Thursday, 27 September 2012

50 shades of Grey... Sexy or cringy, liberating or demoralising?

Well, I suppose it seems fitting that I move from a young adult fiction to a VERY adult fan fiction of a young adult fiction series.

Now, I have tried to numerous times to write this blog, as let's be honest it's quite personal, so I am drinking several disgustingly strong margaritas and going for it!

I believe it is crucial for me to begin by discussing the inspiration of this novel, Twilight, which I have not read. Now I have read around twilight to have a good enough impression of it. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have strong objections to twilight, because it is telling a generation of young girls that this obsessive, controlling kind of love is ok, that 'real love' is tortuous and pained and intense-- NO, no it's not! However where 50 shades differ here is the target audience, adult women, who can differentiate between fiction and reality. Perhaps I will read Twilight (or Twishite as I fondly know it) as I do believe that it is wrong for me to be so disparaging of a book I have not read!

So let's begin! It is certainly clear that James wrote this series with a thesaurus at hand, or at least 'right click=> synonyms' as the vocabulary is often strange and disjointed, in addition there are certain words that she fixates on, ‘mercurial’, being a prime example. In addition there is an extended metaphor throughout of 'the inner goddess and subconscious' which truth be told is heavily tedious. So when reading 50 shades you really do have to except it for what it is, fan fiction; which, typical of it's genre is not particularly well written, actual it's pretty poor- but this adds to the hilarity of the series. I can’t deny I heavily enjoyed reading this series primarily because I found it really funny in a way that it was not intended to be!

The subject matter of the series has been pretty contentious, some argue that it is a novel of sexual liberation, others argue it is abusive. Truth be told I have not made up my mind. Now to claim that BDSM is wrong or abusive is a heavily reductive view of BDSM, however these novels don't necessarily show a representative view of BDSM, it is an extreme, but then it is fiction. The idea of someone who, until very recently, was a virgin and to launch them into such an extreme ‘whips and chains’ relationship is truth be told, ridiculous. The novels display a power struggle between Christian and Ana, it initially seems that Christian has all the power, but actually it really is Anastasia. Christian's love is absolute and he would do anything for her, so Christian too has to compromise, not just Ana, Ana changes him and heals him from his difficult and disturbing past, yet Ana does submit, she does end up in a relationship and does often allow him to control her. Ana is a very submissive character it seems, initially she is controlled by her roommate Kate and then by Christian, however it is all consensual and all on her own terms which in itself is pretty liberating.

Let’s get to the sex. Is it a turn on? In part yes it is! I can’t help but admit that—however as it progresses it becomes somewhat arduous and repetitive and I found myself skipping through the sex scenes. As someone who considers herself a feminist I still don’t think there is anything wrong with enjoying submission if that is what one enjoys- no one should feel ashamed by their own sexual desire, even if that is to be submissive, as long as it is confined to the bedroom! Is it realistic? NO, no man can have sex so many times in immediate succession, and no women do not orgasm on demand, however real sex, with awkward moments, awkward noises and often clumsy position change etc is, quite sadly, not really conducive to a bestselling novel, erotica is clean, sanitised and sans embarrassing moments and noises, but let’s be honest they are selling a fantasy, where a man can ejaculate 5 times a night and woman can orgasm on demand every single time she has sex.
Now the punishment, the very idea of a man punishing his woman when she does something that he deems unacceptable seems barbaric. Yet this is consensual and seemingly enjoyed by both parties so let’s not confuse a woman who enjoys being spanked with someone who is genuinely being subjected to systematic domestic abuse. The physical punishment within the series is actually and surprisingly pretty mild, it is generally only spanking, something that may feature in many non BDSM or ‘vanilla’ relationships so as a result it is very appealing to a vast amount of women who would perhaps be put off by a more instance form of BDSM, it only branches into the more extreme on maybe 2 occasions, both of which are addressed with seriousness and is deeply analysed.

Now, it must be said, I enjoyed this novel immensely not just because it is a turn on, but actually because it is hilarious, often for the wrong reasons, the appalling writing, and tenuous metaphors and hysterically funny euphemisms for ones genitals. Perhaps my favourite quote is ‘you should see what I can do with a whip or a cat’ I hope she means a cat-o- nine tails. But who could know?!
I did thoroughly enjoy the story, which is a very old one, it truly is Pamela, or Jane Eyre with whips and chains, in every sense of the story. It follows a young virtuous woman who falls for an older, more worldly and salacious man. Like Pamela, Ana signs a contract agreeing to so things according to her ‘masters’ wishes, yet much more like Jane, Ana in fact demands things on her own terms and by the conclusion is actually the master and the person who holds all the power.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy- The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay

Again, I feel the need to stress the reason why I chose to avoid reading this literary phenomenon for so long was purely, and shamefully, down to snobbery. The Hunger Games has been in and out of headlines and triumphed within its niche audience and would certainly be considered much too low brow for serious literary commentary. But then surely we should not allow elitism to cloud our enjoyment of reading and indeed some of what we now consider to be the greatest literature of our time was originally sneered at as low-brow.

Like many, after viewing the film version, (which was pretty good though not a patch on the books) I really did become obsessed with the story. The trilogy is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian view of a potential future in America which is now known as Panem, where children are forced to fight to the death to pay for their ancestor’s crimes. We are shown a nation under the iron clad grip of the ruling power named ‘The Capitol’ which controls the remainder of the country which has been divided into twelve poverty stricken districts, who act as a work force to fuel the hedonistic lives of the capitol's populace while they themselves starve. The premise of the hunger games themselves is simple, each district sends a male and female ‘Tribute’ between the age of twelve and eighteen to fight to the death in a massive outdoor arena as part of this televised annual contest which serves to entertain the population of the capitol and instil terror into the districts to prevent any further rebellion.

