No news (as this book has pretty much dropped off the edge of the planet despite staying on the bestseller lists), but a content warning for more domestic violence than usual for an E.L. James book.
Pardon the slowing of the pace with these posts, by the way. I’m still performing in The Wizard of Oz and trying to meet some other deadlines.
The chapter opens in Moss’s POV, where Caroline is like, wtf is happening.
“I think the woman I want to marry has just been kidnapped.”
“Marry?” Caroline blanches.
I believe what you meant was, “Kidnapped?” because that’s the more interesting part of Moss’s sentence.
Obviously, Caroline takes this poorly but sucks up her hurt feelings with ice queen reserve.
“Well, you’d better go after her, then,” she says.
We bop over to Demelssia’s POV
Alessia stares unseeing out the car window, drowning in tears she cannot stop. They flow freely as grief shrouds her misery.
Maxim and Caroline.
Caroline and Maxim.
Max and Ruby! Ruby and Max! Max and Ruby! Ruby and Max!
Was what she experienced with him all a lie?
No! She can’t bring herself to think that.
Like, even the characters are resisting this plot point because it’s so flimsy and unconvincing.
“Here. Dry your eyes. Enough of this nonsense, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
So, there’s this thing about idioms. “I’ll give you something to cry about,” is a common phrase in English but that doesn’t mean it’s common or would even have the same meaning in another language. Which is really hard, by the way, when you’re a writer trying to write people talking in a foreign language but using English. So, this is just a heads up to watch out for that when you’re writing because it jolted me out of the story when I wondered, “Huh, is that an Albanian saying, too?”
She knows that she will die at his hands.
And there’s nothing she can do.
Maybe she can escape. In Europe. Maybe she can choose how she dies….She closes her eyes and drifts into her own version of hell.
Right there with you. Because we know there are things you can do. Your author just isn’t willing to let you do them. She’ll tell us all about how brave and resourceful you are but when the chips are down, you have to be rescued or else you won’t fulfill the romantic ideals of her or her Chock-Full-O-Internalized-Misogyny readers.
Back in Moss’s POV, his sense of urgency is put on hold to argue with Caroline, who is still like, yeah, go after her, BUT.
“Maxim, this note doesn’t read like she’s been kidnapped. Have you thought that maybe she’s decided to go home?”
“Caro, she did not leave of her own free will. Trust me.”
Like, a further explanation would have probably been a good idea, since “Caro” has no knowledge of the human trafficking or the fact that this is the second kidnapping in as many days.
“I don’t have a working fucking computer!”
Moss not having a computer is apparently this huge, tense point standing in his way of rescuing Demelssia. But a phone would do basically everything a computer does, unless he’s looking to photoshop a missing person poster or something. The tension here is like overcooked spaghetti.
Anatoli tells Demelssia that he needs her passport and she’s like, yeah, I don’t have one because I was human trafficked.
“Smuggled? Men?” His jaw clenches and a muscle twitches in his cheek. “What is going on?”
She’s too tired and broken to explain.
The author is on too tight a deadline for her character to explain.
So, at least we know that Anatoli isn’t behind the human trafficking. I was half-expecting that to be the case even though it wouldn’t have made any sense with him not knowing that she was leaving Albania in the first place. I ran out of faith that James wouldn’t just toss that in without regard for what she’d already written.
There’s a section break and Anatoli is waking Demelssia up.
“Get out of the car,” he says. Alessia stares at him, and a small blossom of hope flowers in her chest.
He’s going to leave her here. She can walk back. She’s done it once before.
Yes, Demelssia. He came all the way to London to drive you out to the country and drop you off.
Taking her hand, he hauls her out of her seat and leads her to the back of the car, where he opens the trunk. It’s empty but for a small rolling suitcase and her duffel.
“You’ll have to get in here.”
He tells her they have no other choice if they want to get onto the train to go under the Channel. She tells him that she’s afraid of the dark but he shuts her in, anyway.
She starts to kick and scream as the darkness bleeds into her lungs, suffocating her like the black plastic bag from the last time she crossed the Channel.
She can’t breathe. She can’t breathe. She screams.
Not the dark. No. Not the dark. I hate the dark.
