Hannah Dawson grits her teeth and picks up Fifty Shades Darker, the second novel in E L James’ erotic trilogy that continues to sweep the country in unprecedented hysteria. Can it really be worse than Fifty Shades of Grey? Well, yes, it can.
The follow-up to E L James’ painfully popular debut Fifty Shades of Grey is, unsurprisingly, a similar torrent of clichéd analogies for the twenty-first century relationship and picks up only five days after its prequel, thankfully, concluded. Ana Steele is now sans Christian Grey and despite the ‘purgatory’ of her post break-up state we are almost convinced that Fifty Shades Darker could even scrape from the rubble of atrocity a shard of dignity for novel and author alike.
Diligently James obliges, presenting Ana as a reformed woman independent of Grey and his torturous millions, but alas, a few pages later Ana is considering a ‘vanilla’ relationship with Christian, who attempts to sacrifice his own masochistic tendencies and are hopes are throwing themselves off a cliff. The cackle of James from her torture chamber in West London is audible all the way along the M1.
As the pair embark on their new ‘agreement’ it is evident that the author has an opaque view of what most women seek in a relationship. Ana’s lifestyle becomes infused with iPads, Blackberries, sex and choppers – a graduate lifestyle almost as unrealistic as James’ writing ambitions. This naïve young woman meets entrepreneurial millionaire scenario is predictable at best, yet the author’s inability to write an appealing male protagonist leaves him closer to Mr Hyde than Mr Darcy.
Ultimately the overall read of Fifty Shades Darker is somewhat confusing; the plot escalates at a rapid pace without very much happening and any potential at all is drowned by Ana’s by the excruciatingly embarrassing emails, italicised asides and mundane dialogue which litter the wincing pages you hold.
Proclaimed by the blurb to be both ‘romantic’ and ‘liberating’, Fifty Shades Darker falls short on every account; James’ penmanship alone ridicules any sense of female liberation and her protagonist fails to be anything but elated by Grey’s possessive claim over her. Nor can much be said for James’ attitude to romance: her interpretation of a ‘vanilla’ relationship crudely involves only a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and a rather uncompromising part of the anatomy, a romantic notion both obsolete and insulting.
It is undeniable, if perplexing, that the Fifty Shades trilogy has become a phenomenon, yet the trilogy still catapults itself into the realms of nauseating. With one instalment left to review we can only hope for a more engaging read. The only people more mortified than the critics at the moment are James’ teenage sons.
Fifty Shades Darker is available now from Arrow