Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James
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's review
Apr 27, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: erotic-romance, 2012
Read in May, 2012 — I own a copy

This review contains spoilers.

Mere days after she decided she couldn't be what Christian wanted or needed and walked out on his life, Anastasia Steele is a mess. Starting her new job at a small publishing house isn't enough of a distraction, though it helps - except for her sleazy boss, Jack Hyde, who likes to invade her personal space. But everything reminds her of Christian, from her lack of a car to the money in her account to pay for one. Her best friend Kate is still away on her post-graduation holiday (with Christian's brother, Elliott), so their apartment is a lonely, empty place.

But it seems like Christian has far from forgotten her: after her first day of work, he sends flowers. Then he emails, reminding her that she'd invited him to her friend José's photography exhibition at a gallery on Thursday. How can she not see him again? It's not like she stopped loving him when she walked out of his apartment the previous week. The days without him have been interminable. "I must be strong, but I want to go to José's show, and deep down, the masochist in me wants to see Christian." [p.8]

Being in close proximity to Christian again, it's like their breakup never happened, like they're picking up after a short absence. All the old emotions come back, that heady mix of love and desire, frustration and how he "always make[s] me feel like an errant child". [p.13] And then comes the biggest shock: he misses her, deeply, and wants to try again, wants to have a real relationship with her, not a contract between a Dominant and a submissive, no rules but a regular, conventional affair - complete with vanilla sex and some "kinky-fuckery", as Ana likes to call it.

"Anastasia, I want to start again. Do the vanilla thing and then maybe, once you trust me more and I trust you to be honest and to communicate with me, we could move on and do some of the things that I like to do."
"But what about punishments?"
"No punishments." He shakes his head. "None."
"And the rules?"
"No rules."
"None at all? But you have needs."
"I need you more, Anastasia. These last few days have been hell. All my instincts tell me to let you go, tell me I don't deserve you. Those photos the boy took ... I can see how he sees you. You look untroubled and beautiful, not that you're not beautiful now, but here you sit. I see your pain. It's hard, knowing that I'm the one who has made you feel this way. But I'm a selfish man. I've wanted you since you fell into my office. You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I'm in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul." [p.35-6]

This second book in the Fifty Shades trilogy is essentially a continuation of their relationship but in a new stage, with two main side plots, one of which is of sleazy Jack Hyde. Ana's editor boss has a past history of having sex with his assistants, and when he realises Ana is with Christian, goes from charming to vindictive and cruel, finally cornering Ana after hours in the lunch room until she's forced to defend herself. What he doesn't know (what no one knows yet, except Ana) is that, in a typical act of obsessive control, Christian bought the company. It's an easy matter to have Jack fired, and in true misogynist fashion Jack blames Ana - and Christian. Behind the scenes he sets out on a plan of retribution aimed at both of them, starting with sabotaging Christian's helicopter (this plot is bigger in the third book, but it's clear from the beginning that the culprit is Jack, who has a connection to Christian's past).

One of the things I liked about this story is that it's not about Ana changing Christian, making him more "normal" and less "fucked up" or kinky. It's not about "curing" him of his "unhealthy appetites" - there's nothing unhealthy about consensual sex any which way you want it, though there was the issue of Christian's deep dark secret that he believes will make Ana leave him for good: That he likes to whip girls who look like his mother. Ana doesn't change him, she just helps him - slowly, gradually, carefully - acknowledge the truth: that he loves his mother. Five years of watching her being beaten by her pimp until she killed herself, being neglected and beaten by her pimp himself, and then living with her dead body for four days before being found, would leave deep scars on anybody, let alone a small boy who just wants to be loved and cared for. (I have a 10 month old son and this kind of thing just breaks my heart. Because it does happen, that's the scariest bit of all.)

There's this stupid cliché perpetuated by both men and women, that women always want to "change" men. They - we - don't. The truth is, and the real lure of the romance genre in general (the real fantasy, as it were), is that women would love to be the one who "saves" the man she loves. Not in the big heroic way men might, with their "damsel in distress" rescuing genes. But in a subtle, supportive, long-term-plan way. "Save" isn't the right word for it. Women want to be that special someone who, simply by being in a man's life, makes their life make sense. Be complete. Be "the one". (One of Ana's big insecurities is why, how, she could possibly be "the one" for Christian - this is hard for me to relate to, I can't help but feel that you just know.) It's the fantasy that men can be, ahem, better people (or the best they can be) when they're with the right woman. That's the romance of romance fiction, and you see language referring to this all the time in the genre.

Take Christine Feehan, who was one of the very first paranormal romance writers: her whole romantic theory revolves around women being the "light" to men's "darkness": the heroes of the story, strong, powerful immortals in tune with the natural world, gradually lose their ability to see in colour, feel emotions and, if they drink a person's blood to the point of death, turn irretrievably into vampires. Only their fated woman can save them from this fate (which makes for a very intense seduction: it's literally a matter of life and death). That's an extreme, fantasy version, just as Christian Grey is an extreme, obsessive, controlling mortal version, but it's all the same thing really, when you break it down. That's what love is about, that feeling of completeness, of being grounded and feeling safe and not alone, and of being with someone who enhances and complements your positives, not someone who encourages or even creates negatives. There are just degrees of it, and the romance between Christian Grey and Ana is several degrees more intense than most of us would like to experience in our own lives.

