“Grey”: Chapter One (Monday, May 9, 2011)

Grey

If you’ve been online today, you may have heard the news that EL James is releasing yet another book next month.  Darker is the sequel to Grey, and will re-tell the events of Fifty Shades Darker from Christian Grey’s viewpoint (in case you thought she’d come up with literally anything original… Nope).

Here at Fifty Shades Is Abuse HQ, we believe in knowing what we’re criticising.  That’s why we’ve read all three of the original Fifty Shades novels.  But I’ll level with you: I could never finish Grey.  I tried (oh, how I tried), but when you’re a survivor of abuse, it’s just ever so slightly distasteful to read a novel in which an author is writing as an abuser, but explaining away and excusing his behaviour on every page.  It was horrible.  So, I stopped.

But with Darker just around the corner, I realised that I was going to have to climb back onto that horse.  So, today, I have the dubious honour of starting the Grey chapter-by-chapter recaps.  Because if we’re going to continue to debate these books with fans, then we really ought to have studied them in full.  That includes the money-grabbing re-telling of the story from Christian’s point of view.

Before I get into the first recap, I’ll just set out a couple of things.  For the interest of clarity, all text from Grey will be in italics in this blog.  If any of the actual text from the source material happens to be in italics, I’ll put it in bold.  Especially abusive moments will be typed in red.

It also stands to reason that every single one of these posts comes with a trigger warning.

Okay.  I can’t put this off any longer, can I?!  Time to dive in…

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Monday, May 9 2011

I have three cars.

Spoiler!  This isn’t adult Grey, boasting about his wealth!  Nope, this is poor ickle boy Christian.  Because we couldn’t possibly start a book from his viewpoint, without immediately presenting him as the sad, tragic child, given that he uses his childhood as an excuse for the way he abuses people…

In this highly dramatic, eventful opening (which, if you hadn’t guessed, was a dream), we discover that the green car is his favourite, but it gets stuck under the sofa and his mother doesn’t retrieve it for him.  What a cow.  She calls him “Maggot,” which is, I don’t know, totally out of character, given that the other memories we’re presented with in the first three books paint Christian’s mother as an addict who does her best for her son, despite her own problems; making him a birthday cake and trying to take care of him.

Mommy stays on the couch, staring at the wall.  Mommy.  My car.  She doesn’t hear me.  Mommy.  I pull her hand and she lies back and closes her eyes.  Not now, Maggot.  Not now, she says.  My green car stays under the couch… I can never reach it.  My green car is lost.  Lost.  And I can never play with it again.

I…  I’m moved to tears.  It’s okay, Christian.  Abuse whoever you need to.  You must avenge this horror.

Okay, seriously, I feel for any child who suffers any kind of abuse.  I don’t want to trivialise it and sound as though I genuinely don’t give a toss about a child whose mother is apparently ignoring her young son, possibly due to being high on drugs.  But one of the biggest problems I have with the entire Fifty Shades franchise, is that it sets up Christian as this poor, damaged boy who grew into a man who can’t help but abuse others.  That’s just utter crap.  It’s an insult to the millions of people who experience abuse as a child and who don’t go on to become abusive adults, themselves.  So, whilst fans of the original trilogy will have read this opening and thought “aw, poor baby Christian,” my sentiments are more: “aw, appalling writer attempts to justify abusive adult character by portraying him as a sad, neglected child.”  It rankles.

Anyway, moving on…

Christian wakes up from his dream and briefly wonders what it was all about.

Dismissing it, like I do most mornings, I climb out of bed and find some newly laundered sweats in my walk-in closet.

See, that’s the problem.  EL James probably hopes that casually tossing “like I do most mornings” in at this point will make the reader realise that poor Christian is tormented by these dreadful dreams every single night, but he bravely carries on with his day, anyway.  But if you’ve read the first three books, you know that Christian Grey is an arrogant sod who, despite having a therapist, chooses to blame others for his problems/behaviour and fails to ever really look within himself or question his own behaiour.  That line, therefore, just reminds me that we’re dealing with someone who could analyse himself and his inner thoughts and perhaps become a better person as a result, but who resolutely chooses not to do so.

Christian, being the heart-stopping beefcake that he is, heads straight to his treadmill as he ponders the day ahead.  He thinks about calling Elena (Mrs Robinson) to arrange dinner later that week and he also contemplates being challenged by his personal trainer, Claude Bastille.

Next thing we know, he’s actually finished that training session with Claude and is in his office.  Claude suggests they play golf later in the week and Grey’s arrogance resurfaces again (does it ever go away?!):

Bastille grins with easy arrogance, knowing that his victory on the golf course is assured.

