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New "Grey" Novel: E.L. James Has Unwittingly Written About Why Rape Is All About Control

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Kirsten Andersen - published on 06/22/15

You can't rape the willing and what's the fun in that'

He’s baaaaa-aaack.  Just when you thought the dismal performance of the film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey” meant you’d never have to hear the name “Christian Grey” again, E.L. James has dropped a “surprise” novel on the world: Grey, a rewrite of the first book of her bestselling pseudo-pornographic trilogy, this time told from Mr. Grey’s point of view.

As much ink has been spilled about how terrible the “50 Shades” series is, both from a literary and moral point of view, the criticism seems not to have impacted sales.  The rewrite jumped to number one on Amazon’s bestseller list the day it was available for preorder on June 5, and has remained there ever since.  On Thursday, it was finally released to the public (there were no advance copies made available to the press, probably because the publisher knew it would be savaged by critics) – all 576 pages of it.

Why so lengthy? Well, Grey is a literal stream-of-consciousness live feed from the twisted mind of the book’s titular character, and it turns out Christian Grey’s inner monologue is wordier than an emo ninth-grade girl’s Tumblr account: 

“As I stare out the window at the Seattle skyline, the familiar ennui seeps unwelcome into my consciousness,” he narrates, in the book’s early pages. “My mood is as flat and gray as the weather. My days are blending together with no distinction, and I need some kind of diversion.” 

Funny, that’s exactly how I felt while reading this book.

But as easy as it is to make fun of James’ purple prose, total ineptitude with American English (the author hails from England, and as a result, both the narrative and dialogue are littered with British-isms and British phrasing), and just plain WTF-ery (see some of these other articles for a taste of the graphic* and absurd content, if you must – *I repeat:WARNING, GRAPHIC CONTENT), the fact remains that the novel is a bestseller.  It seems people just can’t get enough of Christian Grey – in fact, Grey is dedicated to “those readers who asked … and asked … and asked … and asked for this,” this apparently being the version of the book where we find out what was going on in Christian Grey’s “fifty shades of f*cked up” head while he wooed preyed on the object of his obsession, Miss Anastasia Steele.

When the book was announced earlier this month, many assumed James was taking the opportunity not just to further capitalize on the success of her franchise, but to redeem Mr. Grey himself, who took quite a beating from the pens of critics, feminists, domestic violence awareness advocates and even the film adaptation’s stars upon the movie’s release in February.  Grey’s behavior toward Anastasia, it was pointed out, was not just unromantic, but creepy, stalkerish, and flat-out illegal … and that was the way he acted outside his dungeon of sexual torture.

But if James did indeed intend to humanize Grey by publishing an entire rewrite narrated from the inside of his head, she utterly failed.  It’s bad enough that Grey’s thoughts read like the disjointed ravings of an un-medicated schizophrenic.  They also reveal him, at his core, as a rapist.

All those platitudes about the “contract” and Ana’s “consent” to the BDSM “lifestyle”?  Grey’s narrative puts the lie to those.  They are nothing but pretty window dressing, meant to assuage his withered conscience as he plots Ana’s rape and abuse.  The scenes where James writes him as emotionally conflicted about what he wants to do to her come off as obligatory, scripted, and not fitting of the character.  The only scenes where the prose actually feels authentic are the ones where he (and his manhood, which apparently has opinions all its own, which are described at length throughout the book) react in the moment to something Ana or someone else has done.

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