Seconds later the lid pops open and a blinding light shines in her face. “Here. Take this.” Anatoli hands her a flashlight. “I don’t know how long the battery will last. But we have no choice. Once we are on the train, I can open the trunk.”
That would be a real dumb idea, considering that someone is gonna definitely see you do that, but okay. He also gives her a blanket.
In her head she begins to play Bach’s Prelude no. 6 in D Minor on repeat–the colors flashing brilliant hues of bright blue and turquoise in her mind–her fingers flexing, tapping out each note on the flashlight.
There’s a second break and Demelssia is waking up again, conveniently having slept through her best option to escape. Mercedes have an emergency release in the trunk. Failing that, she could have screamed and shouted when they went through customs. Customs officers tend to notice shit like someone screaming and pounding on the trunk. But it’s easier to have your character fall asleep and miss this stuff than it would be to write it and give your heroine any agency. After all, how will the author show off her intensive research of Albania if we never go there?
“What took you so long to wake up? I thought you were unconscious!” He sounds relieved.
I mean…she was unconscious. And why wouldn’t he be relieved to find out that she’s not dead? He came back to get her because he wants to marry her, not murder her. Yes, he probably will at some point kill her in a domestic violence incident but other than that he probably wouldn’t be psyched to drive back to Albania with a corpse in his trunk.
Anyway, he’s taken her to a hotel in the middle of nowhere in France.
“Follow me.” He walks toward the entrance. Alessia quietly sets her bag on the ground, turns, and runs.
So, she does finally try to get away but at the most inconvenient and stupid time. She’s been asleep in the trunk of a car for like, a long ass time. The train under the Channel takes like a half hour but when I went it felt like we waited in line to get through the border checks and actually onto the train itself forever, plus they’ve driven even further to get to this totally isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere. Running is not going to be her strong suit. But you know what she could do at literally any point here?
Ask someone. If you’re not willing to make noise and raise a ruckus and let law enforcement know you’re being kidnapped, at the very, very least slip a note to someone saying you’ve been trafficked. Because not having a passport and being carted around in the trunk of the car is going to make Anatoli look extremely suspicious and they are probably not going to let him leave with you in tow like a fucking lamp that had to be inspected for heroin.
In Moss’s POV, he’s somehow overcome the hurdle of his computer not working.
Tomorrow I’ll fly to Albania, and Tom Alexander will accompany me. Annoyingly, it’s too-short notice for a private jet, so we’re flying commercial.
Ugh, don’t you hate when you have to forsake luxury on your journey to rescue the woman you love?
Thanks to Magda, we have the address of Alessia’s parents. It’s also thanks to Magda that Alessia’s fiancé found her. I don’t dwell on this information because it makes me incandescent with fury.
No, you don’t dwell on this information because the author knows it doesn’t make sense for Magda to betray her friend’s daughter and she figures if she glosses past it or makes it just not matter to the characters, it’s not really a plot hole.
We’ll pick up a car, drive to Tirana, and overnight there at the Plaza hotel. Tom has arranged for us to meet up with a translator who will come with us to Kukës the following day.
And we’ll stay there for however long it takes. We’ll wait for Alessia and her kidnapper.
Why are you driving to Tirana? The only commercial flights I could find from London into Albania went to Tirana. And why spend the night, if there’s this huge sense of urgency? They’re making this trip way longer than necessary. They’re flying out in the morning, it’s about a three-hour flight, then it would be about another three hours in the car and they’re there. There’s no reason for it to take multiple days to get to Kukës from London if you’re traveling by air.
Not for the first time this evening, I wish I’d bought her that phone. It’s so frustrating not being able to contact her.
Yeah, too bad you didn’t buy that phone. Her abusive “betrothed” would definitely let her take your calls. Oh, and he wouldn’t beat the shit out of her if you called, either. He’s totally cool with men paying attention to her.
I hope she’s okay.
I close my eyes, imagining horrible scenarios.
My sweet girl.
My sweet, sweet Alessia.
I’m coming to get you. I’ve got you.
I love you.
This intensity of like, he’s imagining horrible scenarios, etc. made me realize something really awful. He left her alone for a couple hours twice and both times she got kidnapped. Which means this is going to be used to justify him never leaving her side ever again or pulling a Christian Grey and having her surveilled at all times.
