Chapter one sets the stage for all the wonders to come. We meet Anastasia Steele who is clumsy, unconfident, an English major in college, and definitely, totally not involved with vampires in Seattle. Ana graciously stands in for her best friend and roommate Katherine Kavanagh, editor of the school newspaper, who was supposed to conduct an interview with local business tycoon Christian Grey (who is definitely not a vampire) but has fallen ill. Poorly explained sparks fly during Ana’s incredibly awkward and strange interview with Christian Grey—look, Ana still refers to him with his full name, so I feel like I fucking have to as well until she stops—who has the personality consistency of jelly. It can change shape, but it’s sort of solid and definitely, completely mysterious. He’s incredibly sexy, sometimes super cold, sometimes gives hints of warm smiles, and is also very hot with piercing grey eyes or some bullshit. Wait, fuck, I almost forgot to mention he is an Adonis, the most attractive man Ana has ever seen, and also very attractive. His pants sometimes hang loosely off his hips, it’s all very titillating.
There’s a strong emphasis on the fact that Christian Grey seems to be a bit of a hairist when it comes to hiring; all of his secretaries are blonde. Hang on, readers, Ana is a brunette. Will this create conflict in the future? One can only assume so.
We also start to see that Christian Grey is a bit of a control freak, and from what I know of the book and the sexual dynamic between Ana and Christian Grey it makes sense that this is introduced really quickly. Personally, I think it would have been nice if it was more show than tell, or if we had slowly discovered it as she kept interacting with Christian Grey. But, no, all characteristics are established immediately (except for the size of Christian Grey’s penis, which I have a sneaking suspicion is going to be very large). Ana is totally lame but also very sexy to everyone in the world around her. Basically the embodiment of One Direction’s song “Beautiful”. Christian Grey is everything any woman in a romance novel wants in a man. He is rich, confident, mysterious, persistent, super hot, blah blah blah. And he’d never love a girl like Ana, or could he?!
Ana is not at all prepared for this interview, and even though she’s reading questions that Katherine wrote, she freaks out over asking Christian Grey whether or not he’s gay. Because this rhymes, and my motto in life has always been, “if it rhymes it must be true”, I have a feeling that this is crucial to the story, especially since while writing this post I read a couple more chapters and Ana still won’t stop reminding us how embarrassed she was about this question. In all seriousness, this question was just a way for us to learn Christian Grey is never photographed out with any women. SO HE’S SINGLE?!?! Ladies, get in line, please calm down.
The chapter ends with Christian Grey helping Ana put on her jacket as she leaves his office. This gives Ana a huge, throbbing lady-boner. Man, I gotta go take a cold shower after that one!
One paragraph in and I could see the Twilight parallels already—the first person narrative gives us intensely dull and overly descriptive details about Bella Swan Anastasia Steele…brushing her hair. “I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up.” This was something that bothered me in the Twilight series as well! I got so sick of Bella rolling to her right side to long for Edward, then rolling to her left side to long for Edward, then slowly lifting herself out of bed to go in search of a glass of water. It all got to be too much. Then we have Christian Grey who is really Edward Cullen. He’s cold, immediately obsessed with the main character but trying desperately to resist it, and Ana/Bella is insanely attracted to him even though she never ever is interested in anyone ever or vice versa.
Something that will never cease to frustrate me about writing is awkward and unnecessary attention to detail. Slipping in Ana’s description of herself feels so forced. She may as well have opened the book with, “My name’s Anastasia Steele. I’m twenty one years old. I have brown hair, I’m pale and have really big eyes, like Kristin Stewart! I like books but only the ones that cliché English majors like because I don’t know how to have any opinions of my own. Speaking of which, my only wish is to find a man who is extremely gorgeous and controls my every action. Damn, I’m a spaz! I fall on my face a lot and think I’m super unattractive, but within two chapters you’ll already hear about the various, attractive men whose affections I don’t return.”
As I type this blog post with my tiny, baby-like hands, I roll my eyes with exasperation, annoyance, and contempt, but also a hint of amusement. It’s always very important to specify what kind of eye-rolling you’re doing, or else how will the reader be able to properly visualize the scene? Nice attention to detail, James. I now gaze at my words appraisingly with judgmental, unblinking green eyes, wondering what is going to happen on the next episode of The Big C that I have loading in another tab. Whoops, sorry, drifted off there into too-much detail land where nobody belongs.
My other big issue is the constant shifts in diction. In a way I think this book would have been a lot better in the third person. I could have gotten to know Ana in a more interesting way, and perhaps liked her a little more, if I had some perspective on her. And if James wanted to get in Ana’s head and use the italicized thoughts, it would have made more sense to shift into a close third and take on her voice. Then the shifts in diction would make a little more sense. From the narrator we’d have a slightly more formal diction, and from Ana we’d get the more conversational language.
I also think I’d be able to better judge James’ writing abilities. When it comes to the confusion of what a subconscious is, which will come up a little bit more in my post about chapter 2, I can’t tell if James doesn’t understand what it is, or if it’s Anastasia that doesn’t quite get it. If it’s the latter, then that’s an interesting and realistic portrayal of a person who is operating under a misconception, it happens, but I really think it’s an authorial issue, and it’s fucking stupid. A subconscious doesn’t speak to you, that’s the little voice in the back of your head that is still very much YOU. You can wonder if subconsciously you feel a certain way, but the whole point is that it’s going on underneath the surface.
When I mentioned in our introductory post that a friend of mine told me this book made her “google things”, I’m well aware she was referring to the various sex acts that I know are to come, but this book made me google sandstone. That’s right, fucking sandstone, because I don’t know what the hell it is, but apparently it’s worth mentioning about four times in two pages. Maybe this is some sort of foreshadowing and Christian Grey’s penis is also made of sandstone, because this whole building seems to be one big, gigantic metaphor for his penis. Dear God, what have I gotten myself into? Oh, yeah, to answer your burning question it’s, “a clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.” Cool. Thanks, Wikipedia.
“Damn her extracurricular activities!”
“Surely it’s obvious I’m just visiting. I don’t fit in here at all. Nothing changes.” Wait, what? We haven’t been given enough information about Ana for this to make any sense at all. Nothing about her really indicates a lack of fitting in.
“It’s a stunning vista, and I’m momentarily paralyzed by the view. Wow.” Sometimes the italicized thoughts just crack me up with how unnecessary they are. We’re already in Ana’s head, those were already her thoughts, and the wow is not really anything deeper or more revealing than what preceded it.
“To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a colossal glass-and-stone edifice.” Show of hands if you’d rather be doing anything besides “sitting twitching nervously”. She may as well have said she’d rather curl up and read a book than get her face smashed into a brick wall.
Chapter 2, here I come!