Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2-for-1 REVIEW: Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

No dual review this time. Lucinda quit the series before finishing the first book. I almost did the same thing, and after starting the second book, I really did quit. In fact, I read the first and last chapters of Fifty Shades Darker, rolled my eyes (a lot), and decided that I was done with the series for good. Only I have this annoying compulsion to finish what I start (several family members frequently make joking references to my OCD), so I picked it up again a week later. And I enjoyed the last two books, despite my many reservations. I've already said most of what I have to say about this series in my review of the first book, but I thought the final two books in the series deserve a few comments as well.


Tracy's Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Genre:
Erotic Fiction
Audience:
Adult (Mature)
Series: Fifty Shades of Grey #2

First Lines: "He's come back. Mommy's asleep or she's sick again."

Tracy's Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Genre:
Erotic Fiction
Audience:
Adult (Mature)
Series: Fifty Shades of Grey #3

First Lines: "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy is asleep on the floor. She has been asleep for a long time."





Tracy's Thoughts:
In the final books of the series, a slight suspense plot is added to the mix, and the playfulness that characterized Christian and Ana's e-mail correspondence seeps into their face-to-face interactions. As a result, both characters begin to feel more real. Ana, especially, becomes less of a cipher. They also cope more directly with their fundamental differences and learn to communicate in a more adult manner, though neither character changes extremely. I enjoyed the way they are able to acknowledge their own flaws and even joke about them. In one particularly notable moment, Christian gifts Ana with yet another expensive bit of technology, complete with a themed playlist. Among the included songs is "Every Breath You Take," which they mutually agree is the stalker anthem and highly appropriate to Christian's personality. While Christian's stalker tendencies bothered me in the first book, they are less objectionable in those that follow, probably because they have at least been acknowledged. (One of my primary issues with the Twilight series—and there were many—was the fact that Bella never called Edward on his creepy stalking habits and didn't even seem bothered by the fact that he invaded her space while she was sleeping and they were still practically strangers. But I digress...)

Anyway, I have to make an admission: E.L. James is a smart writer. She doesn't take her characters too seriously, and at times seems to poke a bit of fun at romance conventions and expectations. She's not a skilled wordsmith or a brilliant storyteller. And don't even get me started again on her use of the "subconscious" to highlight Ana's inner thoughts. But the writing does seem to get better as the books progress, or perhaps I just grew accustomed to it. Regardless, what E.L. James does do—and very well—is tap into familiar plot elements from bestselling mainstream fiction, using them to make her somewhat taboo story (on the surface at least) more familiar and comfortable for the general reader.

I've been thinking a lot about why this series has enjoyed so much mainstream success, where other erotic fiction is practically shunned by the general reading public. There is even a certain stigma about reading mainstream romance, let alone erotic romance or "romantica." Certainly the media attention hasn't hurt—but a certain level of interest had to have preceded the media coverage. One thing that I think helps is that the covers are less "embarrassing" that many romance novels, erotic or not. The Fifty Shades covers are somewhat stark and do not immediately identify the books as members of the romance genre. There are no half-naked clinches or waxed pectorals (often referred to on romance reader blogs as "mantitty covers") to identify the genre to curious passersby.

But, as I commented earlier, there are parallels to certain mainstream novels that I believe are key to the series's success. In fact, this "shocking" story is rather formulaic, using clich├ęs from the romance genre and mixing in elements culled from other popular fiction. Here's my theory about the formula for the Fifty Shades trilogy:


I have already outlined many of the Twilight parallels in my previous post, but you may be thinking I'm a bit crazy for comparing the other two. But just hear me out.

Even if you haven't read any of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter books, many of you are familiar with the series on Showtime about a blood splatter analyst/serial killer. As a child, Dexter witnessed a traumatic incident involving his mother, which resulted in violent impulses as he grew older. Then, in his formative teenage years, an adult he trusted introduced him to a set of strict rules through which he was free to indulge in his abnormal impulses. Now think of Christian. He too has a "deviant" secret life, and claims that his sadist tendencies stem from his troubled childhood. And then "Mrs. Robinson" introduced him to the world of BDSM, where he finds an outlet for his violent impulses, but only guided strictly by a set of previously agreed upon rules. As such, this allows him to maintain strict control of his impulses in the other areas of his life. I am not saying that Dexter and Christian's methods are comparable (after all, one kills and the other indulges in consensual bondage and discipline games), but I couldn't help thinking of Dexter as I read about Christian's past.

As for the parallels with Room—that doesn't really kick in until book two, which begins with a peek into Christian's past and is narrated by his 4-year-old self. This perspective, which appears again in the prologue to Fifty Shades Freed, is clearly reminiscent of Emma Donoghue's Room, which is narrated entirely from the point-of-view of 5-year-old Jack, who has grown up in a room where his mother is physically and sexually abused.  Again, I am not saying that the books themselves are similar, but I think that the influences on E.L. James's trilogy are real and, perhaps, a key element to their continued popularity. The Fifty Shades books offer up a titillating subject, but they're presented in a familiar way that makes them more digestible for the general reading public than typical erotic fiction.

So what do you think of my little theory? Am I crazy?

4 comments:

Stella Smith said...


I m excited for the 50 Shades Of Grey Movie. I cant wait for releasing date
50 shades movie

Tracy said...

I think I am more curious than excited at this point, Stella. What do you think of the recent casting decision?

Neha said...

Darker, which is the sequel to 50 shades of Grey turns out to be rather predictable. After an exciting first book, EL James fails to recreate the impact with the second book. What put me off was the lead pair having sex at the drop of a hat! I mean, people, breath!! As a fan of mush and cheesiness, the parts where Grey opens up about himself and is shown to be vulnerable egged me to finish the book.

Tracy said...

I think I had the opposite reaction of you, Neha. While I found the series as a whole rather predictable, I enjoyed the later books a tiny bit more than the first one. This might be partly due to my resignation to the bad writing, but I think mostly I enjoyed the greater vulnerability displayed by Grey as the series progressed. I also felt Ana became a little stronger as the story goes on.

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