You ever wake up and find out that one of the strangers in your top ten strangers who annoy the ever-loving shit out of you is having the kind of day where an ENTIRE FUCKING COUNTRY IS MAD AT THEM?
You would think this would make me happy.
But it is so infuriating. There are a few things that I haven’t mentioned yet because we haven’t gotten to them, and they’re mentioned in the article (you have to register to read it), so I’ll just touch on two of them: remember the seatbelts? Well, she doesn’t know what a smartphone is, either. Or a credit card.
No shit, she thinks his credit card is magical.
But it’s okay. E.L. James knows what she’s talking about:
In an interview with the New York Times to mark the book’s publication, James said she did extensive research on the former Communist country, visiting twice and buying an Albanian dictionary and a book about organized crime. She added that her husband had learned to make Albanian stews.
Reader, I tried to rip my smartphone, whoops, I mean, “clever phone” in half. Imagine if someone decided to write a book set in the UK and the only research material they bought was about bad dental hygiene. I’m not so sure Erika and her mindless cult of sycophants would be pleased about that.
Watching Taken and learning how to make soup doesn’t make you qualified to write about a country. Read on for details.
We pick up chapter eight right where we left chapter seven, moving into Demelssia’s POV. She’s arriving home to find out that immigration officers came looking for her while she was at work. A neighbor intercepted them, but Alessia won’t be safe once she’s homeless again when Magda leaves.
You know what I’m a little confused about? And honestly, this isn’t something that’s necessarily wrong with the book, it’s just something I think is an odd choice. Magda is Delmessia’s mother’s pen pal (this was revealed in the last chapter), and that’s how Demelssia ended up living with her. But like, there are a lot of Albanian people in the UK. So, why send her to live with Polish immigrants? I guess I’m not getting why James made this narrative choice when Poland really didn’t need to be involved in the story at all and she could have gone to live with a friend or a sympathetic family member who speaks her language. Unless, you know. All Albanians are sex traffickers.
But surely this book couldn’t be written in such a way as to suggest that.
Anyway, Demelssia knows that if she’s caught in the country illegally, she’ll be deported. Does the UK deny asylum to human trafficking victims? I feel like they absolutely could have a policy like that, considering the attitudes toward immigrants in the UK and the attitude toward immigrants in the US are like peas in a pod.
Vhat ees dis “peas pod”? Ees how you say, wegetable?
Ugh, seriously, still so furious.
Demelssia lays awake that night, thinking about how she will barely be able to afford rent on the room she found. She does so freezingly, because she is a poor, wretched urchin.
She turns over to escape the shaft of light and snuggles up in the thin duvet to preserve as much warmth as she can. Thoughts swirl in her head, overwhelming her. She wants them to stop.
Don’t think about Albania.
What is, “thing E.L. James is probably repeating in her head this very morning?” That is correct!
Don’t think about this journey.
Your writer sure didn’t.
Don’t think about other girls…about Bleriana.
She closes her eyes and immediately she sees the Mister asleep on the sofa, his hair a mess, his lips parted.
Come on, now. She’s thinking of the other girls who were human trafficked and then immediately jumps to the sexy thoughts? Ah, the misunderstanding of trauma is as thick as a sewer fatberg.
She thinks about how she could ask the Mister for help but knows this is her own mess to get out of. She’s for sure not going back home:
He’s shaking me hard. Stop this. Stop this now.
No. Don’t think of him!
He’s the reason she’s in England. She has put as many miles as she can between them.
Think of the Mister. Only the Mister.
Her hand travels down her body.
Think only of him…
Yeah, if you’re not thinking of one man, what else are you going to think of? Something that isn’t a man? Pfff.
What had he called her? What is it called?
A cleaning lady?
Synethesia…She repeats the name over and over and over while her hand moves and takes her higher and higher.
I, too, masturbate while thinking of wacky neurological phenomenon.
In the morning, we hear about how Demelssia is going to go clean for a lonely little old lady and that most of the clothes Demelssia owns are hand-me-downs from Michal. She takes a sad shower with bad water pressure to create a parallel when we jump into Moss’s POV.
