The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter

Oh Angela, it’s been a while…

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I haven’t reviewed any Angela Carter for quite some time, and I haven’t reviewed any since I began to write half-decent, lengthier reviews. And now now it’s time for me to stop saying “review” and just do it. Evelyn is a man. More specifically, an Englishman moving to America just in time for the mother of all Civil Wars to break out; militant feminists, child religious crusaders,  oft-referred to but barely seen”blacks” and God knows who else fight, not only to survive, but to come out on top afterwards. In the midst of all this, Evelyn starts the road-trip of a lifetime that will see him go from a man in New York to a woman in California.

I love Angela Carter. I really do. That’s why The Passion of New Eve makes me sad. It’s mesmerizing and meaningful stuff in places, but in others it’s just stodgy and silly. It represents Angela Carter at the height of her thing for the trinity of myth, allegory and metaphor, before she would go to a more pared-back and streamlined approach in The Bloody Chamber. Take the scenes in which Evelyn is taken to the underground desert city of Beulah, and is has to take part in a ritual before being forcibly turned into a woman – with a view to making her pregnant with her own child, using the seed procured from him before the operations. (Don’t ask). In fact, forget just the ritual – let’s look at the whole Beulah section. It’s generally just silly. I get that it’s partly a satire on the feminist strand of the Mother Goddess cult – which was enjoying a resurgence at the time, – and partly uber-indoctrinated cyber-Amazons preparing for war; but the dialogue and the symbolism are very difficult to take seriously, the dialogue especially clunks a lot in this section – as they all appear to speak in concepts, not in sentences. As for the satire… It goes on too long and takes itself a little too seriously for that angle to really cut ice.

Dialogue generally is a major issue in this book, more than any other Carter novel it clunks like hell generally. Carter herself acknowledged that it wasn’t her strongest point, largely leaving dialogue out of The Bloody Chamber, and she did improve infinitely later on – Wise Children is a masterpiece in voices – and even when she did have the odd clunk in the future it would never be quite this bad. (If I say “the new century”, fans of Nights at the Circus will know precisely what I mean). As I said before, many of the characters – not just in Beulah, but apparently across America – speak in concepts and ideologies. This is a direct consequence of Carter being at the height of her allegorical phase, as Eve(lyn) travels through America she encounters characters that aren’t so much characters as representations of systems of thought and speechify accordingly. Zero the misogynist, impotent poet that insists his “wives” growl and bark instead of speak, anyone? In the tradition of road trip movies, some of these encounters do get a tad repetitive.

However, there are things in this book which are incredibly well done. I love the first act in New York, and how the scene is built up and set there – there are some beautiful moments of characterisation as well as description, as Evelyn’s less than healthy relationship with Leilah – a dancer – is established and explored in a subtle and sensible manner; he isn’t the Big Bad Wolf, he’s just a man programmed to think and react in a certain way. Also, I really do like Leilah as a character – she’s a charismatic cocktail of innocence and experience that leaves a very big impression on the reader from first to last. I’m also very fond of the cinema motif, and the running references to old Hollywood and the actress “Tristessa” which just underline the themes of illusion and gender-perception; and there is a marvellous set-piece which goes from echoing Sunset Blvd to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. And I don’t think all the road-trip stuff is always too repetitive, the child crusaders make for a nice rhythm-breaker, with the leader being a strangely uncanny foreshadowing of George. W. Bush…

The Passion of New Eve is Gulliver’s Travels on LSD. In America. Yeah, in places it’s silly and it probably needed a re-draft or two, but it’s still worth the read – it’s probably one of the best descriptions of New York that I’ve ever read. Because when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad it’s absolutely awful I’m going to give this one a 2.5/3 out of 5 – maybe I’m too young to get some of the references, but sometimes it just falls flat. And good books shouldn’t have a sell-by date.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

… Or “Why I don’t envy Baz Lurhmann.”

Gatsby_1925_jacketYes, this is a shameless cash-in on the up-coming (admittedly, awesome-looking) Baz Lurhmann film but hey, nothing that brings a new audience to this great story can be all that bad. Touch wood.

