Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I shall assume you have heard about Fifty Shades of Grey.
Fifty Shades of Grey was originally published on FanFiction.net as “Master of the Universe”. It was originally (some argue still is) Twilight fanfiction. It was pulled down and published as an e-book and print on demand paperback in May 2011, the sequels following in September 2011, and January 2012. The books were re-released by Vintage Books in April 2012.
More copies of 50SoG have been sold than the entire Harry Potter series combined. Edit: Thanks to Cris for pointing out my misrepresentation. These are the actual numbers; it’s the bestselling book of all time, but not based upon numbers for series total.
I will note here I’m reading a copy on my iPad, and it clocks in at 1111 pages.
The first book opens with the main character, Anastasia Steel, bitching about her unruly hair, and how she is being subjected to some sort of horrible ordeal when she should be studying for her final exams, “which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission (7).”
I never noticed until just now, but she then repeats, “I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet.” HA!
Sorry. I never could resist a bad pun.
We are then given our first description (from Ana herself) of Ana. She is pale, with brown hair and big, blue eyes. Now, I’m not normally attracted to women – oh wait. Yes I am. I’m also a member of North American society. Pale, brown hair, and big, blue eyes is generally really attractive. Especially the whole brown hair with blue eyes thing.
We learn that Kate is her roommate, and that “she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu” (8). Which, you know. You can choose. I usually plan my sick days around weekends and days where I have nothing to do. It has nothing to do with, I dunno. Stress. Like that brought on by final exams, work, and giant interviews that could make or break your career. Maybe tiny little organisms. You know. But whatever. Thanks, Kate.
Ana then tells us that she has been volunteered to fill in for her for a big interview with
“the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our University, his time is extraordinarily precious – much more precious than mine – but he has granted Kate an interview. A real coup, she tells me. Damn her extra-curricular activities” (8).
She also tells us she has one essay to finish, final exams, and work in the afternoon. She needs to drive to the interview, 165miles away, do the interview, and then come back before work. According to a quick search on Google Maps, driving from Vancouver, WA to Seattle, WA takes approximately two hours and 36 minutes, but can take longer based upon speed and/or traffic. The standard evening shift in a store starts at, what. Three o’clock? So she needs to leave the office at noon-ish to get there on time. Which means she needs to leave the house at 7am, give or take, to get to an interview for ten.
What time did you wake up last time you were so sick you had to blow off the greatest career moment of your life?
What I’m saying here is that Kate isn’t sick enough to blow this off based on her character (yet to be seen, though as editor and a paper and valedictorian, she’s not skipping anything) and it’s just a convenient ruse to get Ana to meet CG. Didn’t she have, oh, I don’t know. People who write for the paper who would literally kill for this opportunity to pad their resume?
There are a few things I find wrong with this. Let’s go over them.
First off, as we proceed in the series, we learn that C.G. is famous enough to be followed by paparazzi, photographed, etcetera. How, in the era of computers and cell phones and Twitter, is a man so famous “enigmatic”? She knows at least that he is all those things listed above; she didn’t think to run a quick Google search on him? One word: Wikipedia. We’ll come to her lack of proficiency with technology later.
Next, she damns Kate’s extra-curricular activities. Excuse you, where are you going to school again? I married an American, and am a member of a few college and university campuses. I know damn well that University, College, and even High School focus hardcore on extra-curriculars. You want a job post-grad? Extra-curriculars. They show you can do something other than study. And even if they weren’t such an intergral part of the North American education system, why is she damning her best friend for being involved in something? That seems unnecessary. I could see how one might see this as a joking, “Damn you being busy and not having time for me!” but this doesn’t seem like that sort of scenario. Even in the first two pages, I get little impression that Ana is the charitable type.
And on that note, she goes on to describe her roommate, “huddled on the couch in the living room”, begging her to take this interview for her. She’s been organizing this thing for nine months (an entire two semesters in N.A. universities). I’d like to point out that she is begging in her “rasping, sore throat voice” (9). Um. Description moment. What? Like I tell my tutees, pick one and stick with it. Also, “sore throat voice” doesn’t tell me much. I sound like a frog when I’m sick. I also sometimes can’t actually talk. I also sometimes sound like a jazz singer (awesome aside: I once had to sing Billie Holiday’s Summertime for an exam during a bout of strep. I feel like the strep upped my game a lot.). It’s like later she’ll describe, “a voice for radio” (page citation needed). I understand that better than, “sore throat voice”.
