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Fifty Shades Darker & Fifty Shades Freed - Book Review

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by Katie Thompson (subscribe)
University of York Graduate, aspiring to be a journalist with dreams of one day publishing my own novel. Blog: twotwothompson.wordpress.com/ Published work can be seen at www.theyorker.co.uk and www.yorkvision.co.uk
Published August 23rd 2012
The cynic's guide to the Fifty Shades sequels


You've heard the hype and you've managed to put your handcuffs down and take time out to read the novel that's sweeping entire nations: Fifty Shades of Grey. But have you read the other two? Following the rather anti-climactic end of the first novel, which saw the inevitable split between protagonists Anastacia and Christian, it's questionable as to whether or not readers would bother with the subsequent chapters of the series. My incentive however was pure frustration, an emotion which would continue to plague me throughout Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, but more on that later.

Fifty Shades Darker begins where Fifty Shades of Grey left off, with Anastacia Steele a quivering wreck from her spanking-induced split from the lustful Christian. Of course, there wouldn't be a novel without (spoiler alert) a spectacular reconciliation between the troubled lovers, and so ensues a deeper and darker exploration of their relationship and the secrets behind Mr Grey's control-freak fetishes. Fifty Shades Darker benefits not so much from narrative as it does character development; in an epic but slightly melodramatic scene we see Christian on his knees, as his aforementioned submissives in the first novel would have done, confessing his true darkness and reasons behind his desires - of course, it's oh-so-cliché - he had an abusive childhood.

Far from the completely unrealistic construction of Christian's character and the slightly annoying, adolescent tone of Ana's, there is a welcome introduction of some new characters - Leila, for one, who adds some narrative spice to an otherwise lacklustre plot in the form of an ex-submissive stalker storyline. Jack Hyde, for two, Ana's perverted and controlling boss, makes for a predictable but necessary villain. There's also a deeper insight into the elusive Mrs Robinson, Christian's ex-dom, business partner and friend, and more importantly, Ana's all-time enemy, an addition which reaches a hilarious crescendo in the form of a wine-over-the-face spat between the two women.

The same narrative devices from Fifty Shades 1 are present throughout 2 and 3; back again are the puerile emails, and Christian is still putting real human beings to shame with his seemingly unstoppable ability to have sex, and then have more and more sex. The latter of which, of course, is still flawless; it would have been a welcome change just once to see the pair have a mediocre sexual encounter, but sadly, the closest EL James comes to that is when Christian holds off giving Ana the release she needs in some sort of twisted fetish play. Said fetish play, by the way, is severely lacking in this chapter of the series. Potentially a bad move on Miss James' part, then, as the very premise and taboo of the first book, which indeed made it the bestselling novel of all time, has suddenly transformed into a sickly sweet series of 'love-making' sessions which can only be called, as our copper-haired lothario puts it, 'vanilla.'

Thus the only real climax in this novel is the tussle between Ana and her boss, Jack Hyde, who manages to get himself the sack after trying to sexually assault her and failing miserably. James cleverly makes the encounter seem irrelevant, however, as she overshadows it with the ensuing progressive milestones in Christian and Ana's relationship, (have I said too much?) choosing subsequently to end the novel far more satisfactorily than the first, with Hyde swearing an oath of revenge upon the two lovers.

So begins Fifty Shades Freed, and one can't help but feel that this addition to the series was rushed out in order to bring a happy-ever-after to the couple while the books were still popular. Lacking even more so in plot than the first, the third instalment really suffers from timescale issues. Indeed, the pair have succeeded in having a lifetime's worth of relationship milestones and personal dramas within what appears to be a little over three months. In one instance, in a particularly poor effort to fill space, we are even subjected to pages and pages of juvenile emails between the two, with the only indicator of the passage of days being the time stamp next to the subject of each soppy love-memo.

What's most frustrating about Fifty Shades 3 however is that it has so much potential to be exciting- Christian finds himself in all sorts of sticky situations at the hands of some unknown enemy; there's a fire, a helicopter crash and even a kidnapping. However, every time things start to appear a little bit exciting, we're back to another ten pages of (now mind-numbingly dull) sex scenes, a plot device which happens so often, it's almost like an ongoing cruel metaphor for the stopping of foreplay at the brink of orgasm.