I scowl at him as he turns and leaves.  His parting words rub salt into my wounds because, despite my heroic efforts during our workout today, my personal trainer has kicked my ass.  

HEROIC?!  Waaaay to think too much of yourself, Grey.  Also, Claude?  Good job on the ass kicking.  Give him one from me.

Speaking of heroism, Grey informs the reader that the only things that interests him right now are the two freighters of cargo he’s decided to send to Sudan.  So, he’s a hero in and out of his personal training sessions.  Swoon.

But before Christian can focus on his cargo, he has a pesky interview to get over with.  He internally moans about Katherine Kavanagh (Ana’s roommate, Kate) who is supposed to be coming to interview him, continuing the “Christian Grey Hates Kate” theme that we loved so very much in the first three books.  But of course, it’s not Kate who arrives at his office…

A commotion at the door brings me to my feet as a whirl of long, chestnut hair, pale limbs and brown boots dives headfirst into my office.  Repressing my natural annoyance at such clumsiness, I hurry over to the girl who has landed on her hands and knees on the floor.

ANA HAS ARRIVED!  WAVE YOUR FLAGS, EVERYONE!

Side note: Clumsiness is occasionally annoying, if, for example, someone has knocked over your drink, or bumped into you and caused you to fall.  But “natural annoyance” at clumsiness in general just makes Grey seem like an asshole.  Which he is, so… Great job with your characterisation, EL!

When Grey looks into Ana’s eyes, he feels “exposed,” as though she can see straight through him.  He feels uncomfortable, so he dismisses the thought immediately.

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Aaand, now I wish I was recapping Crazy Ex Girlfriend instead.  Or just watching it.  Or listening to the songs from it.  Or…

Fiiiine, I’ll carry on recapping this disaster.

Seconds after having met Ana, Grey wonders what her skin would look like if it was made pink with a cane.  It would look… Pink, I imagine.  But way to make yourself look like an even bigger creep, dude, particularly because he then insists internally that Ana is much too young.  Um… Isn’t she 21?  And Grey’s 27?  That’s hardly the age gap to end all age gaps.

Ana “gapes” at Christian and his internal monologue is just desperate to beat us over the head with his arrogance:

She gapes at me and I resist rolling my eyes.  Yeah, yeah baby.  It’s just a face and it’s only skin deep.

Yep – the inside of him is gross, Ana.  At least he recognises as much.

He deliberately calls her “Miss Kavanagh,” despite the fact that his assistant has already told him by this point that it’s “Miss Anastasia Steele” who’s coming to do the interview.  Why?  Because he’s a dick, that’s why.  His demeanour throughout this section is of someone mocking the person they’re talking to, rather than that of someone genuinely enthralled by a beautiful woman he’s considering any kind of relationship with.

A bashful, bookish type, eh?  She looks it: poorly dressed, her slight frame hidden beneath a shapeless sweater, an A-line brown skirt and utilitarian boots.  Does she have any sense of style at all?  She looks nervously around my office – everywhere but at me, I note, with amused irony.

I really love it when the first thing the “romantic hero” in the book does is essentially bitch about how bad the heroine looks.  It’s exactly what I go for, when I’m reading erotica or romance.

Excuse me, I just rolled my eyes so hard, I think one of them got sucked into my nose.

These early scenes (the whole chapter, in fact) read like a cat playing with a mouse.  Obviously, this is supposed to set up the dynamic of their relationship, but frankly, it leaves me utterly cold.  Particularly as he goes on to think of her as meek and unassertive, submissive.  So, this woman he thinks is physically beautiful (although he slags off her outfit, by this point he’s internally raved over her delicate profile, slender figure and powder-blue eyes) is also someone he appears to think of as weak.  And this makes him think she’d be a great submissive.  Which, just… Ew.

Ana continues her clumsiness which, just in case we’d forgotten, Grey reminds us would usually irritate the hell out of him, but Ana is just so gosh darn special, he thinks it’s funny and charming and I’m starting to wonder whether he’s seeing little cartoon forest animals following her around, too.  But before long, his thoughts go straight back to sex:

As she fumbles and grows more flustered, it occurs to me that I could refine her motor skills with the aid of a riding crop.  Adeptly used, it can bring even the most skittish to heel.

Look, we’ve all met a stranger and thought PHWOAR, but Grey’s internal monologue is really skeeving me out, at this point.  It’s just endless sexualisation of a girl he has literally just met.  Coupled with how he’s purposefully intimidating/mocking her, it’s just really grim.  He goes on to think about how sexy her mouth is and never mind how Ana might feel, I feel uncomfortable just reading this rubbish.