This novel is a first person narrative from the perspective of our heroine, sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen who is from the poorest district, district 12. Katniss is a strong and compelling narrator, though is often completely frustrating due to her stunted emotional capacity. Due to the horrors of the world she has grown up in she buries her feeling deep down, so deep that she does not recognise them herself, she only openly loves her sister Primrose and there are no lengths that she won’t go to in order to protect her. Ever since her father's death she has become a talented hunter and has excellent control of the bow and arrow in order to prevent her family from starving and keep food on the table,this overwhelming responsibility means that aside from Prim she has little understanding of her own thoughts and feelings. In the second book, Catching Fire she tells another character ‘I’m an open book...Everybody seems to know my secrets before I know them myself’ this, I feel, is critical to understanding Katniss and is perhaps the thing that is most compelling about her. Due to this intimate view into our protagonist’s mind, reading these books is extremely easy. I am a person who hates beginning books, I am always impatient to be in the heart of the action, this book is perfect in this sense and is extremely readable and very accessible, and I guess this is the major benefit of Collins’ target market.

The first book in the series The Hunger Games, focuses primarily on Katniss’ hunger games experience and it raises questions on morality and identity. Indeed a central theme of the book is highlighted by Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ fellow tribute who says ‘I want to die as myself...I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not...Only I keep wishing I could think of a way show the capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than a piece in their games’ though it takes Katniss a long time to understand this sentiment, this, I feel is intrinsic to the understanding of the trilogy. The characters search for identity and autonomy in a world where they are far from free and are heavily controlled by one propaganda machine or another. Catching Fire and Mockingjay, follow this theme in further depth and further explore this big brother society and the effects that years of brutal repression have on the people living in it.

The question of Katniss’ identity is addressed constantly throughout, with the deliciously intriguing love triangle of Katniss, Peeta and Katniss’ oldest friend and Gale Hawthorn, Peeta is seemingly honest, loyal and absolutely decent, strong, stable and absolutely brave whereas Gale is much darker, bitter and full of fury and hatred at the capitol’s tyrannical rule and absolutely fearless, and absolutely devoted to Katniss and her family—they seem to impersonate the duplicity of Katniss’ character and it’s a triangle that keeps you enraptured to the very last chapter.
The Hunger Games is a powerful and brutal take on the nature of humanity, it explores corruption, totalitarianism and death, grief and depression. It explores how far you can push a human’s limits and shake a person’s core through both physical and emotional torture before they are broken, beyond this it explores the task, and indeed questions, whether it is possible, to reconstruct a person once they have been broken.

I would urge anyone to read these books and experience it for themselves. To say I was addicted is an understatement, I was all consumed and it really did make me question my outlook on life, as geeky as that does sound. The Hunger Games is a much more raw and brutal young adult series that I have experienced before, Collins resists society’s expectation to have everything wrapped up with a neat bow to have everything put neatly in place. The beauty of this series is in the way in which it depicts the imperfection of human experience, it is raw and rough around the edges and the characters are all in their own way deeply flawed. It is deeply sentimental at times, but yet it is without the cheesy notions that Hollywood has us accustomed to and throughout the series we discover that little in life is black and white, right or wrong- we as readers have to come to terms with this as much as the characters do themselves.

I appreciate that this review might be a little rough around the edges as it is the first of its kind that I've done and I would really appreciate your honest and open feedback- I welcome any questions too!! I also would like to take any suggestions for future reviews!


S x

Saturday, 30 June 2012

A move into book reviews.

Now, I appreciate as bloggers go, I'm pretty poor. Indeed it would be a self indulgent stretch for me to put myself into this category due to my complete lack of regular publication and, more to the point, my utter lack of purpose. This I think really ought to change.

I have come to the decision that a year on from my graduation where I gained my degree in English, that I should return to my subject and once again engulf my self within literature. You see, following my graduation I have been on a sort of literary hiatus, where I have aimlessly wandered from book to book, starting and never finishing, not committing myself to any novel. The main source of my problem was not knowing where to begin, I briefly entertained the idea of going back and reading all the books that I was supposed to have read across my degree, but quickly realised that this was never going to happen and these books remain with their perfect uncreased spine on my book shelf. I then tried to read books that I have heard heard to be great, real classics that have gained true posterity but I have found reading these was laboured, quite without enjoyment as I didn't have the true interest in them to keep me reading until the end.

The salvation of my literary famine was found in the very aptly titled, but rather unusual guise of a book written for the 'young adult', something, that I am somewhat ashamed to say, I would have avoided at all costs due to my acquired literary snobbery, but after viewing the film version I became absolutely obsessed with the story that would keep me riveted, which I obsessively devoured across the course of 3 days, all consumed in form of absolute literary gluttony, Suzanne Collin's trilogy, The Hunger Games.

I appreciate this might seem a somewhat unorthodox choice and I assure you, I will not allow myself to only read literature aimed at teenagers, but I will not allow myself to be restrained by the stigma of what has been ordained as literary. Do watch this space for my review of the book that, I am unashamed to say, truly reawakened my love for literature, it will follow shortly.