Saturday, 23 June 2012

Book #13

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
When literature student Anastasia Steele interviews successful entrepreneur Christian Grey, she finds him very attractive and deeply intimidating. Convinced that their meeting went badly, she tries to put him out of her mind - until he turns up at the store where she works part-time, and invites her out.
Unworldly and innocent, Ana is shocked to find she wants this man. And, when he warns her to keep her distance, it only makes her want him more.
But Grey is tormented by inner demons, and consumed by the need to control. As they embark on a passionate love affair, Ana discovers more about her own desires, as well as the dark secrets Grey keeps hidden away from public view.

The book everyone is talking about: Fifty Shades of Grey. I knew before I picked this up that it wasn't my thing at all, but I had heard so much about how amazing it was, and had to give it a try. We've all heard of curiosity killing the cat, I'm sure. In this instance I'm not sure curiosity has just killed the cat, but made the cat set itself on fire and jump out of a very high window. I have never read anything so awful in my life.

The writing was abhorrent. It read like extremely poor fan fiction. The plot gets itself tangled up in knots, the characters are dull and one-dimensional, the narrative is child-like, and the use of the subconscious to describe the protagonist's feelings was just embarrassing.

Our protagonist, Anastasia Steele, sets feminism back to square one. She is a twenty-four year old virgin, immature, insecure, and incredibly na├»ve. From the moment she meets Grey she moons over him constantly in the most pathetic manner imaginable. I could not stop cringing and feeling embarrassed for her. She was pitiful. Her 'subconscious' and 'inner goddess' jump around in her mind displaying her feelings; the subconscious usually wagging her finger and asking her what she thinks she’s doing, with the inner goddess being the slut of the package, always wanting more. My subconscious and inner goddess were both sitting in the library of my mind with hands over their eyes, begging me to put the book down and pick up something more well-written, perhaps the back of a cereal box. Ana annoyed me massively, and the number of times she bit her lip was unholy. Behave yourself.

Christian Grey. I have seen far too many Facebook and Twitter updates about how much ladies want him. James does not stop emphasising the point that this guy is absolutely gorgeous. Fair enough. He is also a sadistic creepy bastard with a penchant for flogging. I can completely understand that not everyone's sexual preferences are what the book calls 'vanilla', however I cannot understand this obsession with Grey. Don't get me wrong, I like a gorgeous man. I especially like a gorgeous man with an excellent personality and sense of humour: something we do not get with Grey. He is incredibly stoic, and mostly terrifying. Why on earth would you want to be with someone who might slap six shades of shit out of you if you said something wrong or (God forbid) didn't finish your dinner? He gives Ana the choice to back out of the relationship whenever she likes, then turns up in places to find her, sends her expensive presents, and just behaves in a very ominous way.

The way the two characters spoke to each other caused me severe mental discomfort. Dialogue including, "Laters, baby," and "I want to claim your ass," made me flinch so intensely I thought I had whiplash.  It wasn't just the dialogue. Every condom was referred to as a foil packet, Ana's subconscious quite frequently exclaims Holy crap! or Holy cow! as though she were participating in some sort of 1960s Batman remake and had stumbled upon the Joker in a dark alley. This occurred every few pages. Then we have the scene where Ana is wondering who put a certain song on Christian's iPod if it wasn't him. Who... Who... Who? ARE YOU AN OWL, MY DEAR?!

Let's talk about the sex scenes. I skimmed over most of them because they were so badly written and dull. That's quite a comment to make about a girl being tied to a rack and abused within an inch of her life, however James really had a chance to let her writing shine in these scenes and failed. I am amazed at how boring a bout of flogging can be!

The message the book sends, that dominance and manipulation is desirable (as long as the guy's hot, mind you!) is a terrible one. Although it absolutely will be for some, the book is not written as though to say 'you might like this, you might not, it's a bit kinky'. It seems Christian enjoys control for all the wrong reasons. It just didn't sit right with me.

