal notes to Ana using his company email. Maybe the brilliant mind is on vacation. Christian is said to charismatic and seductive, but I only see a gauche douche with Neanderthal pick-up lines lumbering drunkenly into action. Christian is said to be this young, seductive, powerful, and very rich man of men, but that poor darling is, at the end of the day, just a sad whiny little man-child.
Which brings me to the "plot": when these two are not having sex, Ana is trying to get into Christian's head. Uncovering Christian's past is a big part of plot here, but here's the thing: that man has enough money to last several lifetimes, everyone acts like he's a king among them, beautiful people want to be his best friends and sleep with him, he has a family who love him, and his business has nowhere to go but up. So why on earth should I care about his past? So that guy had a sad childhood on the streets. Well, I'm sure he can comfort himself by rolling up highest quality Colombian weed in thousand-dollar notes and get high until the cows come home. Christian has nothing to lose if he can't overcome his inner demons, so I have very few reasons to care about his "problem". So that guy is miserable? Whatever - go hire some hookers for hot angry sex or something, just don't whine in front of me, please. All that money and he can't even be happy - that says a lot about his purported brainpower, I tell you. Oh. and there's also a sole male villain here, but that's because the author's biggest fan club wear Team Edward T-shirts, I guess.
Clocking in at over 550 pages, this book is way too long to sustain itself with such a threadbare plot. The sex scenes might have saved this story were they not written as if the author was conflicted over the fact that she was writing Twilight erotica. There is a pervasive "sex is bad... we're only doing it because we are miserable people who need succor" - the Robin Schone Erotica Complex - and a lot of times, I get the impression that sex is only good if it's between Christian and Ana. Ana is having sex in this story not because she enjoys it, but because it's a way to beat those other skinny beautiful women to the prized male trophy and win.
The sex, by the way, is quite mundane. After all the descriptions of sex acts mentioned in the infamous contract of the previous book, I'm hoping that Christian will go the whole nine yards, but I guess the author doesn't want to scare off the grandmothers who are buying these books for their book clubs. Ana's progression from curious innocent-whore type to someone who likes to take it rough everywhere is unbelievably portrayed. She still displays some ridiculously contrived "you can take away my hymen and pork me past my tampon, but I'm still very innocent when it comes to sex" nonsense (I guess we can't have a heroine - who likes it rough all the time, 24/7, everywhere and anywhere - be seen as too much of a whore), so there is a disconcerting bipolar quality to her tendency to act like a braindead innocent outside the bedroom and every man's fantasy blow up doll in the bedroom. A "good" girl like Ana should always be untainted by sexual perversion, unless it's initiated or catalyzed by the hero and only the hero. Other skanky women, like the predatory Mrs Robinson, always make the first move to obtain sexual pleasure and they are portrayed as "evil". Once again, I get this disturbing feeling that Ana is allowed to have all this sex by the author mostly as a means to win the guy and beat off the other women. Sex isn't a celebration of love or even a climax of two ships passing by in a port - it's a device to validate the heroine's superiority over her competition.
An interesting plot. Fun and unapologetic sex scenes. Both of them in this story would be great, one would be nice, but this book has none of them. Told ya Bella should have gone with Jacob.
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