by E. L. James
Oh, E. L. James, you tease. Given what I suspect fans of the first story would expect when sampling the second––you know, basically some degree of kinky sex around every turn––the author held back this time. Oh sure, the tale is basically about two people humping non-stop, but James stepped away from the kinkery, hinting at it multiple times, but abruptly taking it away, to the disappointment of Anastasia Steele and, presumably, most of James’ fan base.
Of course, I can’t say I really find myself within this fan base. If, like me, you read a story hoping to find maybe … a story, then you will find yourself frequently bored senseless with this sequel, as well as the original. The actual plot is paper-thin; assuming no major change of this formula with the third, I suspect all three could have been compressed into one book, much, much smaller than any of them currently stand. (The first three-hundred or so pages of Darker seem to be written in real-time: They get hungry, so they have to go out and order food, then eat it, then tour their new location just so we can really appreciate just how wealthy Grey, in fact, is. Then, I suppose, more sex?)
Assuming tedious padding isn’t a deal-breaker for you, the author has plenty of other tricks up her sleeve to scare you away from this story. James proves, through prose, that you don’t necessarily require difficult words to impede understanding; just construct sentences awkwardly, making me read them several times to actually understand what she’s talking about. If that’s not enough, conversations don’t make who is speaking readily apparent, conversations often so cumbersome that it doesn’t sound like real people talking. And don’t even get me started on the author’s repetition. It’s not just a problem with single words – although, if I hear that Grey is “mercurial” once more, I’ll probably rip out my hair – but “plot” points, if we can be so generous to call them such. (If a character has to say, “I already explained this to you,” after describing something for the umpteenth time, don’t you think you should just omit that passage?)
But, we shouldn’t be reading this expecting accolades from literary types, let alone expecting something to happen, no; we’re here for all the steamy sex. And this book doesn’t disappoint on that front, so long as you’re looking for quantity over quality. The sex scenes are, thankfully, over as soon as they start. I originally thought that Christian should seek therapy for his premature ejaculation, but Ana orgasms on command, so it’s not actually premature, they’re just efficient. That’s wonderful! With such speed, they can accomplish so much in their day, despite all this humping, but, no, because that’s all they ever do, besides argue.
Perhaps, I’m being a bit too hard on the author, because I really think that a lot of the problems can be attributed to lack of experience. The pacing issue that plagues the most intimate moments seems to be present all throughout, with James taking a very short time describing situations and feelings it could have been refreshing to draw out a bit more and wasting words on tedious description or repeated dialogue. But, I do have to give James a little credit for making an honest attempt at channeling her inner F. Scott Fitzgerald in describing the extreme excess of such lavish parties and massive sailboats that Grey’s exceptional wealth brings with him. Where Fitzgerald succeeds, however, James falls flat, perhaps due to a lack of writing experience, or maybe because she’s too far-removed from the people and the culture she’s attempting to describe. Or maybe it’s because Fitzgerald looked upon the culture with derision, while James sees it as a dream come true.
And, perhaps, that’s the source of my major struggle with this book. It’s the strangest case of self-insert power fantasy that I don’t relate to in the slightest and, as such, struggle immensely to comprehend. I suppose being desired by a rich, powerful man––inasmuch as he comes across as what a teen would think a rich, powerful man would be like––is enough to excuse a general lack of plot, atrocious prose, terrible pacing, and laughable dialogue, but it honestly doesn’t make me want to read the third.