Ana tells us that “Even ill, [Kate] looks gamine and gorgeous, strawberry blonde hair in place and green eyes bright, although now red-rimmed and runny. I ignore my pang of unwelcome sympathy” (9). What she says aloud is, “Of course I’l go Kate. You should get back to bed. Would you like some Nyquil or Tylenol?” She also notes she made her roommate soup.
What the shit is going on with the timeline here? What time did these girls wake up?
This is what has happened in this day so far, presumably, as noted above, all before 7am. Kate woke up and attempted to get her shit together to go to this interview. Upon realizing she is far too ill with bubonic plague to go, she wakes up her roommate. She also prints off questions (if she didn’t have them already printed) and gets together everything Ana will need for the interview. Ana, upon being awoken, is convinced by sad, sick Kate that she needs to do this for her. She then gets out of bed, musses with her hair a bit, makes her roommate soup, and gets herself together enough to leave the house. Holy hell, Kate must have woken up at like four in the morning. No wonder Ana’s pissed.
That said, Ana seems to be one of those friends who’ll offer to do everything for you, but then bitches to everyone about how needy you are. God, I hate girls like that. Also, she has “unwelcome sympathy” for her roommate who is missing out on the most career-defining interview of her university life (she’s apparently managed to wrangle an interview out of a man who doesn’t give interviews for anyone)?
Bitches, man. Bitches.
“Only for you, Kate, would I do this,” she thinks to herself, at which point Kate informs her that Ana is her lifesaver, “as usual” (10). The latter is consistent with my theory that Ana is that friend, but the “only for you Kate” bit feels a little like she’s trying to convince the reader that she’s not totally that friend.
I would like to interject a question here: what sorts of friendships does ELJ see in 20-something girls/women (or just women in general)? Am I just lucky that I have, like, real friends? Are all women that horrible?
So, Ana finally is in the car, and she tells us,
“I set off from Vancouver, WA toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early, and I don’t have to be in Seattle until two this afternoon. Fortunately, Kate’s lent me her sporty Mercedes CLK. I’m not sure Wanda, my old VW Beetle, would make the journey in time. Oh, the Merc is a fun drive, and the mils slip away as I floor the pedal to the metal” (10).
We get a clearer timeline here, but that confuses things even more. Ana needs to be at the interview for 2, which means she had to leave at 11. That’s a more reasonable time to be awoken by your roommate, but that also means that her shift starts at, what, six? Seven? What the hell retail store asks someone in, like, three hours before close? Weird. And that’s assuming the interview only takes an hour. If it takes any longer, she’ll be starting her shift at eight in the evening. What? Also, I feel the whole, “Oh, the Merc” is way too “trying to sound cool”, and the “floor the pedal to the metal” thing sounds weird. Jenny Trout mentioned in her summary that the reason it sounds weird, dear reader, is that it is. We generally say, “floor it” or “put the pedal to the metal”. Like I tell my students, pick one and stick with it. Trying to mash two colloquialisms together does not an American vernacular make.
After our lovely description of her drive, we get the even better description of Mr Grey’s global enterprise.
“It’s a huge twenty-story office building, all curved glass and steel, an architect’s utilitarian fantasy, with Grey House written discreetly in steel over the glass front doors. […] I walk into the enormous – and frankly intimidating – glass, steel, and white sandstone lobby” (11)
QUICKFIRE QUIZ – what does the building look like, besides being made of glass and steel and sandstone?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
And now…. we meet the evil blondes.
“Behind the solid sandstone desk, a very attractive, groomed, blonde young woman smiles pleasantly at me. She’s wearing the sharpest charcoal suit jacket and white shirt I have ever seen. She looks immaculate. […] She arches her eyebrow slightly as I stand self-consciously before her. I am beginning to wish I’d borrowed one of Kate’s formal blazers rather than wear my navy blue jacket. I have made an effort and worn my one and only skirt, my sensible brown knee-length boots and a blue sweater. For me, this is smart. I tuck one of the escaped tendrils of my hair behind my ear as I pretend she doesn’t intimidate me. […] She smiles kindly at me, amused no doubt, as I sign in. She hands me a security pass that has VISITOR very firmly stamped on the front. I can’t help my smirk. Surely it’s obvious that I’m just visiting. I don’t fit in here at all.” (11)
We then meet, “another young blonde woman dressed impeccably in black and white”, and a third, “elegant, flawlessly dressed blonde.” She names them Blonde Number One and Blonde Number Two.
