Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fifty Shades Darker & Fifty Shades Freed

I will probably tire of saying this, but here it goes again - there is a reason I've stayed away from the romance genre (historical romance being the only one I can stand to some degree). The Fifty Shades Trilogy by E. L. James reaffirms my choice.
It isn't a piece of work that everyone will like or appreciate. This much should be obvious from the jacket cover descriptions of the books. It isn't my regular cuppa but I read through the trilogy for two reasons, stated here in no particular order: one, I can't put down a book unfinished; two, the first book held promise enough to want to read the second, though the second didn't hold as much of a promise to wade into the third. Hence the dual book review in a single post because I couldn't be bothered to review each separately. There isn't that much essence in it.

[Spoiler Alert - there are a few plot points that I mention below though they do not give out the heart of the story. But it isn't difficult to guess where the story is headed. So if you're still reading the books, or intend to read them, I would suggest you skip through the rest of this review and go right to the last paragraph.]

Fifty Shades Darker picks up where the first book left - Anastasia Steele walking out on Christian Grey when he gets into his dominant persona and she realizes that no matter how much she loves him, or he her, she can never truly be what he wants. A subservient being to satisfy his need for control.
They make up, obviously, 15 pages into the book. Christian, multi-millionaire CEO and lost little boy with the emotional intellect of a teenager, promises that he will try to be the 'hearts and flowers' person that Ana needs, and she compromises by telling him that as long as he doesn't physically hurt her, she'd do anything. To protect his interests, Christian buys the publishing company Ana works for and has her boss fired when he tries to harass her. There's a confrontation with an ex-sub and with Elena Lincoln a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson - the woman who gave Christian his fifty shades and whom Ana admits to being jealous of, a conversation with a shrink, some arguments which always end up in bed or the playroom, a lot of the 'my poor Fifty Shades' and 'small scared child' when Christian reveals why all of his subs look like... well, Ana, and finally a proposal, a fright - of Christian disappearing, and an answer. The book ends on an ominous note that someone is out to get Christian - Jack Hyde.
Fifty Shades Freed is a bit silly. There isn't much story in it, truly, except that Ana and Christian are married and go off on a romp of a honeymoon, a few attempts by Jack to get at Christian and his family, some family bonding, a lot of anger as Ana tries to fend off Christian's attempts to control all aspects of her life, getting Jack Hyde, Ana's father meeting with an accident, jealousy, revelations, understanding, relationships within the circle, a pregnancy, arguments... all of which build up to the climax of Ana being hurt and everything being rethought and finally the happily-ever-after.

Bottom line? Not as creative as it could have been. The story line through the second and third books go exactly where they are supposed to go - towards a happy ending. Ring a bell? Recall that this trilogy was a product of Twilight fan-fiction. I mean, the book even ends with the first two chapters of the series told from Christian's perspective!
There's the emotional upheaval and the physical, but it gets tiresome after a while. There's nothing lyrical or passionate about the passion. It's all the same words and same descriptions used over and over again all through! It's writing, I grant you that, but the first book seemed to have a bit more of emotional and psychological range than these books.
The characters aren't special. Ana gets annoying after a while though she does seem to redeem herself in certain moments, especially when faced with Christian's insecurities. The other supporting characters... well,  all of Ana's friends are drop-dead gorgeous and form their own quick circle of romantic interests - her best friend pairs up with Christian's older brother, and her best friend's brother is sought by Christian's younger sister. There is no larger picture than that. Christian, the possessive control-freak, kind of goes over board with his needs but then you realize that's how he was supposed to be from the very start and Ana got into it knowing it all.
The carrying plot-line is the fact that someone, whom Ana identifies to be her former boss, is out to get the Grey family. I realize that the story is supposed to be about Ana and Christian, but if the author had held out on this particular side of the story instead of trying to dwell on the constant 'banging' - of which, for those interested, there is a lot, by the way - it might have been a bit more of a compelling read.

