According to Cinema Blend, Book Club 2 is happening. If you missed what Book Club was about, it told the story of four upper-middle-class white senior citizens (played by Mary Steenburgen, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and fervent Woody Allen supporter Diane Keaton) who spice up their boring sex lives through the life-changing magic of the scandalously hot and sexy Fifty Shades of Grey series.
Yes. That’s a whole movie. A whole movie encapsulating the worst stereotypes that surrounded the book while it dominated the zeitgeist. And somehow, there’s material for another? As the article suggests, maybe this one will be about The Mister.
While I would love to see the sequel die a quiet death in development, I would also love to see Book Club 2: Step Up To The Sheets hit the big screen before The Mister. Or instead of.
Now, since I’ve had a few comments here and on social media regarding the horrible names of the characters, while they are indeed horrible, Moss and Demelssia are not their actual character names. They’re portmanteaus of Maxim and Ross and Alessia and Demelza. The latter of both pairs are characters from Poldark, which this novel…let’s just say it pays overt homage to it.
So, let’s get into the recap.
A primal wail disturbs my dream, waking me in an instant.
I like how it’s specified here that he’s aware of who is in bed with him.
Demelssia is having a night terror and begins fighting Moss. He subdues her and she wakes.
“M…M…Maxim,” she whispers, and stops struggling.
I immediately thought of Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda.
“You’re having a bad dream. I’m here. I’ve got you.”
There’s another “I’ve got you,” right on schedule!
She calms down and goes back to sleep.
I close my eyes, one hand in her hair and the other on her back, enjoying her weight and her skin against mine. I could get used to this.
To…helping your girlfriend through frequent night terrors caused by her harrowing human trafficking ordeal that culminated in a violent attack and armed stand-off?
Okay, so it’s obvious that what’s meant here is that he could get used to snuggling Demelssia while she sleeps but this is really not the place for him to be having these thoughts. This is the part of the scene where you contemplate her lying there, trusting you completely, and you think about the terrible things she’s gone through and you wish you could erase it all from her mind, etc. This line belongs after a sex scene or something. Moss is given zero internal reaction to her waking up and screaming. It’s just, oh, she woke up from a nightmare, I’ve soothed her back to sleep, I really like cuddling her. It’s like this book might have at some point been meticulously arranged with all the pieces perfectly lined up but then someone tripped on the way to the book machine and the sentences went everywhere and they tried to stick them all back together in some kind of crude order in a desperate panic because they really couldn’t afford to lose their job.
We hop into Demelssia’s POV, where she wakes up early in the morning and takes a physical inventory of the body that got beat all to hell the day before:
Her side is a little sore, and her bruise is still tender, but she feels…good.
She was repeatedly and violently kicked and punched by a guy described as some kind of big, meaty juggernaut, but she feels great because:
No. More than good.
Hopeful. Calm. Powerful. Safe.
Because of this wonderful man asleep beside her.
Fuck Tylenol. Just rub some boyfriend on it.
She loves him. With all her heart.
And what’s more remarkable, he loves her, too. She can scarcely believe it.
He’s given her hope.
This is a heroine who ran from human traffickers and lived on the street until she could find help. This is a heroine who, knowing that she’d been caught up in a trafficking plot, encouraged other women to escape, as well, possibly saving their lives. When pursued by her kidnappers she went out a window and down a fire escape, then back up it with the thought she might somehow be able to protect her boss.
But only now is she “powerful.” Because she got the magic D.
Moss wakes and Demelssia is surprised to learn that she had a nightmare. They have a very brief conversation about it before some fade-to-black boning. This is a tender mercy because I really don’t think I can take much more of this “insert tab a into slot b” wannabe erotica anymore. After a section break, they’re all done.
And the award for most cringe-worthy sentence goes to…
She’s relishing the few moments of quiet after their passionate storm.
Jesus Christ. I had to read that with my own eyes.
Moss and Demelssia have to go back to London, so they go off to shower together and we hop back into Moss’s POV as he shaves.
The bruise on her side looks smaller, but it’s still a livid purple.
She was kicked near to pieces yesterday. Is this bitch Wolverine or something?
A wave of guilt washes through me–she certainly gave me no indication last night or this morning that she was in any pain. She gives me a dazzling smile over her shoulder, and like a sea mist in the breeze, my guilt fades into the ether.
She gave me a look that got me horny so I totally no longer care that I might have hurt her.
