walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

50SOG, EL James, the completely superfluous review (kindle)


(1) I BELIEVE (shouty capitals) in spoilers. I will spoil this book for you if you haven't read it already.

(2) 50SOG is a book with a lot of sex in it. If you don't know what book I'm talking about, well, you should probably leave now. If you are the kind of person who is uncomfortable reading about sex or in a place where doing so is Not Appropriate, you should probably leave now.

(3) If you are an elderly relation of mine mostly reading my blog for family stuff, this is not only about sex, but kinky sex of the hitting kind. I'm sorry you learned this about me, but if you're not, well, yay.

Everyone read this thing before I did, because I stupidly believed people within the BDSM community who critiqued it saying it depicted a Bad BDSM relationship. They are wrong. I changed my mind and read a sample chapter and then the whole first book after learning that at least one person at CSPC had positive things to say about the book and the people who were finding the center after reading the book(s) -- and that they required a lot less reprogramming to Behave Appropriately (<-- my summation) than, say, the Gor or Marketplace fans.

I've read BDSM novels before (mostly when I'm reading triad books or paranormal fiction and the BDSM sort of comes as part of a package). I'm sort of a tourist or chipper when it comes to kink: I've done some, I know about more, and I can take it or leave it. I would characterize the BDSM in 50SOG as Lite. Christian makes a joking reference to TPE 24/7, but it is never explained. The restraints used are nothing fancy (starting with adaptive clothing use -- a tie -- working through cable ties and up to leather cuffs, IIRC). There is absolutely No Edge Play. The hard limits list was worth relaying to someone with considerably more experience than I have: "Wait, I think I've done all of those," which was, of course, my point -- cutting, permanent marking, fire, electricity, all out, and Christian never gets anywhere near CBT in volume one.

If someone is prepared to honestly tell me there is CBT in a later entry in this trilogy, I swear I will stay up all night reading it (<-- I'm not worried about losing any sleep here). (If you are trying to figure out what that acronym is using google and getting confused by cognitive behavior therapy, add BDSM to your search box and you'll be a-o-good. But don't blame me -- you shouldn't search on things like that in google!)

50SOG is supposedly Twilight fan fiction, but it is pretty loosely inspired, if that. EL James is pulling from a lot of sources, including a ton of romance novel subgenres (the billionaire who is bizarrely taken with the mousey admin, the sexual sophisticate who is ensnared by the virgin who presents herself as more experienced than she is, the rake who wants to have a Girlfriend Experience but can't convince the woman he loves that he is capable of love, the Tortured Soul with the extensive sexual repertoire and weird hangups, the judgy mcjudgerson woman is becomes open minded after a Whole Lot of Great Orgasms, etc.). There's a huge cinderella thing going on with Anastasia and the presents, with the usual pseudo-feminist petulant complaining layered on top (oh, no, I really cannot accept first edition Tess/Macbook/Audi/clothing/use of your private jet/etc. from you). I've never had much love for this structure: either say no and make it stick, or say thank you and come up with something as thoughtful but within a price range you can manage when you reciprocate. There is very little in life as irritating as being prevented from enjoying the things you can afford in order to have a relationship with someone you love. I feel sorry for the rich guy when people are asses about the presents he (or she) is giving -- unless he's a jerk about it, which I didn't really think Christian was.

One of the scenes in 50SOG struck me as imaginative and wonderful: when Grey spread-eagles Ana and blindfolds her after putting earbuds in her ears. Timing strokes to medieval church music is ... kinda pretentious and silly, but the sensory limitation/stimulation strategy is an excellent one.

For the most part, however, the scenes are fairly typical for erotic romance novels (they go down on each other, they do it facing, not facing, horizontal, vertical, in a tub, etc.). There is no anal, the digital penetration is minor (a couple fingers -- fisting is on a list of possible activities but they never get anywhere near it).

The order of events is fairly typical for a romance novel: they are thrown into each other's company by accident, he pursues her, she is flustered but attracted, they have a few more clothed meetings, they have sex, they have more sex, she has second thoughts and goes on a trip by herself, he joins her but then has to leave suddenly, they get together upon her return and then there's a Big Miss. At that point, volume one ends (and yes, I did notice that this is a three volume novel, not a trilogy per se).

The problems that Christian and Ana have involve BDSM but are universal: they are two people inexperienced at intimate relationships (he's had sex but not relationships; she hasn't had either but has probably had more interdependent friendships than he has) and young enough to lack perspective. While they both enjoy being with each other, they have taken pains to tell the other up front what they want/expect from a relationship and they have sort of concluded that there isn't much overlap. They persist anyway and their Big Miss arises when Ana in a fit of pique decides she wants to know How Bad This Can Get. Christian should have called a halt (it's 5 a.m. in the morning!), especially since Ana drew an analogy between how he felt about having his chest touched and how she felt about being hit, but that was a hell of an apple to be offered. I think a 27 year old in his first serious relationship can be forgiven for taking a bite out of it.

Christian's more serious error was in not sitting Ana down and saying, okay, here's why I like to hit women and why the women I hit are totally into it. I think there's a good chance you'll be into it, too, if you can get past this whole I Don't Want to Be Hit That's Wrong hangup you have, but let's at least go over the emotional roller coaster that "a good hiding" is before we actually do it. Because then they could have put together an Aftercare plan that would have included What To Do if Ana Can't Stand Looking at/Being Near Christian afterwards.

BDSM commentators who get hung up on consent issues because Christian came charging over to the apartment after the email Ana sent post Spanking #1 are Idiots. He did _exactly_ what Ana was asking him to do, even tho Ana used a bunch of words with a different literal/surface meaning. If Christian hadn't returned, Ana really would have had to stop seeing him; it would have been an untenable relationship unless she matured enough herself to be able to say literally and in the moment exactly what she needed. But the whole freaking book is about how she has trouble doing that when he is there (trouble even eating), and is much better with honesty in email -- and boy, if that isn't a perfect description of what its like to be 20 something, well, my memory has clearly taken some damage.

There _ought_ to be a crowd of people out there going, whoa, Christian, you don't have an Aftercare plan for what to do post-belt and you didn't negotiate the number of strokes and blah blah bleeping blah, but I can't find them through all the speculation about who is going to be in the movie.

On a technical level, the editorial staff erred in leaving the word "pinafore" in the description of the dress Ana wore to the second interview. I _was_ convinced that they should have fixed all the "He's not called me yet" and similar to "He hasn't called me yet", however, I got email from my brother-in-law today with that style of contraction. *shrug* It sounds too British, or at least not Seattle to me. Christian's use of the verb "rumbled" (to mean, you've found me out) also sounds not American usage to me.

I feel bad that I said negative things about this book based on commentators who presented themselves as part of the BDSM community and as disapproving of this book. It's a good book. If all you knew about BDSM was what you learned reading this book, you'd be in pretty good shape (right down to Christian emphasizing to an oblivious Ana that certain toys were new). What are being called consent errors are NOT consent errors. They are relationship errors and they are both universal and strikingly typical of people in their 20s.

Really, if you want to snivel at something, snivel at Ana getting a job at a publisher in Seattle with an undergraduate English degree from WSUV. Or at someone like Kate going to WSUV. Or at a 27 year old billionaire whose line of business seems to involve, well, hard to say. Or ...

ETA: Oh, if hair pulling bothers you, stay away from these books. Christian likes to pull Ana's hair. Ana seems to be very, very okay with that -- it's not abusive and she doesn't seem to perceive it as bad pain. I freaking loathe hair pulling, and it was, for me, probably the most difficult to deal with aspect of the book.
Tags: book review, sexuality
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