Christian Grey's abode: Escala
I say this once again, for those who like such stories with no complex plot line, or no importance given to what would make a good thriller, it appears to be fine. There is no literary imagination in terms of the phrases or words (the emails that Christian and Ana send to each other seem more interesting that a lot of the chapters even). I probably skipped a through a third of the last book just to get past to the actual story line instead of being side tracked by all of the sex. The epilogue and Christian's perspective kind of influenced my review a bit - it didn't seem original or thought through.
The one thing I would hand to the author is the choice of classical music through the trilogy - very apt and moving pieces. Some of my favorites would have to be the Bach Marcello and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
On the whole, I would rank the books in the order they were published in terms of how good they are.
The first book introduces the characters and sets the stage for an intensive trilogy. The second didn't necessarily deliver the promised intensity but had several events that allowed one to expect so much more from the last book. The third book was an utter disappoint because, apart from some of Christian's revelations of his life which come only towards the very end and are rather brief, there isn't much in it. (I was in Seattle last weekend and happened to walk past Escala, the very real condo building where the fictional Mr. Grey lives. I thought it would be a nice addition to this post).
I have it, on good account, that Anne Rice's Exit to Eden is more intense, imaginative and better written. I probably won't read any more of this author's novels, but I do wish that her supernatural romance has a bit more color to it and is more like the first book of this series.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

I will never get bored of claiming that, to me, one of the greatest love stories ever written is Pride & Prejudice. So far every companion novel, and the so called prequels and sequels, I've read, all recount the love story from different perspectives, hence, I was rather curious to see what a mystery novelist would make of it!
Death Comes to Pemberley written by P. D. James, author of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries, was published in 2011 - I mention this because her first novel Cover Her Face came out in 1962 and she, the author - Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, is 91 years of age! Why is this significant to me? Personally, she is the oldest living author that I've read. Anyway, the book.
The book is about the murder of Captain Denny, whom we know to be George Wickham's comrade-in-arms and, quite possibly, only male friend. Set primarily in Pemberley and the surrounding woods, the story begins with a recap of the events in Pride & Prejudice, the snide statement that Mrs. Bennet now has only one unmarried daughter remaining - Kitty, for those interested; Mary marries a clergyman - and the general knowledge that Jane and Elizabeth are quite content with their married lives and brood of children.
The events kick off with preparations for Lady Anne's ball, held annually in honor of Darcy's mother, six years after P & P. Georgiana is on the throes of possibly receiving a proposal of marriage from either Colonel Fitzwilliam, now the Viscount Hartlep owing to the death of his older brother, or a Mr. Henry Alveston, a successful young lawyer, when tragedy strikes. Lydia Wickham arrives at Pemberley, as a surprise to Elizabeth because the Wickhams have never been received at Pemberley owing to George Wickham's previous misdeeds, wailing that her husband has been killed on the grounds of the vast estate. It is found, however, that Captain Denny is the one that has been murdered, and Wickham, who in his moment of guilt, confesses that he has killed his only friend. Though his innocence is widely suggested, there appear to be no plausible explanation as to why he or someone else may hay done it! The rest of the story, divided into 6 books, concerns the hearing and subsequent trial of Wickham. Did he or did he not do it? Why would he have done it? What is he hiding? What is Colonel Fitzwilliam, the light-hearted man we were introduced to, hiding? The bulk of the story, obviously, deals with the law, but there is not great investigation. It's just based off of confessions, retelling of the stories, and more confessions.
It was interesting to read, but this story lacked the pace and intensity one would expect of a whodunit. There is no sleuthing, just each character with their own suspicions. There isn't, now that I think about it, much of a story in it either. No one seems extremely concerned about Wickham's fate - Darcy and the Colonel worry more about 'polluting the woods of Pemberley with another scandal' than anything else. Why would they be concerned anyway? No one likes Wickham. No one cares about Lydia. There is nothing noteworthy about their characters that might spawn even the slightest interest in their lives! It doesn't even affect the lives of the other characters all too much because the Wickhams were never entertained at any of their houses and they moved in completely different social circles.
P. D. James jostles Jane Austen with the occasional reference. Like, this line when talking about Elizabeth accepting Darcy's proposal.
If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride has been subdued and prejudice overcome?
Or introducing the fact that Wickham, upon leaving the army, worked for a short period as Sir Walter Eliot's  secretary. If you've read Persuasion, you'll know this reference, and also realize that that novel is set ten years ahead of the events of Death Comes to Pemberley, which makes it a bit of a push. There are also the references to characters from Emma, but that's where the connection to Miss Austen ends.