Moss wants to high-tail it out of Cornwall before Demelssia can be interviewed by the police. Now, I don’t know how shit works in England, I really don’t. But in America, if the police want to talk to you and you flee to intentionally evade them, that would probably hurt your case in court. Her testimony against the traffickers is like, the only evidence they have at this point that they are traffickers.
Hey, remember how this guy who’s not allowing her to speak to the police about the violent crime committed against her is the one making her feel “powerful?” Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
I do get that she’s in the country illegally and he’s afraid she’ll be deported, but this motive doesn’t fly with me. Moss is the Earl of this village or whatever. He’s known the police sergeant there his whole life and appears to be able to throw some authority around in dealing with him. Moss also has a ton of money that he can use to fast track Demelssia’s case for asylum. Not allowing her to talk to the police “for her own good” is probably hurting her chance to get justice for herself and the other women. And again, not knowing how shit works in England, it does seem like there would be some kind of law enforcement agency above and beyond the local village police who would be automatically called in, right? Here, the FBI would probably step in and investigate and hopefully seek the full cooperation of the Albanian government. One would hope.
It will be a shame to go. I’m enjoying our comfortable familiarity, and I marvel at the change in her. She seems far more confident, and it’s only been a few days.
Losing your virginity tends to make you a “real” woman in these types of stories.
Her newfound confidence is sexy as hell.
Yet again, focusing on the wrong thing here, Erika. The implication is that her sexual awakening is causing this change when really it should be that the knowledge her kidnappers are behind bars has freed her up to maybe be closer to the person she was before her ordeal. Her empty vagina was not the reason she was timid. It was the, you know. HUMAN TRAFFICKING.
In the car, they listen to Rachmaninoff, and this is the scene where the chapter should have begun. We already knew Demelssia has night terrors, so another scene of another night terror did nothing to advance the story. We already know they bang like timpani drums, so the fade-to-black fucking did nothing to advance the story. Moss watching Demelssia towel herself off after a shower and telling her where she could find a bag to pack her clothes was excruciatingly unnecessary because it revealed no information we didn’t already have, couldn’t have been introduced later or was completely unnecessary for the story to progress. The chapter should have begun with the first lines of this section:
Alessia is animated on our drive back to London. We talk and laugh and talk some more–she has the most infectious giggle.
This shows us that her mood is different, especially if it had been expanded on a little. It would have been far more effective than the long block paragraphs of text we got in the last section, in which Moss told us that she was more confident and different because she walked around naked now. Plus, it immediately would have dropped us into the part of the story where something was happening.
While they drive, Moss tells Demelssia about the movie Brief Encounter, mentioning that it’s one of his mother’s favorite films. Demelssia asks Moss about his mother. He explains that he doesn’t have a great relationship with her and that she had basically abandoned her family when he was young. And Demelssia reacts with shock at the idea of a woman leaving her family but again, wouldn’t it have been so much better if Demelssia had learned all of this through actually meeting his mother and observing how cold she is?
Ugh, this book had so much potential and it was just wasted for a copy/paste of Fifty Shades of Poldark.
When they stop for gas, Demelssia freaks out and clings to him until it’s time to go inside and pay. Real question here, not a condemnation or criticism of this trivial detail in the book, I just genuinely want to know: is pay-at-the-pump not a thing in England?
Anyway, while they’re standing in line to pay for the gas:
“It was my mother’s idea,” she blurts, quickly, quietly. “She thought she was helping me.” It takes me a couple of seconds to realize what she’s referring to.
Bloody hell. She’s telling me this story now? A frisson runs up my spine. Why now? I have to pay for my petrol. “Hold that thought.” I raise my index finger and hand the shop assistant my credit card. His eyes shift to Alessia, several times.
Man, she is so out of your league.
Hold that thought about how you ended up getting trafficked and brutally traumatized. I have to make it clear to the reader that you’re sexually desirable to other men while reiterating that I own you.
Like, that whole little moment there is so callous. He already knows that she doesn’t like gas stations because of her journey to England and her flight from her kidnappers. She’s having a response to her trauma because she’s been triggered by her surroundings. And rather than compassion, he expresses irritation at her bad timing.
Sorry her PTSD isn’t running on your schedule, bro.
As we climb back into the Jag, I wonder why she picks service stations and car parks for her revelations.
She…she told you in chapter ten exactly why. She straight up said, in dialogue addressed specifically to you, that they brought her and the other women to a service station to clean up.
Moss drives them to the edge of the parking lot so they can talk more.