I’ll admit my immediate reaction when I heard that Baz Lurhmann was to direct the first big-screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby since the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version was something along the lines of: “Arrgh! But, but, he was responsible for Moulin Rouge! Why would you do that?!” For the record, I have more than reconciled myself with the choice of director (he did have a career before Moulin Rouge, and damn… Those ads look amazing). The other main problem, not just for me but for everyone who loves this book, is that pretty much everyone has their own version of The Great Gatsby in their heads; everyone knows how they’d do such-and-such a scene and with who. The inner frustrated director in most readers will be prepared to hate any adaptation done by someone else who dared to get in there before they did, (because they totally were going to make that film). So what is it about this book which inspires both such cultish blind devotion to it and outright hostility towards anyone who might wish to touch it?

Our narrator and reader-substitute in this story is Nick Carraway; a relatively blank-slate from old money in the Mid-West come to make his fortune on the stock-market in New York. With a view to saving cash, he moves to the small peninsula of West Egg – the less-legitimate of the two “Eggs” in the book – and soon  realises that his next-door neighbour is rather less then ordinary. He doesn’t only realise this through the fabulously decadent and meretricious parties which Jay Gatsby throws every week, despite not engaging in them at all himself. He mainly realises it when he seems him staring across the bay at East Egg, more specifically at the green light at the end of the jetty belonging to Nick’s married cousin, Daisy. Beyond that, there is very little I can say that won’t give away anything to do with the plot, aside from that the emerging tale is one of thwarted hopes and dreams, class, money, love and one of the last true idealists of fiction standing against the world.

I love the characters in this book. Not from a point of view of affection, as such – they’re mostly fairly abhorrent characters in their own ways – but more from a technical standpoint. Every character, no matter how walk on their role may be, is given due time and attention and are developed verbally, visually and as a function of the story. You could probably write a thesis on the supporting characters in The Great Gatsby and still get a first. As far as the main quintet is done (Gatsby, Nick, Jordan, Daisy and her husband, Tom) none of them are two-dimensional which could have so easily happened with both Tom and Gatsby, with the first as a philandering villain and the second as a knight in shining limo;all of them have a degree of ambiguity, even Nick whose reliability as a narrator is something which we’re occasionally called upon to question. Although as much as I love Nick* (and yes, I do – I think he’s sweet) and the character development he gets somewhat unusually for a theoretically tabula rasa device, it’s Gatsby who is the key to this book.

Let’s face it, like with Villette, the affection the reader has for this book is usually in direct correlation with that they have for the main character. Jay Gatsby is essentially Don Quixote in spats, and yet there is always this feel of the con-man conjurer about him; he’s too fantastic to be true, his lies are too obvious and badly-made. But for all that he is pure idealism and with surprising sense of innocence and vulnerability behind it; he feels like one of the few characters in fiction who acts like he belongs in the fictional world, a more fictional world than the one which he inhabits. It almost feels as though he has gone through fairy tales and literature and Onegin-like has underlined and made annotations on desirable character-traits and tried to assimilate them into his own personality. Compared to some of the other characters, he comes across as an otherworldly innocent, but it’s heavily hinted that the source of his wealth is illegal and that he’s done some less than chivalric things in his life to reach his current  position. See, this is how good the characterisation is: Fitzgerald has me writing about Gatsby like he’s a real person. Gah! 

The story’s well-written and concise, alternating between the witty and satirical, and the bittersweet and lyrical in the prose. I would say that chapter one can be a bit hard-going if you’re less than at your focused best, but stick with it – once Fitzgerald gets into his stride he rewards your loyalty by the champagne-bucketful. It is a novella and the chapters are knitted together very tightly, so I would recommend reading it in as few sittings as possible and paying it full attention – it’s not exactly something that you can just dip in and out of. As for your concentration, almost literally everything is relevant either to plot or theme in some way as well as there being a couple of blink and you’ll miss it, and at least one character death you’d miss if you were semi-skimming the book.

So, that’s The Great Gatsby – read it or regret it. The world which Fitzgerald conjures is so vivid, both palpable and dreamlike at the same time, that it’s little wonder that people who love it get so truly possessive and attached to “their” Gatsby. So Baz, good luck mate – better you than me.

*For the record, I completely ship Nick and Gatsby. Go Natsby!

Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Virginia Woolf – eat your heart out!

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This would make the most magnificent, yet fiendishly difficult to adapt, film.

Our protagonist/chronicler is Ruby Lennox, whom we follow from her reluctant conception right up until the present day; alongside of this is her attempt to map out the history of her family from the 1880’s onwards and bring all those loose and unresolved narratives and dark secrets together into one coherent strand.