My hands are braced on the shower wall. I’m panting while steaming hot water cascades over me. I’ve been reduced to jerking off in the shower…again.
You live alone. Jerk off wherever you want. But congrats on being able to do it with no hands.
I don’t understand the attitude toward masturbation in some books. Not just this one. I’m fine with scenes of heroes and heroines masturbating while thinking of each other. It’s when masturbation is depicted as a sad alternative to sex with a partner that I get all pissed off. Masturbation is awesome. There’s no reason you have to stop doing it just because you can have sex with someone else. You can do both! It’s totally free!
Once again, he thinks about how he can’t possibly fuck her because she’s his housekeeper, but he can’t stop fantasizing about her huge underpants.
Wait, were those a hand-me-down from Michal, too? No judgment here, just wondering. I’m not a fan of second-hand underpants.
After a section break, we meet Joe and Tom, Moss’s creatively named friends. They rib Moss about not knowing whether they should refer to him as his earl name or his regular name.
Joseph Diallo andd Thomas Alexander are my oldest and closest friends.
Did James just totally forget that Elizaline is in this book? Because she’s been referred to as Moss’s closest friend for like…a while now. But there I go, futilely searching for consistency.
After I’d been expelled from Eaton, my father sent me to Bedales. There I met Joe, Tom, and Caroline. We boys bonded over our love of music and, at the time, our lust for Caroline. We formed a band, and Caroline…well, she’d eventually chosen my brother.
Maybe she didn’t like being the token sex object of your little group?
Let’s find out about Moss’s friends:
“How are you holding up, mate?” Joe asks, tossing his shoulder-length dreads to one side. Joe, as well as being an excellent swordsman, has a promising career as a men’s fashion designer. His father, an émigré from Senegal, is one of the most successful hedge-fund managers in the UK.
Red-haired and amber-eyed, Tom is the third son of a baronet, who followed family tradition by joining the army. As a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, he did a couple of tours of duty in Afghanistan and saw too many of his comrades fall. Two years ago he was invalided out of the army from wounds inflicted two years prior by an IED in Kabul.
Wow, two years ago he got wounded two years ago? That’s fucking wild.
Tom has PTSD and is described as “belligerent” and “pugnacious.” Which, you know. Okay. That happens. Not unrealistic. But it’s annoying to see someone with a common mental illness described as violent when he’s a minor character whose backstory doesn’t need to be that extensive.
On top of that, Tom is dating a woman he hasn’t proposed to yet, and this is how the situation is described:
Henrietta is a saint. She nursed Tom through the trauma of his injuries, and she put up with all of his bullshit, his PTSD, his temper. He could do a lot worse.
Excuse me. Exfuckingcuse the entire shit out of me. If someone stays with their disabled partner after they become disabled, they are not a saint. They are not owed. They do not get some kind of trophy for not running away.
It’s like E.L. James went, “Well, I fixed the consent issue. Now how am I going to be as terrible as possible? AHA! We’ll just use stereotypes about every marginalized group and praise people for dealing with them.
Moss thinks about how he can’t remember when he had sex last then there’s some stuff about how Maryanne is in lurve with a CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST IN SEATTLE. I’m really confused because James has been coy about a connection between this and Fifty Shades of Grey, but it’s kind of hard to play the maybe-they’re-connected game when you make it this obvious.
Something I might not have touched on yet is how often the phrase, “heir and a spare” comes up in the book. Nine times. Some variation of the phrase comes up nine times. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when it’s used in nearly identical context over and over again, it really sticks out. Spare is apparently some kind of cruel childhood nickname Kit came up with, too.
So, Kit, the guy who was so amazing and everyone loved him, made up a nickname taunting his brother over the fact that he was the less-important child?
Moss misses him…why?
As they leave the bar, Moss asks Tom if he can walk home and Tom is like, I’m running a 5K, and Moss is like:
I keep forgetting that physically he’s mended….
Can I just express how deeply, truly pleased I am that a sensitive subject like mental illness is being handled by a wordsmith as devoted to her craft as E.L. James? And given such importance in the story. I’m sure that our hero will learn a poignant lesson about trauma and recovery from knowing his friend and his soon to be bangette, Delmessia.