Alessia stares out at the leafless trees in front of us and nods. “My betrothed. He is a violent man. One day…” Her voice falters.
My heart sinks. It is as I feared.
What the fuck did he do to her?
Demelssia tells Moss that her “betrothed” is upset by the attention she gets from playing the piano.
“He hits me. And he wants to break my fingers.”
She looks down at her hands. Her precious hands. She cups one with the other, holding it tenderly.
This is actually really good on a few levels. She’s not only faced with the loss of her freedom and safety from physical abuse, she’s faced with losing the only escape route she would have in her marriage. It’s not a copy of or lifted from The Piano, but I can’t help but compare the themes. When Ada’s husband flies into a rage over her infidelity, he takes out his frustration on her hands to sever not her ties to the man she’s sleeping with but her relationship with music, the relationship that’s truly threatening him. I mean, spoilers for a movie that came out in 1993 or something but I am a sucker for slow, character-driven drama and that shit is up there with The VVitch in terms of satisfying tone and pacing.
What was I talking about?
Oh, right. So, it’s the same kind of thing here. Demelssia’s “betrothed” (what a pretentious and archaic word choice) is threatened by her true love, music. And wouldn’t it be great if that got explored in here? I hate to get my hopes up but that would be a really interesting dynamic if she was allowed to love music more than or as much as she loves Maxim. That could be part of the glue that holds them together. They’re both in love with the same thing?
Full disclosure, I am incredibly high on my medical right now.
Demelssia tells him about the other girls who were in the truck with her.
“[…] One of them has…I mean–is only seventeen years.”
I gasp. Shocked. So young.
Well, I got some terrible news for you, Shatner.
She tells him about how they were robbed and put into a truck with a bucket for a toilet and a bottle of water apiece.
“It’s okay. I’m here. I’ve got you. I want to know.”
She turns dark, devastated eyes to me. “Do you?”
“Yes. But only if you want to tell me.”
Her eyes move over my face, scrutinizing me. Exposing me, like the first time in my hallway.
Why do I want to know?
Because I love her.
Because she’s the sum of all of her experiences, and this, sadly, is one of them.
Here’s another part that’s really working for me. We have already seen, through a combination of his actions and the author outright telling us, that Demelssia is different from any woman he’s ever met. This is a place where it’s important for us to be told instead of shown and for once, James chose correctly. In Moss’s POV, we’re seeing him have a revelation that he needs to be consciously aware of in order to grow emotionally.
And maybe that’s one of the biggest issues with E.L. James’s style. By doing more telling than showing in first-person POV, her characters become hyper-self-aware filters for her ideas and hooks, instead of fleshed out human beings. When a first-person narrator is able to analyze their own changing character and state these changes certainly at every turn without some kind of revelation, it unintentionally makes everything a revelation, and the actual big, revelatory moments become indistinguishable from everything else.
Demelssia explains that she’s afraid of the dark because the truck was on a ferry on rough seas and the women all had bags over their heads to prevent immigration officers from measuring too much carbon dioxide in the vehicle. This sounds far-fetched, but it’s a real thing. Moss thinks that he regrets not killing the traffickers–okay, weirdly, he fixates on regretting he didn’t kill just Dante–and tells Demelssia that it’s not her fault, or her mother’s fault, that she was kidnapped. He asks her what her “betrothed’s” name is.
I spit the word out. I loathe him.
I mean, you should probably loathe just having to use the word “betrothed” in conversation.
She shakes her head. “I never say his name.”
“Like Voldemort,” I mutter under my breath.
“You know Harry Potter?”
“Oh, yes. My grandmother–”
“Don’t tell me, she smuggled the books into Albania?”
…She wouldn’t have had to smuggle them. Have you not been listening to the days-long history lesson your girlfriend has been teaching you? Communism ended in the ’90s.
Alessia laughs. “No. She had them sent to her. By Magda. My mother read them to me as a child. In English.”
Why? Harry Potter was translated into so many different languages you can’t really even find an entire list of them. Believe me, I scoured the internet to be petty. But Albanian was one of them. Why did her grandma have to get them in English? Unless it’s like, she got them in English because they came out ahead of the translations. But even so, like…ugh, it’s the little shit like this that gets me. Harry Potter was a worldwide phenomenon. It would be weird if she didn’t know about it.
More perplexing is that Demelssia goes on to explain that her abusive father doesn’t like them to speak English in the home. So…why are we having to do the mental gymnastics to make that work? Nobody really needs to explain how they know what Harry Potter is. At this point, we all just do.