This book is a great advert for the modern novel and a marvellous rebuff to all those who say that books are redundant in the age of cinema; even though I’ve said that Behind the Scenes at the Museum would be a great film, it would never quite manage to capture the crazy chronology and selective narrative omniscience of the original (there’s more than a few narrative twists). I do like the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey* structure of this epic of the mundane, as it makes an otherwise rather unremarkable story of family life set alongside Great British Events of the 20th Century (the Queen’s coronation, the World Cup, The Beatles etc.) far more interesting and lends it an air of a real exhibition at the eponymous museum that the reader, or visitor, has accidentally viewed the exhibits in almost – but not quite – the right order.

The characters are also extremely well-realised and skip nicely over the border of likeability and back again (or not as the case may be) and shows each of their individual evolution not as some grandiose X-Factor style journey, but just as the natural and occasionally regrettable changes that a person’s character can undergo in the course of their lives.

I give this book 4 out of 5, on the grounds that no matter how much I like the chronology, characters et al the ending (and about thirty years) is wrapped up with lightening speed with at least one stupidly convenient contrivance concerning a nurse. Still, it’s a great way to pass a couple of afternoons.

 

*”People tend to think of time as a strict progression of cause to effect, but from a non-linear,non-subjective viewpoint  – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… Stuff.” Blink, Doctor Who.

 

 

Villette – Charlotte Brontë

Not as universally well-known as Jane Eyre, but just as good in its own way.

Despite being a hit and a half upon its release in 1853, it has now become a relatively obscure novel with a cult-following amongst Brontëites and Victorianists. Which is a shame, because it does things that nobody writing in English had really done before in quite such a searing and unapologetic manner.

Lucy Snowe is in her twenties, plain, studious and on her own. She has spent the last few years as the paid companion of a wealthy, bed-bound old lady – but now the latter is dead and Lucy must find her own path in the world. Despite not knowing a word of French, she decides to go to the capital of Labassecour (a fictionalized Belgium), Villette (Brussels) as so many English people have to live inexpensively and start anew with no history. More by accident than design she ends up at Mme Beck’s Pensionnat de Desmoiselles, where she begins as the nurse to Mme Beck’s children and ends up as the English teacher. This is where the action really begins. Cue a bitterweet story of appearances and deceptions, surveillance, prejudice, religious doctrine, love, despair and disillusion.

How much you like this book really depends upon how much you like the protagonist. If you find Lucy Snowe annoying, because you dislike her cynical, sardonic, sensitive and sometimes lyrical voice, you’re screwed – it’s not only first person, but unashamedly subjective. Lucy has such a distinctive narrative voice and interior monologue, the contrast between that acerbic dry wit and the generally dismissive perceptions of her by the other characters as a plain and unremarkable thing leads the reader to feel outraged on her behalf;  it also has the effect of underlining the difference between appearance and reality which is a key theme throughout. It’s a book of double-identities, symmetry, oxymorons, contrasts and pseudonyms; ironically enough for the last, Brontë had long since been outed as an author – and yet Villette was still published under her own pseudonym, “Currer Bell.”

The actual story itself is very well structured and uses the three volume format to its advantage, closely echoing the three acts of a play in terms of plot arc and emphasis. One could hardly accuse it of lacking in incident either; there isn’t really a section which you skip over when you read it again because sweet F.A. happens for ages, which (let’s be honest) does happen quite a lot with Victorian fiction. The characters and the settings are brutally realistic (in the psychological – not the kitchen sink sense), any and all bits supernatural ephemera only exist to be unpicked and smashed to pieces almost immediately; so no bizarre instances of telepathy jammed in there and left hanging.

Villette is a bit like ox-heart. It doesn’t necessarily sound like the most appetizing of ingredients, and it’s a bit tough in places – but treated properly it can be simply delicious. 5 out of 5, over and out!

Horrible Histories

Some fun stuff to while the hours away…

Horrible Histories was originally (and remains) an extremely popular series of children’s history books by Terry Deary, that refuses to leave out the gory, stupid, dark or funny bits and explains everything simply with  a dry sense of humour, without patronising its audience. A few years back CBBC, (the children’s section of the BBC) started airing a sketch show based on the books which is, quite frankly, one of the best things airing on TV at the moment.

One of the many things the show does marvellously well is songs. The four King Georges as a boyband? Works for me! For anyone curious to know the basics about the Georgian era.

NB: As fans of Lucy Worsley will know, George III was George II’s grandson NOT son. To be fair to Mat Baynton, (the actor playing George II), he did amend this gesture in future performances; I chose this video because it’s the one in which it’s easiest to hear the actual lyrics.