I realize that was a big ol’ text drop. Let’s go through it, shall we? We meet three blondes who, besides their blonde hair and perfectness, are carbon copies of each other. There is no characterization, really, outside of courteousness – which Ana takes for amusement and derision. Honestly, if I worked in a Fortune 500 company and some little mouse of a girl dressed clumsily came to interview my boss who never took interviews, I wouldn’t look at her with amusement and derision. More like I’d be… you know, courteous. Poor girl seems to be way over her head. Ana’s reaction – “Surely it’s obvious that I’m just visiting. I don’t fit in here at all.” – makes me think she’s that kind of girl who tries really hard to not fit in, and then bitches about it. Kate, her professional, wealthy friend who’s begging her to do this favour, offers to lend her clothes for the interview, and she turns them down but still says she’s putting in an effort? I call bullshit.
[Aside – I’m using “girls” intentionally. Women implies maturity.]
Also, if you’ve ever seen Devil Wears Prada, that outfit will sound familiar.
She looks through the questions from her satchel, and “inwardly [curses] Kate for not providing [her] with a brief biography” (13). Um, Ana? Your roommate had planned on doing the interview herself. Why would she write a biography about this guy? If she’s that sick that she can’t go to this interview, she’s probably too sick to, oh, I dunno, write a biography about the interviewee who is probably easily Google-able. I mean, this girl doesn’t even know how old her interviewee is. How?! He pays for things for her school, is apparently famous enough to grace tabloids, and apparently is the most famous dreamboat of the century. This bitch is more under a rock than Patrick Star.
I mean, here’s the thing; I get that some people are way focused on their own pursuits – she says herself that she prefers her own company and “reading a classic British novel, curling up in a chair in the campus library” (13) – but as someone who lives in the west, and attends university, that she’s never even seen his picture – ever – is… suspect. A friend of mine lives under a rock. She knows vaguely what Donald Trump looks like.
We are then given – wait for it – a conversation between Blonde Number Two and Ana wherein she takes her coat, offers her water, and sasses Blonde Number One (aka Olivia) for not doing these things. Which, let me tell you, is fasinating. Really pushes the plot forward. Draws out the tension. Y’know.
The door to Grey’s office opens and – gasp! – “a tall, elegantly dressed, attractive African American man with short dreads exits” (16). COULD GREY BE BLACK!? Coz that dude sounds seriously sexy.
Of course Grey isn’t black, though.
Poor, suffering Olivia jumps up again and Ana notes that, “she’s more nervous than me!” Well of course she is. This is her job that she takes seriously. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for her. If she’s fucking up on the first day, she’s scared she’ll lose that job. As a newly graduated person who is having trouble finding work – and isn’t even trying within the US economy – I can see why she would be scared. As a secretary there she probably makes like forty grand a year. In an economy where jobs are becoming harder and harder to come by, especially jobs that pay a livable wage, why would she be scared of losing that? /sarcasm.
The fact that Ana’s surname is steel and the building is made of steel makes me think of V for Vendetta when V and Eve meet for the first time and he’s like “What’s your name?” and she’s like “Eve” and he’s like “Of course it is.”
The sexy black businessman apparently didn’t leave the door open, and Olivia isn’t as proficient at jumping up as Ana thinks she is, because Ana is forced to open the door to Grey’s office on her own, but it’s too much for her. She stumbles through, “tripping over [her] own feet, and falling head first into the office” where she lands on her hands and knees in the doorway. And then gentle hands are around her, helping her to stand.
Are you ready, guys? You’re about to meet – ohmygodgetreadytosquirtinyourpants – Christian Grey.
“Holy cow – he’s so young.”
“He extends a long-fingered hand to me once I’m upright.”
I mean, I suppose long fingers are important in a novel about sex. I might have gone for something a little less spider-like, such as elegant or something, but whatever.
“So young and attractive, very attractive.”
“He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper coloured hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly” (17).
To paraphrase Jenny Trout, damn, that is one hell of a tie.
Also, another QUICKFIRE QUIZ: besides being very attractive, in a standard suit and tie combo (though the tie is a little more than standard), and having gray eyes and spider hands, what does Christian Grey actually look like?
If you find yourself describing Robert Pattison, you are correct.
How do I know this?
BECAUSE HE [“he” being simultaneously Christian Grey and Robert Pattison] IS EDWARD CULLEN.
Even if you’ve been living under a rock with Patrick and Ana, you’ve probably seen the cast of Twilight on a commercial or the side of a bus or on the cover of a trashy magazine at the supermarket or somewhere.
If you were being interviewed, and this was the response of the girl meeting you after she’d fallen on her face and you helped her up, what would you think?:
“Um. Actually-“ I mutter. […] In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. […] I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate. (18)
She then stutters badly, comments that, “his voice is warm, possibly amused, but it’s difficult to tell from his impassive expression. He looks mildly interested, but above all, polite.”