Speak of the devil, she shows up after a section break and finds that Moss has company.
Closing the door, she’s surprised by the smell. The apartment reeks of stale alcohol.
I’m honestly shocked that it hasn’t before.
Joe is there, walking around in his boxers amid a bunch of pizza boxes and empty beer bottles. Before we can find out what he’s doing there, we have to go with her to change into her work clothes. She overhears Joe and Moss talking about her.
“I just frightened your barefoot help. You tapped that yet? She’s hot.”
“Fuck off, Joe. And I’m not surprised you frightened her. Put some clothes on, you fucking exhibitionist.”
At the end of their conversation, Joe sees Demelssia watching them. And he flirts with her in the most cringe-worthy way.
“Good morning, Alessia. Please excuse my state of undress.” Joe gives her a theatrical bow, and when he’s upright, he has a wicked, amused glint in his dark eyes.
WATCH OUT, I THINK WE’VE GOT A M’LADY GUY.
Then Tom comes out in his boxer shorts and Alessia runs the hell out of there because she’s, you know, afraid of men and there are three half-naked, presumably drunk men in this apartment.
Ha ha, no. She thinks about how handsome she is and stares at his scars, giving him a chance to be the moody, disturbed veteran. Then she goes to the laundry room.
Tom asks who she is and Moss tells him she’s the daily.
Tom nods with lascivious approval. I’m glad she’s gone back into her lair, away from Tom’s and Joe’s prying eyes. Their reaction makes me uneasy. Suddenly, surprisingly, I feel proprietary. I don’t want my friends ogling her. She’s mine. Well, she’s my employee.
Their reaction makes me uneasy, too. But we need every male character in the book to uncontrollably stroke themselves off at the very sight of her, or else how would we know how beautiful she is?
Demelssia pretty much hides until the dudes leave.
His bedroom is now tidy, and she was surprised and delighted to note there were still no used condoms in the wastebasket.
Again, how is that any indication that there wasn’t some hard bareback three-way man action happening? It isn’t. So that is what I choose to believe went down. Lord knows we’re not going to get any queer rep in an E.L. James book if we don’t put it there ourselves.
So, then Demelssia gets caught sniffing Moss’s shirt out of pure erotic curiosity. And then he walks in, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
“I was looking for a sweater. It’s a bright day, but cold. Are you warm enough?” he asks.
Thanks for the weather report, Moss. Now, it’s back to Ted with sports.
He laments the state of his closet (Moss. Not Ted the sportscaster):
“I’m pathologically untidy.”
“I do not know this word.”
“Oh…um…it refers to an extreme behavior.”
“I see,” Alessia responds, and she looks down at the clothes again and nods. “Yes. Pathological.”
Look. It’s okay for people to not know words when they’re learning a language. The real problem here is that instead of asking what a word means, she sounds it out, like a perplexed child stumbling through a vocabulary lesson. It’s infantilizing and weird as it’s written, especially when it’s every single time it comes up. She could just say, “I do not know this word,” or “What is that?” and not be made to sound however she’s meant to sound here.
Anyway, Moss “accidentally” brushes up against Demelssia when he’s reaching for his sweater, she vapor locks, and he retreats.
And he caught her sniffing his shirt. She covers her face. He must think she’s a complete idiot.
Or he thinks you were trying to see if it needed washing.
Let’s check in with Moss:
I can’t keep my hands off her. Any excuse.
Leave her alone, dude.
And if I touch her, she freezes.
Yes. Leave her alone. A woman freezing up if you touch her is not a sign to keep trying.
But he’s not going to do that, obviously. He’s going to ask her to go for “a decent meal” with him. Because that isn’t a patronizing assumption. Why not just leave a trail of impressive and modern English chocolates in a trail to your dick in the hopes of enticing her. You know. Since she’s a starving urchin.
He goes to the window to gaze out upon…
[…]the Peace Pagoda[…]
My God. He might not mention the Thames by name.
He gets up the nerve to ask her out, and when he finds her, she’s looking at the door to the FORBIDDEN ROOM.
Here we go! Here comes the kink!