Over and out. P.S. I promise another review post is coming soon, it’s half-written!

The original review of Lucy Worsley’s Courtiers can be found here: https://bookvampire.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/courtiers-lucy-worsley/

The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli

Not as sinister as it has been made out, case of Richard III-ing at work?

For the record, I am reviewing the latest Oxford World Classics edition, with notes and translation done by Peter Bondanella and an introduction by Maurizio Viroli.

Okey dokey, let’s get a few things out of the way: Machiavelli is in no way some sinister, conniving advocate of tyranny as the Platonic ideal of leadership. It is a deliberately pragmatic, cynical and – in places – sarcastic analysis of what an invading/ascending Prince (used to mean leader, not in strictly royal sense) should do to retain and consolidate that power in their principalities, using years of political experience at the top of the Florentine Republic and examples from recent and ancient history to back himself up. I repeat, this is not an ideal world scenario – it is a reaction to the situation in which Machiavelli found himself in. That situation was that the Medicis had taken back Florence, after they had been booted out by a period of Republic, Machiavelli had lost his position at the top of Florentine government, been arrested and tortured and seen the Republic he had helped build turn back into a dictatorship; “the Prince” that he addresses is none other than Lorenzo de’ Medici. I think The Prince is sheer pessimistic sigh of “so this is how it’s going to work from now on, then?” If you want Machiavelli getting idealistic on us, then try Discourses on Livy.

Having said that, Machiavelli was a clever bugger. There are political leaders today which would benefit from following some of the advice, David Cameron for one would have been well-advised to have made himself more feared than liked by his back-benchers – whom, in case you don’t know, like to make trouble for him on a regular basis. (Incidentally, this puts Machiavelli against conventional wisdom of the time, which said the opposite. He reasoned that people will more easily betray someone they like, rather than someone who puts the fear of God into them). Equally, Louis XVI could have avoided the Revolution if he’d heeded Machiavelli’s advice that it is better to take the people’s side against the nobility, rather than the other way round; on the grounds that there are more of them and it is their support which gives you your authority, whereas the nobility can be taken care of relatively easily in comparison – by removing their privileges etc – and are a walking liability to the Prince.

The Prince is an extremely concise and lucid book, the translation in this edition is equally so – a quality rarely found in Renaissance classics. Yes, it is Machiavelli and not just Bondanella’s translation that’s clear; I know this because no translator, however good, has ever been able to make Tolstoy lucid. Machiavelli assumes a short attention span and accordingly gets on with it, telling his historical examples as if they were merely anecdotes to back up a point that he was making to a friend over dinner, and never dwelling on a subject longer than necessary. It’s also Italian History 101, as all of his contemporary examples link up to form the recent collective bloody history of the disparate duchies and city-states.

5 out of 5, the notes are actually invaluable, the translation’s good and the content is pretty damn sly and very well put. Old Mackers was a master of rhetoric, and likes to use my favourite rhetorical device – chiasmus – from time to time, so I’m inclined towards him on the grounds of sheer flair. All the same, a state run precisely like this book doesn’t bear a lot of  thinking about. I’m sure that’s partially the point.

Brixton Beach – Roma Tearne

Self-conscious to the point of awkward.

We follow the trials and tribulations of Alice Fonsenka and her family through political upheaval and personal tragedies in 1950’s Sri Lanka , to cold London and a struggle to find self-expression and retain cultural identity that takes us up to 7th July 2005. It’s a classic example of the current batch of post-colonial  fiction.

It was interesting to approach this from the angle of  an inhabitant of an island that rarely teaches its own history properly, never mind anyone else’s; it’s a dilemma which all writers of post-colonial fiction will face eventually – the audience’s lack of shared history. Funnily enough, the sections of the story which directly deal with the roots of civil war and the realities of the nascent  Tamil – Singhalese conflict are probably the most successful. These are the bits that ring true emotionally, whereas for the rest of the book Tearne remains largely divorced from her protagonists – as if rather apathetic to their fates, (Alice’s childhood and adult-life – most of the book – are almost non-events).  More importantly, these moments of injustice are handled casually – rather than with bombastic flourishes of righteous anger – as though Tearne is shrugging and saying: “So what? It’s not ideal, but it happens everyday”, which emphasises the cruel and casual nature of what is depicted.