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Grey continues to mock her, until Ana gives him a major case of sad-eyes and he feels an unfamiliar twinge of guilt.  Because, what we really want in a romantic hero, is a dude who normally doesn’t give a toss about who he upsets, right ladies?!

Of course, Ana doesn’t appear to have done much research on him, so Christian is immediately less interested.  Because arrogant, did I mention he’s arrogant?!  In fact, as soon as he decides she’s not as clued up as he expects her to be, he thinks:

Let’s make her squirm.

My knickers have exploded with lust at the thought of this dickhead God of love.

He becomes internally enraged when Ana suggests his business success might be down to luck and the conversation takes a turn from there:

“You sound like a control freak,” she says, and she’s perfectly serious.

What the hell?  Maybe she can see through me.

‘Control’ is my middle name, sweetheart.

I glare at her, hoping to intimidate her.  “Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele.”  And I’d like to exercise it over you, right here, right now.

Sooooo…  Is he threatening to rape her or beat her, there?  Because it really could be either.

His internal annoyance at her continues to grow, until she appears impressed at his “immense power” over his employees.  He explains that if he gave up his business, twenty thousand people would struggle to pay their mortgages within a month.

Her mouth pops open.  That’s more like it.  Suck it up, baby.  I feel my equilibrium returning.

Christian Grey can only feel calm and in control when people are openly impressed by him.  What a sad little man-child he is.

He realises that she knows he’s annoyed and the thought pleases him.  He continues to picture her in his playroom and, when she asks him what he does to “chill out” when he’s not working, his internal thought is, amongst other things such as sailing and flying, bringing “attractive little brunettes” to heel.  I can’t help thinking he’d come across as less of a potential murderer if he maybe joined a choir, or dabbled in pottery.  Because right now, his mind really seems as though it has one track and one track alone: ME LIKES KINKY SEX.  It’s hard to be interested in this guy when he’s solidly coming across as a lecherous moron, unable to hold a conversation for longer than three seconds before he has to start mentally flogging the person he’s talking to.

Ana asks him why he invests so heavily in manufacturing and after he explains, she tells him that it sounds like it’s his heart talking rather than his business head.  This leads to my first laugh-out-loud moment:

Heart?  Me?  Oh no, baby.

My heart was savaged beyond recognition a long time ago.

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Oh my.  I wrote better crap than that when I was a hormonal fifteen year old.

Anyway, Creepstian Grey continues to imagine Ana in various sexual poses as she attempts to carry on with the interview and honestly, I’m glad I had that laugh, because this is just cringeworthy.  He’s constantly mentally undressing her and picturing doing sexual things to her and it’s not remotely arousing to read, because as of this moment, the shy, awkward girl he’s sexualising has given him no consent and very little sign – beyond blushing – that she’s interested in him.  He’s coming across as the kind of guy who sits on park benches, wearing nothing but a rain coat.  I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I don’t get my jollies picturing myself being leered over by that guy.

Just to throw us off the creepy scent, however, Grey notices that Ana’s clothes aren’t as snazzy as his designer togs and thinks that he could “take care” of her.  We’re supposed to find this adorable, but a) the thought surprises him, so it’s just further evidence that he usually doesn’t care about anyone and b) in this version of the story, we know nothing of Ana.  And more importantly, neither does he.  Why is he insinuating that she needs to be taken care of, just because her clothes aren’t as expensive as his?!

I mean, because he’s a douche, obviously, but I figured I’d ask, anyway.

Carrying on with the interview, Ana asks whether being adopted shaped the person he is.

What does this have to do with the price of oil?  What a ridiculous question.  If I’d stayed with the crack whore, I’d probably be dead.  I blow her off with a non-answer, trying to keep my voice level, but she pushes me, demanding to know how old I was when I was adopted.

Shut her down, Grey!

Okay, brace yourselves, guys, we’re getting to a vile bit.  We know from the original book that when Ana asks if Christian is gay, he doesn’t seem exactly pleased, but in this one…  Things are about to get grim.  She asks if he’s gay and…

What the hell!

I cannot believe she’s said that out loud!  Ironically, the question my own family will not ask.  How dare she!  I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands tied behind her back.  That would answer her ridiculous question.  I take a deep, calming breath.  To my vindictive delight, she seems mortified by her own question.

Rape.  Dragging someone out of their seat and fucking them in anger, without consent?  That’s rape.  It might be considered an inappropriate question, but his reaction is far worse.  I can remember reading this the first time I attempted to get through Grey and that moment that was the first of many that caused me to give up.  It’s said that EL James wrote Grey partly to explain his behaviour (and excuse it), in order for us to sympathise more with him, since we’d understand him better.  But in that moment?  I understand him perfectly well.  And he has zero sympathy from me.

