by E L James
[Editor: Here’s the second perspective on Fifty Shades of Grey]
First, think Danielle Steele with an edge.
I haven’t read Danielle Steele in over 20 years, but what I remember of the genre is the redundancy of a heavily sexual plot with over-the-top beautiful characters. Fortunately for Fifty Shades of Grey, leading male character Christian Grey steps up the level of intrigue through his divergent pursuit of leading female character Anastasia Steele.
Anastasia, or Ana, is on the eve of her college graduation. Her best friend Kate is the editor for the university’s newspaper and has a high-brow interview with the 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey, who will deliver their commencement speech. But Kate has the flu and begs Ana to stand in for her. Ana arrives at the interview knowing nothing about Christian. He of course is hot, and she of course doesn’t know how beautiful she is. She’s also unassuming and lacking confidence, and trips and falls when she enters his office. In Danielle Steele style, the electricity between them is palpable. Ana is inexperienced with men and freaked out by it. Christian, on the other hand, is a man who knows what he wants and gets what he wants. Ana has no idea what she’s in for. He lives the art of seduction, and she’s hooked.
And so is the reader. As Ana enters into his sexual world of “dominant-submissive” relationships, Christian is not so much pleasing the pants off of her (like every hour)—he’s pleasing the most devoted readers. When he takes her into his sexual play room (what Ana calls his “red room of pain”), it’s out of the ordinary, and intriguing.
Next, think a new kind of liberation for women.
Having read and discussed Fifty Shades of Grey as part of my book club, I got to thinking about it from a different angle. These days, post-women’s liberation, the lines are blurred as to who’s in charge in a relationship. Women often have the upper hand—regardless of the fact there are women’s lib issues that need balancing. But in exchange for this relatively new sense of power and freedom of choice, have women completely put their submissiveness aside? And have they inadvertently transferred too much of that submissiveness to men?
Christian is a rare species of a man. In his own deviant way, he’s both an old school gentleman and an intensely controlling character. Combined, this can actually be a turn on for readers. Why? He brings a new light to submissiveness. At the end of the day, would it be so bad to have a man open your car door, decide what you’ll have for dinner, order a nice bottle of wine, pay the bill, tell you what to wear (or what not to wear), instruct you how to wait for him in his play room as he enters with no shirt, top button of his jeans undone…
It’s not Ana’s struggle to be a modern independent woman that gets readers fired up. Nor is it her exhausting insecurity and repetitive self-monologues. It’s the intrigue into her relationship with Christian through which he teaches her to give up the need to be in control, and in the process, makes it look sensual and gratifying.
The Fifty Shades of Grey plot is purely dependent upon its erotic twist, but the Danielle Steele feel is its saving grace. It’s not all spanking, whips, and bondage (or even close)—that which is supposed to define Christian as “the dominant.” It’s actually pretty fluffy, and a love story. Yet the author knows her hook. While the play room, the backdrop for the dominant-submissive rules and regulations, does not come into play often, it leaves readers wondering how far Christian will go and why he is the way he is. Why else dive into the next two books of the trilogy?
—Christine, Guest Contributor