The story hops uneasily between an impressionistic Sri Lanka which is portrayed as a sort of technicolour Eden with major issues left behind by the British and wet, cold and monochrome London (what British post-colonial novel is complete without a Grey Britain passage?) for the first two thirds – and suddenly creating a decidedly sunnier London for the final third in order to smash it apart during the pages which take place on 7th July 2005.

Meh… 2.5 out of 5. Some of it works quite well, the first chapter is really quite promising and some of the character-work on Alice’s mother is very well done; but the trouble is that it feels as though Tearne loses interest in the book and only decides to try to pick it up again in the final third, only to find that it is too little too late. A major problem this leads to is that Tearne doesn’t really attack anything from a new angle: Spices, colours, saris, heat, beaches, cold Britain, the struggle for integration, the inspirational teacher etc. are all very old ground now in post-colonial fiction and if you’re going to use them you need to be damned sure that you can carve a new path on old ground. I couldn’t help thinking that Brixton Beach didn’t do anything that Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things or Meera Syal’s Anita and Me didn’t do better first.

Over and out.

Shakespeare – Bill Bryson

A Shakespeare biographer that acknowledges that you can’t make any grand assumptions, – praise the Lord!

This remarkably lucid and readable biography of Shakespeare begins with Bryson telling us that the first thing you need to know about Shakespeare, is that it’s impossible to know almost anything about Shakespeare – heck it’s even impossible to say definitively what he looked like; but that doesn’t mean that we’re completely in the dark. Bryson takes us through the cogs and coils of Elizabethan and Jacobean history, pointing out precisely where Shakespeare fitted, or was reputed to have fitted, in the grand scheme of the age.

In a way, this book is as much a biography of Shakespeare academics as it is one of the man himself. For instance, the chapter on the so-called “lost years” ends up being more about the theories that academics have conjured from the air and the spectacular feats of contortionism required to make them work, rather than newly- posited theories of his own. Nevertheless, even if Bryson manages to destroy the “Shakespeare was a Yorkshire Catholic” theory with the minor matter of the fact it doesn’t fit in with the chronology of what we can definitely say about him, we as readers still end up learning lots of useful and juicy little titbits about English Catholics of this era. Later on, as relevant to the time in Shakespeare’s life, Bryson reveals more about the academics that have either theorised or bought more to light about about this shadowy figure – and a lot of them cut singularly screwed-up, tragic figures.

Whilst this is generally a very good and even-handed account of the life and times of William Shakespeare, the main problem I have with this book is that it falls into the trap of previous biographies, that Bryson avowedly wishes to avoid in the Introduction, namely that of making assumptions about the kind of man Shakespeare was based upon his writing.  To assume that Shakespeare was “kind” or “liberal-minded” or “generous” based on the work he left behind is as laughable in its presumption as one academic’s declaration that Shakespeare was crippled, based on a somewhat literal-minded approach to the sonnets. Shakespeare might have been all of the above – you never know; but doing a subject like English you must always be very careful to not mix up the author with their work. Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon, might be very good at writing serial killers and psychopaths but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he is either. This wouldn’t be such a problem, but Bryson bases some of his rejections of certain theories purely on what he has divined about Shakespeare’s character.

For the record, I too believe Shakespeare was a liberal-minded chap – like hell I can prove it without a TARDIS, though. Anyway, that aside it’s an extremely good overview of the history of Shakespearean scholarship and a great place to start if you’re studying the subject and need a starting point with Bryson’s own commentary on some theories, or to find other academics to cite in their essays. It also contains some of the best counter-arguments against  Baconism/ Oxfordism/what-a-load-of-old-balls-ism that you can hope find concisely and non-angrily put.

I’ll go with 4 out of 5 on this one. Hey, where Shakespeare is concerned nobody’s perfect – but you should at least avoid falling in the hole that you pointed out to your companion.

Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James

WARNING: THE REVIEW BELOW CONTAINS ALLUSIONS TO SEX, SEXUAL PRACTICES AND THE ODD BIT OF SWEARING. IF YOU ARE THE EASILY-OFFENDED TYPE, DON’T MOAN THAT I DIDN’T WARN YOU.

