Grey by E L James

The 50 Shades trilogy is my guilty pleasure. I’ve read the trilogy several times and find myself fascinated by Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. One of my first posts was on these books. (50 Shades of Marmite – 5th March 2015) In that post, I mentioned that I would like to read an extended version of Christian’s perspective, after the teaser chapters at the end of Fifty Shades Freed. I got my wish and this week, I finished Grey, which is a rewrite of 50 Shades of Grey, as told by Christian.

I had mixed expectations when I heard that this book was being released, although I was excited at the prospect of reading it. Having read the 50 Shades trilogy a few times, I know the plot well. I hoped that it would be an eye-opener about Christian’s perception of Ana and their relationship but I was a little disappointed at what I found. If the recent Q & A session with EL James on Twitter is anything to go by, so were a lot of other readers. The question about whether she had ever considered to tell Christian’s story from the perspective of someone who could write was my particular favourite, although the question about whether she owned a thesaurus came close!

The premise of Grey holds so much potential. As readers, we wanted to know why Christian fell in love with Ana and what made him pursue her as he did. We wanted to know what made a man so set in his ways change his mindset for the woman he loves. I’m not really sure this book offers any definitive answers to that. In fact, I’m not sure we learn much more than we did in the other books, and that’s a real shame. The biggest flaw with the 50 Shades trilogy is James repetitive writing style and her use of phrasing that belongs in a bygone era. (How Christian’s trousers “hung in that way” and Ana’s irritating “inner goddess”.) You would expect that by her fourth book, and considering that there has been extensive criticism about her writing ability, she would have made more of an effort but this does not seem to have been the case. In fact, it appears that James has looked at the transcript of 50 Shades of Grey and purely altered the perspective, adding a few memories of Christian as a child. There are clues there for the reader to make their own mind up, but this is not what I would expect from a book that is supposedly meant to answer those questions left unanswered by its predecessor.

According to Grey, Christian is completely focused on work and he is determined to maintain his dominant persona. We knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. He is confused about his feelings for Ana as they are so unlike any feelings he has had for any of his other submissives (who can forget the numerous times he said to Ana, with an incredulous expression “Ana, what you do to me…”). We knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. He tries to stay away from Ana and urges her not to get involved with him. Again, we knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. Of course, we were likely to encounter the same scenes and outward displays of affection in both books, considering they mirror each other to a certain extent, but we do not get enough exposure to Christian’s true feelings which is what I was hoping for as a reader. We are shown how Christian inwardly questions his feelings for Ana as he is interacting with her, and his surprise that he can’t stop thinking about her, but he does not explore his feelings beyond surface level. We only get brief interactions between Christian and other people, which could have been used as a vehicle for the reader to get to know Christian better from the perspective of others. This is a real missed opportunity, in my opinion.

We do get the impression that the relationship that Christian craves from Ana has been instilled in him by Elena Lincoln, his “Mrs Robinson”, and as this is the only type of relationship where he feels he can control how much he is physically and mentally touched, we are further encouraged to see Christian in a sympathetic light and not as the monster he considers himself to be. (Those who read into these books that Christian is a sexual predator who beats up women are completely missing the point, in my opinion, but I made my defence of this in 50 Shades of Marmite, so I won’t rehash it here.) However, so much more could have been made of this relationship. What was Christian really like at this point in his life where, in Christian’s opinion, Elena became his saviour? A flashback to this period would have offered further insight to Christian’s point of view, perhaps a flashback to the fight that he has that gets him in trouble as a teenager (as told by Mia in 50 Shades Darker) or showing an example of Christian’s interaction with girls his own age at that time. Christian argues with Ana that Elena wasn’t a paedophile, (at least, he didn’t see her this way) yet the focus is on the sexual nature of their relationship rather than what Elena offered him as a solution to his problems. What did she do to counterbalance his troubled mind? How did she get him to focus on his career to such an extent? It surely can’t just have been because of their BDSM antics. Or was it? This book certainly doesn’t clarify.

James’s fondness for repetition is also back in Grey. There are many instances where Christian has a mental word with himself – “Shut her down, Grey” and “Get a grip, Grey” which just get a bit boring after a while. Also, the language he uses when he talks to Ana before sex is a bit too formal. “I’m going to take you again, Ana”. There is also a lot of description around the mundanities of any action, which is just filling space on the page. We do not need a blow-by-blow account of every little thing they do. It’s just lazy writing, in my opinion. When this space could have been better utilised by more flashbacks, and more insight into Christian’s thoughts, it is irritating to see how much of the narrative was wasted on non-events. I didn’t need to read about Christian going for a run in so much detail so many times. A one-liner, even one paragraph, would have covered it. I also didn’t like the way that James chucks in a few big words here and there to try to make the narrative sound cleverer than it is. If this is to be a Mills and Boon book with kinky sex in it, then don’t dress it up with fancy words.

The 50 Shades trilogy has been a massive success for EL James. I wonder if perhaps this has gone to her head a little and this book was merely a “cash-cow” to increase the bank accounts of all involved. It has also crossed my mind that perhaps she has been sat on this book from the beginning and announcing the release of this book just before the release of the 50 Shades of Grey DVD was a stroke of marketing genius: announce the book in time to encourage sales of the DVD of a film which didn’t do quite as well in the reviews as they would have hoped. (After watching it myself on the day it was released, I can understand why – Jamie Dornan is not Christian Grey.)

James says herself that this book was for all those who had begged her to write more from Christian’s point of view and yet she has wasted the opportunity to give those fans the story they deserved.  Yet, I didn’t hate it. I know this review may sound like I did, but I didn’t. I enjoyed being encouraged to look at the plot from a different angle and I enjoyed being given the hints to Christian’s thoughts and reactions, although I would have preferred more than just hints at times. I enjoyed the flashbacks to Christian’s childhood, his relationship with Leila and his relationship with Elena. I expected the same flaws to be resurrected and I expected to be irritated by the writing style. However, these characters intrigue me considerably, for reasons I can’t quite get a handle on, but I think it has to do with the potential for depth in these characters. When I read the trilogy, I tried to imagine Christian’s feelings, particularly as we were given a few clues along the way and this book is a vehicle to assist the reader on this train of thought. However, I would have loved to have been surprised, to have seen an improvement in James’s writing skills. Instead, I felt like I had to fill in the blanks myself. Would I read the other two books if they were re-written from Christian’s point of view? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be able to resist gleaning at least a bit more knowledge on these characters. All I would say is, if you plan on reading Grey, don’t expect too much and be prepared to become an amateur writer yourself while you imagine your own version of Christian Grey, because James’s version will not satisfy those who wanted to know Christian better.