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Still, despite his mood yoyo-ing from angry to aroused and back again in less than the time it takes me to scream into a pillow over this rubbish, Christian is soon back to thinking how attractive Ana is and he cancels his next meeting, in order to spend more time with her.

He decides it’s his turn to interview her and hey!  Who was missing the HUGE levels of arrogance?!  Well, it’s your lucky day, because THEY’RE BACK!

“I want to know about you.  I think that’s only fair.”  As I lean back and press my fingers to my lips, her eyes flick to my mouth and she swallows.  Oh yes – the usual effect.  And it is gratifying to know she isn’t completely oblivious to my charms.

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I AM, GREY.

At this point, I am already convinced that Ana can never love this man as much as he loves himself.

Still, Grey tries to encourage Ana to stay longer and when she says she has a long drive home, he’s internally annoyed that he can’t forbid her to drive in the rain.  He thinks about how he doesn’t want her to go, but I’m still thinking about the fact that she’s a stranger to him and he’s already fantasising about being able to control everything she does.  It’s killing my lady-boner, I must say.

The interview is officially over and Ana is leaving:

“Thank you for the interview, Mr Grey.”

“The pleasure’s been all mine,” I respond – truthfully.  I haven’t been this fascinated by anyone for a while.  The thought is unsettling.  She stands and I extend my hand, eager to touch her.

“Until we meet again, Miss Steele.”  My voice is low as she places her hand in mine.  Yes, I want to flog and fuck this girl in my playroom.  Have her bound and wanting… needing me, trusting me.  I swallow.

It ain’t going to happen, Grey.

We all know it is, but I find it really uncomfortable that he is so intent on sexualising this person he just met.  Like I said, we all do it to some degree, when we meet a stranger we find attractive, but to this extent?  It’s gross.

And the worst bit?  He’s vile about women who find him attractive!  He refers to his assistant Olivia as “annoying – mooning over me, all the time.”   If you feel that way when someone does it to you, asshole, maybe don’t to it to this student you’ve just met and whose shy awkwardness you’ve spent ages discussing in your own head!  But we know he wants Ana to be made uncomfortable.  He says so himself.  He admits that he wants to intimidate her.  And in doing so, he comes across as a grade A creep.

Ana flinches at his touch, as Christian helps her into her jacket.  He’s thrilled that she’s “affected” by him, but let’s be really honest: some guy has been deliberately snappy, intimidating and mocking towards her whilst she’s been trying to interview him and he’s probably not exactly hidden the fact that he’s been mentally undressing her at the same time.  I would flinch at his touch, too.  Out of revulsion.  We can’t forget that at this point, Christian doesn’t really know whether Ana is romantically or sexually interested in him.  She blushes throughout their time together, but she is clearly awkward and nervous – not necessarily enamoured.  And yet, these tiny little signs – the flinch at his touch, her mouth popping open when she looks at him and so on – are all slipped in here so that we, the reader, think it’s perfectly acceptable when Grey starts to stalk her shortly after this point.  Yes, we know she is interested, because we’ve read the story from her perspective, but in this book, we’re going solely on what Christian knows.  And he only has a few little reactions to suggest that Ana wants to be with him in any kind of physical sense.  The fact is, he’s decided he wants her and he’s going to have her, regardless.

This is made evident by his oh-so-romantic gesture right at the end of this chapter:

“Welch, I need a background check.”

Yep, those are the words the first chapter ends on.  Our “hero,” having just met this clumsy, nervous, awkward young woman, has decided that fantasising about raping her isn’t enough; he wants a background check on her, so he can invade her privacy in every way.

Swoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Grey”: Chapter One (Monday, May 9, 2011)

Announcing Our “Grey” Protest Campaign!

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No copyright intended.

Unless you’ve been living in blissful ignorance, by now you’re probably well aware that the release of EL James’ “Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as told by Christian” is just nine days away.

Here at Fifty Shades Is Abuse HQ, we are deeply troubled by the prospect of this book.

The original Fifty Shades trilogy romanticises hugely abusive behaviour, such as stalking, manipulation, coercion, unwanted control, lack of BDSM aftercare and threats of non-consensual assault.  This is horrendous enough on its own, but the books also take the worrying (and hugely dangerous) route of excusing this behaviour and attempting to explain it away in a sympathetic manner.  Christian Grey’s bad childhood is blamed for his controlling, threatening ways.  His molester, “Mrs Robinson,” is “blamed” for his sexual preferences (which is offensive to the many people who enjoy BDSM as part of healthy, consensual relationships and who were not drawn to the lifestyle as the result of any kind of trauma).  His girlfriend (and later, wife) Ana is given the responsibility of “fixing” Christian.