In a bizarre sort of way, it’s Twilight for the Adults Only section; more of which later, right now tradition dictates I give some sort of curiosity-rousing blurb:  Anastasia Steele  is not a happy bunny. Owing to flu, her best friend cannot interview Christian Grey – an enigmatic, domineering entrepreneur that’s self-made to the tune of a few billion dollars – for the university paper. Grey is not the kind of man who gives out interviews regularly, so the naturally gauche and clumsy Anastasia is sent to ask the questions instead; naturally, she thinks the whole thing was an unmitigated disaster and cannot wait to return to the relative obscurity of  her finals and her part-time job. But, who should turn up with an eye to getting to know our heroine better? Boris Johnson, (just kidding, just kidding – it’s the suspiciously handsome Grey). But it turns out there’s more to Grey than meets the eye, and he leads her down a path that will take her to places that she could never imagine.

Okay, so much for that. I think it’s no great secret by now that sadomasochistic sexuality makes up the body of the book; I would say “an exploration of”, but trust me – it really doesn’t go that deep. There’s a couple of OH-my-God-this-is-so-wrong-that-it’s-right moments of confusion, and that’s about it to be honest. The trouble is, for a book which features so much sex, it really isn’t sexy in the least – despite James’ infinite ingenuity about time, place, toys etc. it becomes depressingly routine and repetitive very quickly; in the words of Angela Carter it’s all “reduced to the cold white meat of the contract”, – which I wouldn’t have minded as a viewpoint, if the narrator wasn’t so desperately aiming for the erotic and failing. It doesn’t help that James very quickly creates her own linguistic clichés within the sex scenes, with repetition of Grey “finding his release”, “releasing his load” into Ana’s “sex.” This is a pet hate of mine. As a general rule, I think “sex” as a noun for female genitalia ought to be banned – as it is exceedingly precious and laughable; but I think when you’re writing a book that’s trying so hard to be revolutionary, S&M and reflects a philosophy of “fucking, not love-making”, it really, really doesn’t work. Writers, take note: Women have vaginas, cunts, man-traps – call them what you will, we have anything but “sexes”down there.

Now the people who are only interested in the sex have stopped reading, I can talk about the rest of the book. And it’s the characters, and a little bit of the setting that Twilight-fans past and present will feel a persistent twitching sense of déjà vu – because Christian Grey and Ana Steele are only slightly more grown-up versions of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. With issues on their issues. Don’t believe me? Ana and Bella are both clumsy, socially awkward, brunettes with a thing for jeans and trainers. Too circumstantial? Throw in the fact that both have a taste for “Classic British literature”, domineering men, are fancied by every man they meet (despite apparently being nothing special to look at), scrub up very well and have scatty mothers and emotionally-absent father figures and things begin to look a little suspect. Please add to this, that both Edward and Grey are control freaks with food issues, dark secrets, with stupidly rich, talented and good-looking adoptive families and suspiciously similar looks. Bear in mind that this is all set in and around the Seattle/Olympic peninsular area. It’s frankly a little insulting to realise that you are being thought of as twi-hard fodder, a way for publishers to make an extra buck out of those older teens that got an illicit thrill out of the off-page sex in the last Twilght book.

The plot works out well enough at first, not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman meets dangerously attractive man she can’t help but want to be with. Then they sleep together. And things get silly. One is under the impression that Grey is meant to be a complex, brooding, Byronic anti-hero, and that Ana is the Justine-like figure of sympathy and corruptible purity that might save him from himself; neither work out as either.  Grey ends up as a sort of tantrum-throwing Mills & Boon alpha-ape, and Ana as a rather irritating, irrational and whining figure that pipes up at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. There are a couple of tokenistic stabs at feminism, frankly James shouldn’t have bothered. The ending is left nice and open for the next book, but frankly I can predict what’s going to happen in the next two books just as easily as I could in this one. I’m not going to bother seeing if I’m right.

1 out of 5, the Marquis de Sade can rest easy in his grave as the unrivalled pornographer par excellence. You have to respect the level of research that went into this book, and the fact that someone took the time to write it, hence one point.

Over and out.

Coda: Doing a little back-up research online, it turns out that Fifty Shades of Grey began life as a Twilight fanfic. And now Fifty Shades fan-fiction has started popping up. Literature has officially started eating its own tail – Mad Book Disease will follow.

Remedia Amoris – Elizabeth Thomas

This made me chuckle,

Love, and Gout invade the idle Brain,

Bus’ness prevents the Passion, and the Pain:

Ceres, and Bacchus, envious of our Ease, 

Blow up the Flame, and heighten the Disease.

Withdraw the Fewel, and the Fire goes out;

 Hard Beds, and Fasting, cure both Love and Gout. 

  Elizabeth Thomas (1675-1731), taken from No Bliss Like This compiled by Jill Hollis.