Dafuq did I just read?
If this chick walked into Donald Trump’s office, he would not only fire her, but fire his receptionists for letting her in and wasting his time.
Also, how are you amused, warm, impassive, mildly interested, and polite all at the same time? Seriously, isn’t impassive implicitly uninterested? And amused and polite don’t entirely work together either.
I’m going to give you this quote, looking ahead to another theme we’re going to be seeing later in the books. “His office is way too big for just one man” (18). Ana isn’t super well off, but she’s not poor either. She’s comfortably middle class. But, as many comfortably middle class people do, she seems uncomfortable with large amounts of money, and by large I mean huge. Like, enough that your great-grandchildren won’t need to work, money. Ana has a complex relationship with money, is what I’m saying. And we’ll talk further about it later.
I’m going to pause here and tell you that I’m at 3079 words, and I still have another half a chapter to go.
They spend some time being hipsters and talking about some artist that you’ve never heard of. They flirt, and she describes him for the first of many times as Adonis.
She sets up a mini-disc recorder –
A mini-disc recorder?
This book is supposed to take place around 2010. Why is she using a “clumsy” mini-disk recorder? Also, mini-disk recorders aren’t that clumsy. You press the button. Why does it take her dropping it twice to press the record button? Also, she’s all “fingers and thumbs” (20). Um. Aren’t most of us?
Then this happens:
“Did Kate, I mean, Miss Kavanagh, explain what the interview was for?”
“Yes. To appear in the graduation issue of the student newspaper as I shall be conferring the degrees at this year’s graduation ceremony.” Oh! This is news to me.
If that’s news to her, first of all, did she not talk to Kate at all about this interview, or listen to her roommate when, presumably, she told her about this thing she’s been working on for ages (it’s like she’s not even a good friend to her friends – oh wait.). Second, if she really didn’t know what the interview was for, what was she going to say if he had said no?
The question period starts, and if Kate made the head of the school newspaper with questions like these, I’m unimpressed with the newspaper. I see now why Grey agreed to the interview; he knew they wouldn’t ask any uncomfortable questions. Even so, he “looks vaguely disappointed” at her first question.
Let’s go back to the money thing for a second.
Grey tells Ana that his success is due to hard work. She comments, “maybe you’re just lucky”, and he replies that he doesn’t believe in luck. So, this guy, who we’ll later learn was the child of a “crack whore” (his words), and was subsequently taken into foster care and then adopted by multi-millionaires, doesn’t believe in luck. What you’re telling me, then, Mr Grey, is that all those poverty-ridden people who you’re helping just aren’t working hard enough? I’m not sure this character is consistent.
He also goes on to say that, “immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things” (23). Because that isn’t creepy at all. He also tells her, “If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the telecommunications business and sell up, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments” (24) . I.. what? I mean, I get that he’s trying to say he is responsible for employing a lot of people and spreading his wealth among folks who apparently just live paycheck to paycheck – yay trickle down theory? – but what a strange way to put it. She also asks if he wants to possess things; he replies, “I want to deserve to possess things.” Again, problematic.
I’m going to skip a chunk of the interview; partially because it’s long and I’m almost at 4K, and partially because it’s basically the most painful flirting I’ve ever read. It’s all him making reference to being in control and making eyes at her and touching his lip, and her being utterly unaware of it. She does ask one question that she immediately follows up with, “How do I tell him I’m just reading the questions?” You’re a big girl, Ana. Use your words. The question, by the way, is “are you gay?” and the reason it’s on there is because he’s never seen with women. Because your not being seen with a member of the opposite sex is proof of being homosexual, and that is, of course, bad. /sarcasm.
Grey then cancels his next meeting and flips the interview around to ask Ana questions, saying that it’s only fair. Um, that’s not how interviews work, Christian. Also, note the interview started at two. Assuming the interview went on approximately an hour, that takes us to three o’clock. So the earliest she’ll be home is 5:30. What time does she work? He then asks her if she has anything planned past university, and she says she just wants to get past exams, at which point he offers her an internship.
He says he values hard work, yet here he is, offering an internship to a girl who clearly is inept, but that he finds attractive so he wants to hire her so he can, what, sex her?
So this is why I’m having trouble getting a job. I’m too talented and professional, but not sexually available. not a “hard” enough worker.
They conclude the interview with him being horribly worried about her drive home in the rain, and helping her put on her coat like a true gentleman. He leans against the wall and watches her go. He calls after her, “Anastasia” to which she replies, “Christian” (37).
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Until next time.