Entertainment Weekly interviewed E.L. James about The Mister. And boy o’howdy, it’s really something else.
Entertainment Weekly: 50 Shades rather famously began as fan-fiction. Was there a particular work of pop culture or literature that inspired The Mister?
No, not really. The only inspiration I can say about this work is the hundreds of historical romances that I read over the years. […] There’s no direct inspiration. It’s a story that’s been hanging around in my head for a wee while. […]
There are a lot of gems in this interview, including James saying that she categorizes The Mister as an erotic romance because the sex scenes are descriptive and the “darkness” doesn’t come from within the characters (it’s not an erotic romance and that’s not what the definition of erotic romance is in the first place), and how she doesn’t want to be a part of conversations about on-page consent or our cultural treatment of women’s entertainment, but this was my favorite part:
Why do you think people love to hate on your work? Is there an element of they just can’t stand seeing a woman be so successful?
I think there’s an element of that yeah. I did it in my spare time, having fun, writing for myself. And I think that really pisses people off sometimes.
So, there you have it. Jealous Haters. I hereby remove The Mister from the Second Chance Book Club and rename it an emergency selection of the Jealous Haters Book Club.
The chapter opens with a “Dios mio!” No, sorry. A “Zot!” Demelssia interprets Moss’s confusion as anger. Through her eyes, we get another description of how hot Moss is:
Alessia freezes as his blazing green eyes meet her. Tall, lean, and half-naked, he towers over her. His hair is an unruly chestnut mess with gold highlights that glint beneath the chandelier in the hallway. He is as broad-shouldered as she remembers, but the tattoo on his upper arm is far more intricate than she recalls; all she can distinguish is a wing. A smattering of hair on his chest tapers down over a toned stomach. Then resumes beneath his navel and travels farther down into his jeans. The tight black denim is ripped at the knee. But it’s the hard line of his full lips and his eyes, the color of spring, in a handsome, unshaven face that make her look away.
First of all, I shared this passage with Bronwyn Green yesterday and her immediate response was, “Aidan Turner doesn’t have green eyes.” This was an incredibly on-brand remark for her to make. But here’s where I’m going to nitpick, from a craft perspective. Demelssia already knows how hot his body is. The reader already knows because we saw him through Demelssia’s POV. What we needed here was some comparison from Demelssia about how he looks awake vs. how he looks when he’s asleep. Are his eyes more intense? Is his expression harder? Does he seem so much bigger and more overwhelming when he’s standing in front of her, as opposed to when he’s lying in his bed? There’s nothing wrong with throwing in how hot a character is, but do it in a way that actually engages the reader beyond, “This guy was sexy two days ago and he’s still sexy now.”
Further proof that this little scene is there solely to remind the reader that they’re supposed to feel some sort of sexual tension between the characters with minimal authorial effort? Demelssia then thinks how attractive he is, worries he’s mad that she’s woken him up, and then worries she’ll get fired. That’s it, and we jump back into Moss’s POV. Which is a huge mistake; we haven’t hardly spent any time with her. We’ve been in Moss’s head for a while, so we can already kind of anticipate his reaction to finding her there. She can’t anticipate his reaction, therefore, her POV is going to be far more interesting and create way more tension than his.
Get out your Fifty Shades of Grey bingo cards:
Who the hell is this timid creature standing in my hallway? I’m completely bemused.
Don’t worry, all your old favorites are going to be here, I promise.
Let’s find out what Demelssia looks like:
An image from a forgotten dream developes like a Polaroid in my memory, an angel in blue hovering at my bedside. But that was days ago. Could it have been her? And now she’s here, rooted to the hallway floor, her impish face pale, her eyes downcast.
Wide eyes, the color of a fine espresso and framed by the longest lashes I’ve ever seen, look up at me, then back at the floor.
Even though I was still enjoying this book at this part, I did laugh at this. Who’s like, “Oh, that person has pretty eyes. Shit!” What is this extreme negative reaction about?