Having read Wilkie Collins, Dorothy Sayers, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recently, I could not appreciate the attempt at mystery here. It was weak, the story itself. Even the trial scenes are plain. The writing is good, but that's it. The characters retain none of the appeal that Jane Austen created and don't create a lasting impression at the end of this book either. I guess my point is that they lack a certain depth that a good mystery story should've given them. But I suppose you can't expect any more from some of the least known or favorite characters from a famous book. There is an attempt, at the very end - in the epilogue, to salvage some of the Austen-esque writing, but it becomes more of a reiteration of what any compulsive reader of P & P would've have already deduced, so it doesn't necessarily salvage much.
The author has done her best with it, I'm sure, but it leaves one rather flustered and somewhat disconnected.
If you're reading this book hoping for a connection with the great classic, you will be disappointed. If you're looking to read this book just like that, then it's fine. I, for one, have to categorize this as 'one I read to add to my book count' and nothing else.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

I don't normally read things off the 'best-seller's' list. If I do, then it's either by recommendation or I'm so completely bored with everything else that I need to indulge myself in the commercial world of writing. But I'm still uncertain as to what possessed me to pick up Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. My excuse, which is the whole honest truth, is that I saw it on Amazon's 'Top 10 List', didn't read the reviews, barely skimmed through the book cover summary before I read it. So, in all honesty, I didn't know what I was in for.
Quite like the female protagonist, Anastasia Steele, a twenty-one year old soon-to-be college graduate who stumbles into the office of a mega-rich modern day Adonis named Christian Grey. She is instantly attracted to him, what with all his to-die for looks and secret-hiding smiles. She doesn't know it, but he becomes just as, or much more, smitten by her. Quite soon he makes an 'indecent proposal', revealing to her that he is a 'dominant' and would like to make her his 'submissive'. There's a contract and everything, which details the terms of their arrangement. *represses shudder* Anastasia considers it all while Christian inducts her slowly into his lifestyle. She's curious about him. She wants to walk away but realizes that she likes him, and how he makes her feel, too much to do so. Despite her misgivings and warnings from her room-mate. He is stark honest about what he wants from her, lays down ground rules (no touching, no looking in the eye, being the nicest ones), and quite fully expects her to comply. She puts up a bit of a fight before she gives in.

I cannot give this book raving reviews. It's impossible to. I didn't enjoy reading it because it isn't my genre, first of all, and it pushes me out of my comfort zone of, even, indulgent reading! I believe I've realized what my limits are - historical romances are as far into the carnal/erotic romances I shall ever go. This should be understandable considering I'm one that trolled, somewhat dispiritedly, through D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover!
The character of Christian Grey is mysterious and very Mars- read an 'interview' with him here. He has a troubled past, one of his main attractions other than the obvious physical allure. A twenty-seven year old man who talks as if he belongs to a previous century, who makes cold and calculated business decisions and yet succumbs to the 'charm' of a mousy college student whose only intention was to interview him for a school newspaper! The character of  Anastasia Steele.... She begins sensibly, goes into this stereotypical romance novel heroine who falls head over heels in love, obviously, with the wrong type of right man, then wanders into the area of general common sense. There are several lines of morality she crosses in her head, her 'inner-goddess' and 'subconscious' play important roles here. No feminist would go with certain aspects of her character, but I think, overall, she somewhat redeems herself, even though you might end up shaking your head at her more than a few times. Either way, I don't understand the whole 'pain and pleasure' thing, neither do I get the 'thou shalt obey all I say'. It doesn't sounds right. This is not the feminist in me talking, it's just the human in me. I grant the author the thoughtfulness of having added an actual love story into this glaring sexual affair of a novel. There is some sense in it.

Without going into the details of this hormonally charged piece of writing, which was originally born from 'Twilight' fan-ficiton, I will say that it's rather impressive the following the writer has gathered. This genre of fiction has remained at bay, with most of the works being published by smaller publishers. It's not literature, but it's a story and does develop a cult following if people take to it.

I'm not certain I want to complete the trilogy but it is the curious book-reader in me that wants to know the ending (this book ends on a note of content and high emotions). These are the times in which I despise the fact that I can't put down a book once I've started it. I may skip pages, because some scenes, while not too graphic, are a bit cringe-worthy. Perhaps it's the willingness to experiment, in what should be termed atrocious and is illegal even if consensual, that brings about the cringing.
Maybe it's time for me to stick with the classics and give up all other genres for a little bit while I gather up my senses and tell myself that there are good writers and good books and good stories that I can still like and fall in love with.
It's an entertaining read for those who like these sort of books, and are okay with the genre they are put into, but if you're like me - an appreciator of literature and language and believe that story telling requires a bit more than just mere talent (or necessary ability, coming down a notch) of stringing words together to make a story, you might want to channel your energies else where. I'm going to douse myself with Jane Austen to get over this. She never disappoints.