It bothers me that this book is so successful. I do not want to belittle anyone who enjoyed it; I just feel that the only thing attracting people to it is that Grey is so 'hot' and so alpha-male. Or are you all secret BDSM freaks? Wee bit scary, but who am I to judge?

Anyway, I would not recommend this book to a worst enemy. It's painful to get through, dull, misogynistic, and sends a bad message. There are two other books in the series, but I am not masochistic enough to read them. Please avoid as though your life depends on it. For those who have already read it, I love you, and we can get through this.

13 / 50 words. 26% done!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Book #12

Ulysses by James Joyce

Ulysses tells of the diverse events which befall Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in Dublin on 16 June 1904, during which Bloom's voluptuous wife, Molly, commits adultery.

This has been the most difficult read of my life. I have never experienced such confusion whilst reading a novel, nor have I ever been this physically exhausted from reading. I was so incredibly proud of myself whenever I worked out what Joyce was driving at, but at the same time felt like such an idiot. It's arduous, frustrating yet rewarding at the same time; I cannot describe how accomplished I feel to have tackled this behemoth of literature. I do believe, however, a reread is in order at some point in the (very distant) future. Joyce does not make this easy for you.

I imagine most reviews of Ulysses will be incredibly intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) and deep. This review will be nothing of the sort; I don't pretend to be a genius. I struggled immensely with this book, and did have to research some of the sections to ensure I was in complete understanding of the plot. I am in no way ashamed of this, and I'm not embarrassed to say that I mostly didn't enjoy it.

Our two main characters were terribly unlikeable. Although I found myself growing more and more fond of Bloom as the novel progressed, I never warmed to Stephen, finding him ignorant and a bit of an arse. I imagine had I read Dubliners in preparation for Ulysses I may not have had this problem. Bloom, however, was an interesting character, and I ended up pitying him a great deal. He works fantastically hard at pretending he isn't an outsider, and fights to remain in his social circle. His thoughts seem to bounce around his mind as though he is scared to dwell on one thought for too long. This seemed to relate to his suicidal feelings, almost as though thinking about something for longer than he should may have pushed him over the edge.

Joyce's love of Ireland is very apparent in the way he writes this book. Dublin's streets come alive as this day pans out, and his comments on poverty, colonialism and religion really strike a chord in your mind.

The novel is more of an accumulation of little nuances, rather than a saga with an important moral at its finale. Joyce doesn't end the story by tying up all the little loose ends and making sure we know everyone lived happily ever after. This was one day in the life of these characters. No one knows what is to come. They could have lived happily ever after, but they most probably did not.

The writing is gorgeous, the style is varied, and people probably forget that this is a funny book. I loved that each chapter (or episode) had a different style, for example, one in the form of newspaper articles and one written as a play. One chapter (and the one I found most difficult to understand) was comprised of Joyce simply parodying various authors over the years.

I loved the 'first-person narrative but not really' style Joyce had, allowing us to almost read the minds of our characters, and hearing them tell us the story without knowing they're telling us. This can be very difficult to understand at times, as the human mind does not think in a linear fashion, and random irrelevant thought-bursts could come at any moment. You are forced to decipher these as you see fit. It was not until Joyce introduced me to the idea of the 'parallax' (the idea that the same object can be viewed in entirely different ways from different perspectives) that I began to fully understand the narrative.

I do not feel this is greatest novel of the twentieth century. I do not feel as though it is the greatest book ever written, and I don't believe in many of the things I have read or heard about it. I do feel, though, that one day I will understand it all. I might have to read The Odyssey first. I might have to throw in some Dubliners before I can completely invest myself. However, I can see the light somewhere; I can see where people are coming from even if I can't embrace it myself yet.

This book is a labyrinth. You will need your wits about you. You will need time to sit down and absorb every word; I had to make sure I had time to read an entire chapter at once, otherwise I would pick it up again later and have no idea who these characters were or what in the world was happening. It is absolutely daunting in many ways, however I would recommend it. I just think there were too many puzzles for me to work out; I was exhausted, but I will absolutely try again at some point in the future. God loves a trier.

12 / 50 books. 24% done!