She’s at least a head shorter than me, perhaps five feet five to my six feet two. Her features are delicate: high cheekbones, an upturned nose, fair skin, pale lips. She looks like she needs a few days in the sun and a good hearty meal.
That last part is definitely something a person would say if they were a modern human being in this Year of Our Lord 2019 and not in, like, early 19th century Cornwall.
Her even white teeth chew at her upper lip as she refuses to meet my gaze.
Her upper lip? Sorry, this is all I’m seeing:
My whole body tightens in a hot, heavy rush as desire hits me like a demolition ball.
Fuck a duck!
No, you read that right. Yes, it’s in the book like that. No, I didn’t leave anything out in between those lines. Absolutely, the hero of this novel said “Fuck a duck!” because he got turned on. That is a real thing a human person wrote.
Anyway, he figures that she must be related to his cleaning lady, since she’s there, cleaning, and obviously, if she’s cleaning the house, she probably can’t speak English and I guess all immigrants apparently must be related. No shit, here’s what happens in his head:
Krystyna’s mastery of English extended to the words “yes” and “here,” which often meant lots of gesticulating on my part when I needed her to undertake tasks that went beyond her usual cleaning routine. This girl is probably Polish, too.
“I am cleaner, Mister,” she whispers, her eyes still downcast and her eyelashes fanned out above her luminous cheeks.
So, he sees a woman with a broom in her hand, assumes she’s foreign, and then she’s like, hey, let me throw some stilted English at you to confirm it. And I bring this up because we’re going to monitor her English as we go forward here. There is going to be a moment, not today, not this week, but soon, soon enough that you’ll regret it, that her speech patterns will be cause for such rage that your fury could heat the forges of a thousand dwarven mines.
Demelssia tells Moss that Krystyna went back to Poland, that Demelssia has been in England “since three weeks,” and, when prompted, that she speaks English:
“Yes. I speak English. My name is Alessia Demachi. I have been in your apartment since ten o’clock this morning.”
Wow. She really does speak English.
If you’re that impressed, Moss, wait until you hear what language you speak!
I’m skipping quite a few chunks of him talking about how entrancing her eyes are in between asking questions and getting aroused over and over. It falls into this clunky face-expletive-arousal combo that gets caught on a loop. No, seriously. Backtracking a moment:
[…]regarding me with large, liquid brown eyes. Eyes I could drown in. My mouth dries as my body comes to attention again.
Her lips are now rosy, her bottom lip plumper than her top, and she licks the upper one again.
I’m aroused once more.
He’s so confused and disturbed by his incomprehensible horniness over her that he introduces himself as Maxim instead of Trevethick or Trevelyan, then announces that he’s going to the gym. As he walks away, we jump back into Demelssia’s POV, so that we can see him walking away.
She watches the flex and pull of the muscles on his back–right down to the two dimples that show just above the waistband of his jeans. It’s a distracting sight–very distracting.
The hits keep coming. It’s [adjective]. Very [adjective].
Demelssia, still interpreting Moss’s overwhelming passion for anger, is worried she’ll be fired and then she won’t be able to play the piano. I know that some of you have said in the comments that you hate that she plays his piano because it’s unprofessional or you’d hate someone touching your instruments, which I get, but this is really something I don’t find all that egregious. Demelssia is a musician with no instrument and I understand what that temptation would be so strong that she would risk everything just to play again. And I’m happy that she has at least something she cares about that makes her seem like a person; Ana never cared about anything passionately enough to focus on it as a character trait.