“It’s a darkroom,” I say as I stride toward her.
OH MY GOD I’M SO RELIEVED! MY INNER GODDESS SINGS WITH GLADNESS TO THE LORD!
But, you know. Because there are no new ideas, he asks if she wants to see his secret room. We go into her POV.
Alessia enters the small room. It glows with red light and smells of mysterious chemicals and the stale air of inactivity.
Doesn’t smell like furniture polish, is still red.
They talk about how photography is his hobby. He takes out a camera and we launch right back into his POV.
Holding up the camera to my eye, I study Alessia through the lense. She is all dark eyes, long lashes, high cheekbones, and full, parted lips.
She is an Eldritch horror, pulling herself toward me on the pulsating brushes of her lashes, her full lips parting further to speak the language of madness and cast terrible judgment from the multitudes of her dark eyes.
He tells her she’s beautiful and takes pictures of her, then shows her the picture to prove it.
“See,” I murmur. “You’re stunning.” Reaching forward, I tip up her chin and, leaning down, inching closer and closer so she has a chance to move away, I brush my lips against hers. She gasps, and as I pull back, she touches her fingers to her mouth, her eyes growing rounder.
“That’s how I feel,” I whisper, my heart pounding.
Will she slap me? Will she flee?
Does she have a choice? You’re her employer?
An etheral vision in the muted light, she tentatively raises her hand and traces my lips with her fingertips. I freeze, closing my eyes as her tender touch reverberates through my body.
This would be such an erotic, tense moment, and I truly, truly mean that, if we had any indication of chemistry between the characters and at least some semblance of a power balance.
Everything about their interactions so far have been preposterously forced. She’s afraid of him. He’s obsessed with her. They’ve only talked about casual topics like piano playing and photography. This can’t be effectively heart-stopping unless we’ve sensed a connection between them that goes beyond her cleaning his house and stealing a few glances at him and both of them masturbating at the thought of their super hot interactions involving outwear and cleaning the apartment.
But they kiss.
She tastes of warmth and grace and sweet seduction. Her tongue hesitant and faltering against mine. It’s captivating.
What, the kiss or the fact that you can’t think in complete sentences?
I have to hold myself back. I want nothing more than to bury myself in this girl–but I don’t think she’ll let me.
No, generally it might take a little more than just kissing someone out of nowhere to get them to spread. I mean, if they do, great, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation that they might not.
“What’s my name?” I murmur against her lips.
Oh god, the chemicals! Turn the vent fan on! You’re incoherent and you can’t even remember your own name!
Then immigration shows up.
No shit. Not kidding at all. She says his name all breathless and limp in the passion of his embrace, and immigration is beating on the outside door.
Through the peephole in the front door, I assess the two men outside. One is short, the other is tall, and both are dressed in cheap gray suits and black parkas. They don’t look particularly official. I pause, debating whether or not to ansswer. But I should find out why they’re here and if it’s anything to do with Alessia.
Huh. I wonder if immigration being here has anything to do with the mysterious immigrant girl who showed up at my house out of blue and doesn’t want to talk about her past and whom I pay in cash under the table, Moss thought, still reeling and confused from the chemicals.
He has a distinct Eastern European accent.
Uh-oh. I’m beginning to think these guys might not be immigration.
Moss tells them that there’s no girl there, and if they’re going to search his house, they need a warrant.
How the hell did those thugs find out that Alessia was here? Why are they chasing her? What has she done? There’s no “immigration” department. It’s called Border Force and has been for years.
Whoa, that’s a fucking superhero ass name if I ever heard one. Please, nobody tell the sentient spray tan running my country, or he’ll rename ICE.
The men leave, and Moss goes back to assure Demelssia that everything is okay.
But she has fled.
My impression so far: It astounds me how catastrophically everything went off the rails in the last two chapters. Was there some kind of editing clause where they could only ask for developmental edits on the first six chapters of the book? Because it was actually better than Fifty Shades of Grey, then suddenly it’s like, have some ableism, have some Eastern European gansters, up the hero’s creep factor, let’s just go fucking wild!
I guess I’ll just take some medication for this rage headache and move along with my day.