Yet the allure remains, safely in the pages of fiction. As a female reader of romance, I love the intensity - of the characters as well as the romance itself. Unlike the previous women in Christian's sexual past, Ana is different in many ways. That came through quite clearly in the first plot of this book, where one of Christian's previous submissives, Leila, goes off the rails and acts threateningly towards Ana - even buying a gun - and, looking lost and bewildered, asks her, "What do you have that I don't?" Love is inexplicable like that, isn't it. How can we possibly say why this person clicks with us more than any other? And in doing so, in fitting with our soul, we stop having to work at being in a relationship. (Yes, it's true: when you're with the right person, you don't have to work at a relationship, it just is. By the end of the trilogy, I think Christian and Ana have reached that point.)

At first, in thinking why a romance like this - one with such a controlling man - was so appealing to so many of us, I thought of Claire and Jamie from Outlander as a good example of a much-loved romance,* but when I reached a most intense, dramatic scene in this book, I realised what it is, for me anyway: it's Mr Rochester. Yes it all comes back to Mr Rochester, my big romantic hero from grade 6 when I first read Jane Eyre (I bet I could write a thesis on how Mr Rochester is the template for all romantic heroes). Mr Rochester is also rich, controlling, moody and intense, though readers don't seem to freak out about the idea of him seducing a nineteen-year-old (everyone forgets just how young Jane was, though it was a perfectly marriageable age at the time). There's a pivotal scene in Jane Eyre, after the disastrous would-be wedding, when Jane decides to leave him and Rochester pulls out all his cards, begging, pleading, imploring, throwing himself dramatically onto the couch and hugging her skirts by turns - a very spoilt, sulky boy finally met with the first firm woman of his life, but also a man in love who's about to lose the woman he wants more than anything. There's such a scene in this book, and it left me giddy and a bit light-headed. Christian has a deep fear of Ana leaving him, or of her disappearing on him (again, deep mother and abandonment issues) so when, after the confrontation with Leila that left Ana questioning her relationship with Christian, she feels the need for some distance and time to sort things out, Christian jumps immediately to his greatest fear and effectively shuts down. It's a deeply emotional - and psychological - scene starting on page 319 of my Vintage edition, that marks a turning point in their relationship. Can I give you a taste? (All out of context of course, but why not.)

I shake my head. "I'm no good for you."
"What?" he breathes, his eyes widening in alarm. "Why do you think that? How can you possibly think that?"
"I can't be everything you need."
"You are everything I need."
"Just seeing you with her..." My voice trails off.
"Why do you do this to me? This is not about you, Ana. It's about her." He takes a sharp breath, running his hand through his hair again. "Right now she's a very sick girl."
"But I felt it ... what you had together."
"What? No." He reaches for me, and I step back instinctively. He drops his hand, blinking at me. He looks as though he's seized with panic.
"You're running?" he whispers as his eyes widen with fear.
I say nothing as I try to collect my scattered thoughts.
"You can't," he pleads.
"Christian... I..." I struggle to collect my thoughts. What am I trying to say? I need time, time to process this. Give me time.
"No. No!" he says.
He looks wildly around the room. For inspiration? For divine intervention? I don't know.
"You can't go. Ana, I love you!"
"I love you, too, Christian, it's just--"
"!" he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head.
"No," he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops to his knees in front of me, head bowed, his hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn't move.
What? "Christian, what are you doing?"
He continues to stare down, not looking at me.
"Christian! What are you doing?" I repeat in a high-pitched voice. He doesn't move. "Christian, look at me!" I command in panic.
His head sweeps up without hesitation, and he regards me passively with his cool gray gaze - he's almost serene... expectant.
Holy Fuck... Christian. The submissive. [pp.320-321]

(See, it says a great deal about how much I buy into such scenes that I can overlook the weak writing, repetitive descriptions and adjectives, and sheer melodrama! You can't predict if a story like this is going to be enjoyable or an object of derision, and I don't necessarily disagree with anyone who thought this story ridiculous. It is ENTIRELY subjective.)

Both Ana and Christian have to figure out a way through the difficult terrain of Christian's issues and Ana's need for some independence. There's also Christian's phobia of being touched on certain parts of his chest and back, but as they learn to trust each other more, barrier after barrier comes down. I read the third book immediately after this one, so I can't quite remember at which point Christian becomes more trusting and less ridiculously controlling, but it does start to happen and it happens realistically - for Christian. The Christian you get by the end of book 2 is an altered man from book 1: he's matured but still, at times, like a teenager; and he's learned to love and to own it.

And that's the thing: you have to read these books in the context of their characters. If you can go along with Ana and Christian, then you'll be in for a grand ol' romance of epic proportions with plenty of steamy sex (this is erotic romance, after all, not just plain romance) - no real BDSM, but some "kinky fuckery" that makes for an interesting, spicy love life. Fifty Shades Darker definitely delivered on the promise of Fifty Shades of Grey and could well be my favourite of the three (not filler, or not for me anyway). If you can suspend disbelief to enjoy the characters, and turn a blind eye to the writing (which at least is consistent and has a distinctive style), Fifty Shades Darker is lots of romantic, if melodramatic, fun.

*I am not comparing this book to Outlander, or Jamie to Christian or Claire to Ana; I simply mean that I was thinking of other big, intense romance novels and it definitely sits high on that list.

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09/24/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Dina (new)

Dina Why do I keep thinking this book is about vampires?

Shannon (Giraffe Days) Dina wrote: "Why do I keep thinking this book is about vampires?"

Ha ha! Because it's paranormal romance without the paranormal? The characters are exactly like that, anyway! ;)

(probably because it started life as Twilight fanfiction...)

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