Just for funsies, let’s take a minute to tally up the things we know about both our hero and our heroine at this point:
- Tall, dark, and handsome
- Newly-made earl
- Uses sex as a workout
- Uses workouts to escape his own head
- Has at least one friend, Tom
- Lost his virginity to his sister-in-law
- Loved and envied his brother
- Has a mom and a sister (this was in chapter three but I didn’t mention it)
- Plays piano, guitar, and DJs
- Is also a model and photographer
- Has a tattoo
- Can see the Thames from his apartment
- Is fleeing a horrible past
- Plays piano
- Has synesthesia
- Knows somebody named Magda
- Speaks English
- Knows were the old housekeeper went, I guess
Demelssia is basically just here to describe how hot Moss is and to worry that maybe she won’t get to play his piano anymore.
After Moss leaves, Demelssia goes to his room to clean:
She wonders why there’s a wide silk ribbon tied to the headboard but unwinds it and places it on his nightstand next to the cuffs.
Is this…is this Mrs. Jones’s origin story?
After Demelssia wonders what the cuffs are for, we whiplash back to Moss’s POV. And he’s so mad, he has to curse in threes:
Bugger. Bugger. Bugger.
He can’t stop thinking of the intriguing young woman in his apartment and his body “clenches” a lot. IDK about anyone else, but when my “body clenches” on the treadmill, it means I need to move my workout to the bathroom if you catch my drift. Maybe that’s the case with Moss, too, because he stops the treadmill and moves on to weights, where he blames his attraction to the new housekeeper on his grief and stress.
And then we’re back in Demellsia’s POV. She’s in the laundry room, doing the ironing, when she hears Moss come back and leave again. Now, everyone needs to understand something, if you’re just joining us here at Trout Nation for the first time: I am a mother of two. My son is sixteen. My daughter is ten. What happens next made my blood boil. BOIL.
Once done, she goes to check his bedroom to see if he has left it in a mess. Sure enough, his gym clothes are scattered on the floor.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
He knows she just cleaned his bedroom because earlier in the chapter he tells her she can start there. Plus, you know, he’d have come back to a clean bedroom. And he just throws his shit on the floor? Knowing that someone was just there and just cleaned it?
I’ll tell you another story. When I was a teenager, my mom used to pay a local lady to clean our house once a week. She was a short, round woman with long, dyed-red hair cut into a magnificently feathered mullet that reached her waist in the back. She enjoyed renaissance fairs and smoking Newport 100s while she cleaned. There was a tattoo on her hand. When I, all of twelve years old, asked her about the tattoo, she said, “Hell if I know! I had to have another party the next weekend just to find out how I got the damn thing!” She said this with her ever-present cigarette defying gravity on her bottom lip. The ash was at least an inch long. This woman would have, without any doubt, taken those sweaty gym clothes and crammed them into the fucking piano, then set it on fire.
That’s what Alessia should do.
But obviously, she does not. Because she wants to keep her job and she likes the piano. So, she sits down and plays it and we jump back to Moss’s POV. He’s going to lunch with his mother and his sister, Maryanne. They hug and almost cry before they get a table. And because this is an E.L. James novel, every unnamed female character must immediately make obvious her desire to spread for the hero:
“Two Bloody Marys,” I say to the hostess as she hands us each a menu and gives me a coy look, which I don’t return. She might have a fine arse and a cute smile, but I’m not in the mood to play.
I wonder what weird alternate reality E.L. James lives in where women just working their normal jobs outrageously and overtly flirt with every male in their path. This happened consistently in all the Fifty Shades books. No matter where Ana and Christian went together, a woman in tight clothing or wearing “too much” of some kind of makeup provided customer service that was a little too friendly, giving Ana a moment of triumph every time their sleazy seduction attempts failed to entice where her purity and shyness succeeded. And yes, while I usually warn against inferring things about a writer’s personality based on their fiction alone…it kind of seems like you wouldn’t want to be a pretty young woman waiting on James and her husband at a restaurant.
Oh, and like every single interaction with unnamed female characters in the service industry in the Fifty Shades series, this hostess “leaves with a disappointed pout.”
Moss’s sister has just returned from Cornwall (cue theme music) and he asks how the “Dowager” is. It’s what they call their mother, for some reason, even though she hates it. Maryanne says it’s difficult to tell what’s going on with their mother, but it seems like she’s hiding something. Maryanne, we learn, is a doctor.