They listen to music and ride along without talking while Moss thinks about how he needs to protect her from her “betrothed” and get her immigration worked out and then:
I smirk as we pass the junction for Maidenhead, and shake my head, amused by my own idiocy. I’m embracing my inner twelve-year-old boy. I glance at Alessia, but she hasn’t noticed. She’s deep in through, tapping her finger against her lips.
“His name is Anatoli. Anatoli Thaçi,” she says.
So, he’s driving along like, ha ha, I devirginized a girl, while she’s been like, maybe I should tell him this painful thing.
“You decided to tell me?”
“Because he has more power without a name.”
That’s…the exact opposite of how Voldemort’s name worked but I get it, Snowqueen. You can’t be totally devoted to both Harry Potter and Twilight at the same level, you know?
Demelssia tells Moss that Anatoli is some kind of gangster and that her father owes him a lot of money, so basically, she’s been sold to him in marriage to settle that debt. Because of course, he’s a gangster. In E.L. James’s world, all Albanians are either gangsters or rustic peasants from the nineteenth century.
I’m going to transcribe this entire next section:
I pull the F-Type up outside the office, and Oliver comes out to greet me and hand over new keys for my flat.
“This is my girlfriend, Alessia Demachi.” I lean back, and Oliver reaches through the car window to shake Alessia’s hand.
“How do you do,” he says. “I’m sorry we’re not meeting under better circumstances.” He gives her a warm smile.
Her answering smile is dazzling.
“I hope you’ve recovered from your ordeal.”
“Thanks for sorting all this out,” I say. “I’ll see you in the office tomorrow.” He gives me a wave and I ease the Jag into the traffic.
That’s it. That’s an entire scene. There is no point to this scene. There is no reason we needed to see any of this, as the average reader isn’t going to wonder if he got new keys or where they came from. The only reason this scene is forced in is so that Demelssia can meet Oliver, which could have happened at some other point if it ends up being absolutely vital the plot, and so that she can issue dazzling smile number two of this chapter.
And frankly, if I were someone whose biggest career achievement to date is ripping of Twilight and shamelessly claiming it for their own, I probably wouldn’t toss around the word “dazzle” too much.
They get to the apartment and jump into Demelssia’s POV, where she and Moss start making out in the elevator because why not retread all that old ground. The doors open and Mrs. B is standing there, so Moss introduces them and they chat about the burglary and then, I get the shock of my life:
“I don’t know how old you are.”
He laughs. “Old enough to know better.”
She frowns while Maxim unlocks the front door.
THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN SOME FUCKING AMAZING INFORMATION TO HAVE WHEN THE BOOK STARTED BECAUSE SO FAR I’VE BEEN PICTURING HIM LATE-THIRTIES AND WONDERING WHY HE’S ACTING LIKE A DUDE IN HIS TWENTIES.
It’s fully normal for someone who is in their late twenties to freak out over being handed responsibility. I was in my late twenties once and it sucked because it was still impossible to figure out how to be an adult. Now he’s got this whole deal going on? I thought he was my age or a little younger and an incurable man-brat. It’s not weird for a twenty-eight-year-old to be dabbling in a bunch of rootless pursuits. He’s practically a baby!
They go into the apartment and Moss gives Demelssia a set of keys
“Welcome home.” He bends to kiss her, his lips coaxing hers. She groans as she responds, and they lose themselves in each other.
and then we hop back into Moss’s POV:
Alessia screams as she climaxes. It’s a cock-hardening sound. Her fingers are clenched around the sheets. Her head tossed back. Her mouth open. I kiss her clitoris as she writhes beneath me, then her belly, her navel, her stomach, and her sternum as she mewls, and taking her cries into my mouth, I ease into her.
That’s the entire sex scene. Fade to black, jump into the middle, fade to black. Why did we need that? What was the point of this micro-scene? It’s super jarring when it pops up and it’s really short. I do not understand like seventy-percent of the choices made in this novel.
So, after a section break, they’re post-coital in bed when Caroline calls. Moss tells Demelssia he has to go to Trenwith to see Elizabeth–sorry, I mean, he has to go see Caroline. Demelssia offers to cook them dinner. The hook of the chapter is…
I don’t tell her that I’m dreading this meeting.
My impression so far: There were two whole moments in this chapter that weren’t high-grade failure fuel. That’s better than the last few chapters have been. But you can probably guess that his meeting with Caroline is going to be the impetus for Alessia to make some rash thought leaps down the line.