Having got to know the majority of the characters in the second novel, Fifty Shades 3 doesn't even benefit from character-development, asides from delving into antagonist Jack Hyde's shady past. What's more, the novel seems so rushed it even suffers from editing issues, notably when Jack Hyde is mistakenly referred to as Jack Smith, though I'm willing to bet that any issues in editing would have been wiped out in the printed version, as opposed to my cheap Kindle copy. It's not all doom and gloom, however, and the novel does perk up every now and then with brief comic moments; a flashback to a pubic-hair shaving incident does manage to raise a smile, for instance.

After all manner of coitus-interruptus-laced drama, climaxing with an uncharacteristically thrilling kidnapping, the final revelation between the two is information which I'm choosing to withhold for now, for fear of giving too much away already. Those who became easily bored however with James' efforts to fill the third instalment with page upon page of monotonous sex scenes, can skip to the epilogue to find out the big final secret.

Having now read the entire trilogy, I can safely say that the final two books do little more than introduce new characters. While they are integral to the plot to some degree, they're not enough to deter from the fact that the Fifty Shades series, is, as E.L James puts it herself, a love story. A love story which had the potential to be thought-provoking with the psychology behind Mr Grey's sadomasochistic tendencies, but instead, fell into the trap of cliché upon cliché, the most annoying of which without a doubt had to be the other two antagonists of the series, Miss Steele's subconscious and her rather unwelcome inner goddess. Couple this with the repetition of certain saccharine-sweet phrases such as 'I love him so' and you have all the ingredients you need for an adolescent romantic novel rather than a worldwide bestseller.

I'd like to think I'm no cynic when it comes to romance and do truly want to believe in the all-enduring love that Ana and Christian experience, but it saddens me to think that these novels could outsell the imaginative genius of J.K Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But then again, I suppose, in 2012, it's the literary equivalent of One Direction outselling the Beatles. In sum then, I do suggest you read the Fifty Shades sequels, but only so you can say you have, for, just like the recreational drugs that these books are, you can believe the hype and try them out, but inevitably, you won't get the high you were looking for.
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Why? To see if the second two match up to the fuss of the first!
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Thankyou thankyou thankyou!!!!! I thought I was the only female on the planet that felt this way about these books. I must admit I pushed myself to finish the first book Fifty Shades of Grey and that was torture. I thought I was going to be arrested by the Fifty Shades of Grey police (other married females) for not loving this book or for finding myself hot and bothered at the end of every sex scene. Perhaps the upcoming movie will change my mind. I can only hope...its lonely being an outsider :)
by cathe (score: 0|2) 2243 days ago
Boring to the max
by Vicki (score: 0|2) 2242 days ago
Thank God for you ladies! The females where I work gushed over the first one and implored me to read it. I found it boring and repetitive. Won't bother with the next two :(
by barry (score: 0|2) 2242 days ago
Total agreement. I sat amongst women sprouting tales of wild sex in the bedroom... I concluded that these women must have a less than average sex life in the first place. Only bonus of these books is the ONE guy whose shy and timid partner ventures out of her 'missionary' sex to indulge in some 'vanilla'. Couldn't get rid of the books quick enough. Thank goodness I'm not alone...
by anico (score: 0|2) 2242 days ago
As one who has reluctantly dipped into Book 1 but not finished it, like the friend who lent it to me, I'm not sure why you, who cite very good reasons for NOT doing so, encourage readers to endure books 2 and 3?
But I'm grateful there is someone who is prepared to spoil the plot so no reasons are left to go ahead and suffer the other two.
Off to read some real literature now!
by eliza (score: 1|23) 2242 days ago
Mmm, glad to get an opinion on all 3. Have read first book ans was bored to tears. Bored with the inane emails to each other, with hiim calling her "baby", she saying "jeez". Nothing about it was interesting - the pages of requirements in christian's Contract i ended up skipping, the sex was repetitious, hardly "titillating" or way out, the storyline was lacklustre, and i thought they were boring characters. I really don't think i could cope with another 2 books, but will think on it due to your advice.
by e_law (score: 2|416) 2238 days ago
I like everyone else who has commented, found the first book difficult to stomach. When I forced myself to finish it, I came to the conclusion that this was not a book written for women, it was a book written for men. I have never met any woman who was as much an ideal (in mens eyes) woman as Ana. If only we all experiences such earth shattering sex as she does with the minimum amount of effort that Christian seems to apply. Most inane comments in the whole book that supports my theory was when Christian is in raptures over the fact that Ana has not "gag reflex". I will not bother to read either of the other two books.
by jenba (score: 0|5) 2236 days ago
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