She had followed her vocation, a calling that was born the day our father suffered a massive coronary and died from a heart attack. She was fifteen years old–and she wanted to save him. Our father’s death rocked each of us differently, and Kit most of all, given that he’d had to drop out of college and assume the earldom.
Maybe at this point, I’m just looking for similarities between these characters and Poldark characters, but Ross Poldark’s cousin, Verity, nurses her father after the heart attack that leaves Francis (Kit) the heir to Trenwith. This is one of those things where it would be a reach if “heart attack” and “female relative” were the only things this book had in common with the material it ripped off, but also doesn’t feel strong enough to include with all the other details, either, for fear of watering down the other similarities with accusations of nitpicking.
Their mother, Rowena, Countess of Trevethick, is a model-turned-magazine editor who jets between London and New York frequently and married the late Earl for his money and title. He loved her, she left him, the divorce caused his heart attack. There is not a lot of love between Moss and his mom as a result. I get it. She does not come off loveable or warm or motherly. When she finds out that Caroline isn’t getting anything in the will, Rowena says:
“You can’t let the poor girl starve. On the other hand, she has her trust fund, and when her father shuffles off his mortal coil, she’ll inherit a fortune. Kit chose wisely in that regard.”
Wait, Caroline already has a bunch of money? And she’s worried she’s going to be on the street because why?
Rowena suggests that Moss hire Elizabeth–sorry, I meant Caroline, obviously–to work on a housing development Kit had been overseeing when he died. Moss is like, hey, why don’t we let Caroline run her own life? And we find out that his name is actually Maximilian. So, when someone had to pick a short form of his name, rather than “Max” they went with…
There’s apparently going to be a memorial service for Kit, and Rowena wants to hire one of her staff writers to come up with a eulogy, but Maryanne offers to do it. I’m on chapter seven and this memorial hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t seem like it’s going to be happening. I’ll be shocked if this isn’t one of those weird conversations we don’t really need to see.
Finally, we get to the meat and potatoes. He tells them that Elizaline might be pregnant, and when Rowena makes a snide comment about not having grandchildren, Moss makes a snide comment right back about how young Rowena’s boyfriends are. We get the overall sense from this scene that Rowena likes to control every move the family makes, so it’ll be interesting to see how much a part of the plot she actually is.
One Kindle Search Later: This is the only time we see Rowena on the page.
Moss goes out, gets drunk, comes home, and lays on his couch thinking about Demelssia and wondering if she’s too young. Then he gets a text from Caroline with a weird comment about how if he gets married, she’ll be “the dowager.” She asks if she can come over and he lies and says he’s not alone. She accuses him of “whoring,” because terms like “dowager” and “whoring” and “wastrel” are super common in modern speech. Restless, he sits down at his piano to compose. And of course, to think of Demelssia.
The notes ring out through the room. Evocative. Melancholic. Stirring me. Inspiring me.
I am cleaner, Mister.
Yes. I speak English. My name is Alessia Demachi.
Ah, yes, the heights of passion those words would inspire in anyone. How can he contain his bittersweet lust when she whispered such sensual secrets as what her job is and that she speaks English? Love like this, fiery yet tender, can be expressed only through song.
It’s complete. I’ve written a whole piece, and I am overwhelmed with a sense of achievement. How long have I been trying to do this? And all it took was meeting my new daily.
Wow, just think of the creative heights you could reach if you hired an exterminator.
This is where the chapter ends and where I leave you, my beautiful ones, until Monday.
My impression so far: At this point, I was starting to find the story a little eye-roll worthy. Mostly because it feels like the book should have been written in Maxim’s POV alone. We don’t get anywhere near equal time in Alessia’s head, and fifty percent of the time we do spend with her, we only learn things about him. It becomes clear pretty early on here that she’s not the person James wanted to be writing about at all.