Yes, this is fiction.  But unfortunately, relationships like the one between Christian and Ana are very real.  And abusers like Christian frequently blame anything but themselves for their behaviour.  Relying on a sob-story to “explain” their own abuse is incredibly common.  Having spoken to countless survivors, it’s frightening how many were given the “I can’t help it; I don’t know any other way to behave” speech.  On a personal note, I was given the exact same speech from my own abuser.  And like thousands of others in relationships like mine, I believed it.

We are often quick to believe the words of those we love.  We want to believe that someone doesn’t mean to hurt us.  That they can’t help it.

But the reality is that they can.  Abuse is a choice.  Always.  Whilst past experiences can influence a person’s behaviour, they always have the option of not abusing their partners.  The “I can’t help it” lie is one of the most common excuses given by abusers and that is why our biggest fear is that Grey will continue to perpetuate this dangerous myth, first presented to the reader in Fifty Shades of Grey and repeated throughout the series.

Abuse is already misunderstood and there are many dangerous myths surrounding the subject.  Absolving the abuser of any blame based on a “tragic” past is not something we should be doing in this day and age, even in fiction.

For that reason, here at Fifty Shades Is Abuse, we’d like to recommend a different book.

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Lundy Bancroft is a consultant on domestic abuse and his book, Why Does He Do That? (Inside the minds of Angry & Controlling Men) is an incredible piece of writing, unpicking some of the lies told by abusers and dismissing the “I can’t help it” myth completely.  It is a powerful book, which many survivors – myself included – have read and felt it was written about them, such is the level of detail when describing the mindset of the abuser and the person they target.  Why Does He Do That? is the truth of a relationship like Christian and Ana’s.  The book describes the early warning signs of abuse (many of which are seen in Fifty Shades), lists different abusive personality types, explains how to tell whether an abuser is genuinely changing their behaviour and, crucially, how to leave the relationship safely.  It even discusses the “I don’t know any better; I had a bad childhood” myth in great detail, explaining why this is never an excuse.  We recommend this book to everyone – whether you have experienced abuse, know someone who has, or are simply keen to educate yourself.

Buy “Why Does He Do That?” on Ebay

That is the most important thing – education.  Knowing the warning signs of abuse can save lives.  We cannot stress that strongly enough!  Books like Fifty Shades and, by extension, Grey, do nothing to help end the misconceptions that surround abuse.  In fact, they do the opposite, by perpetuating dangerous myths.

So we would like to suggest that, rather than buying a copy of Grey, we promote Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? instead.  Rather than a book that promotes unhelpful, dangerous myths about abuse and attempts to paint the abuser in a sympathetic – even heroic – light, we feel it’s vitally important to celebrate a book that helps people by telling the truth about men like Christian Grey.

As of today, we will be using the hashtags #LundynotFifty and #educateyourself on Facebook and Twitter.  We would like to urge all of you to share this blog post and use the hashtags.  If we can get this trending, then perhaps we can make people realise that perpetuating dangerous abuse myths has got to stop; it helps nobody.  Education is desperately needed in place of books like Fifty Shades and Grey.

We don’t want to stop at one book, either.  For those of you who’ve already read Why Does He Do That?, we’d like to offer a list of our Top Ten books that deal with the subject of abuse, all of which are free from unhelpful lies or romanticism.  Some of these books are incredible pieces of fiction.  Others are true stories or educational, factual works.  We hope this list is beneficial to anyone who wants to educate themselves on what is a sorely misunderstood and misrepresented subject, despite its prevalence in our society.

So please feel free to peruse this list in your own time:

  1. Everyday Victim Blaming – Louise Pennington & Jo Costello (buy here)
  2. Coercive Control – Evan Stark (buy here)
  3. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors – Roddy Doyle (buy here)
  4. Dragonslippers – Rosalind B Penfold (buy here)
  5. Living With The Dominator – Pat Craven (buy here)
  6. Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine (buy here)
  7. Honour Killing And Violence – Aisha Gill (buy here)
  8. Loving To Survive – Dee Graham (buy here)
  9. Femicide – Gill Radford (buy here)
  10. Violent Fathering And The Risks To Children – Lynne Harne (buy here)

Thank you all for your incredible support.  We hope that these books will be helpful to some of you and remember – #educateyourself #LundyNotFifty.

With thanks,

Emma & Natalie

Announcing Our “Grey” Protest Campaign!