Jumping to Demelssia’s POV, she’s running.
Behind her she hears a shout. It’s him. She hears his footsteps pounding on the frozen ground. Getting closer.
Is he getting closer?
He’s on the grass.
She pushes herself harder, hoping that her feet will carry her away from him. But he grabs her, and she’s falling. Falling.
Is she falling?
Anatoli lies on top of her back, panting heavily. “You stupid bitch. Where the hell do you think you’re going to go at this time?”
That’s what I was saying, Anatoli! Why now? When there’s nobody to notice her plight or help her?
He slaps her and strangles her.
She doesn’t struggle.
She stares at him. Her eyes on his. In their frigid blue, she sees the darkness of his heart. His hate. His anger. His inadequacy. His hand tightens, and he’s choking the life from her. Her head begins to swim. She reaches up and clutches his arm.
This is how I am going to die….
She sees her end. Here. Somehwere in France at the hands of this violent man. She wants it. She welcomes it. She doesn’t want to live a life in fear, like her mother. “Kill me,” she mouths.
Our brave, clever heroine who is so brave and clever passed up her best chance for escape, tries to escape again in the stupidest way possible, then is like, eh, I give up.
But knowing she wants to die makes Anatoli release her and he tells her:
“‘A woman is a sack, made to endure,'” he snarls, with a cruel glint in his eye.
Demelssia knows where the saying comes from:
He is quoting from the ancient Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, the primitive feudal code that governed the mountain tribes in the north and east of her country for centuries. Its legacy lingers.
And I’m still sitting here wondering how Demelssia’s mom got caught up in all of that. This code thing is absolutely real and there are a shit-ton of deaths attributed to blood feuds and whatnot after the fall of communism caused a resurgence of these beliefs. But again, her grandmother came to Albania from the West, as a missionary during communism. Okay, so she’s Christian, and yes, Christian missionaries do often influence the locals in shitty ways like going, “Hey, you know how your country used to have these horrible fucking rules back in the middle ages? You should do those again and kill all the disobedient sluts and the gays!” Sure, Nana is probably pretty traditional. But she snuck in English books, including the Harry Potter ones, which is like an absolute no-no for hardcore Christians. She just doesn’t seem like a woman who would have been like, “You know what would be great? If we went back to feudal codes of honor and my daughter just rolled with it and raised my granddaughter that way despite the values I tried to instill in both of them.” Sure, there are reasons this could have happened, but they haven’t been provided and they don’t jibe with what we have seen on the page, anyway. Why is that?
Because James is only interested in showing Albanian people in a negative light. We hear about how wonderful English Grandmama was, but her Albanian-born daughter is apparently forced into a marriage with a monster of an Albanian guy who beats his wife and kids and sells them in marriage. The only people from Albania whom we have heard are not some kind of terrible person are the one who wasn’t born there and the one who wants to run away from there because it’s horrible. We hear a lot about beautiful mountains but the people themselves are portrayed as backward peasants and violent criminals, and the most in-depth research that seems to have been done is all on the most negative aspects of the culture.
But it’s cool. Erika’s husband knows how to make Albanian soup.
Anatoli takes her inside and they get a suite. He tells her to go get cleaned up and then casually threatens to rape her.
Her eyes meet his, and he smirks. “Ah, carissima, I should make you mine after the stunt you pulled outside.” He reaches for her chin and she flinches as his fingers graze her skin.
Don’t touch me.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmurs, as if he’s speaking only to himself. “But I don’t have the energy to fight you. And I think it would be a fight. Yes?”
Then, he tells her she’ll eventually love him and she thinks no, she’ll only ever love Maxim. Anatoli tries to get her to take her clothes off, figuring she won’t run if she’s naked. Honestly, she won’t run at all. She has to wait for the hero to arrive and rescue her.
I’m going to skip a lot of the dialogue between the two of them because it’s all Anatoli threatening her and then being like, eh, I’m too tired to carry out my threats. They get into bed with Demelssia fully dressed and he puts his arm around her, warning that he’ll know if she tries to get up.
Alessia stares into the darkness she fears and wishes it would swallow her up. Her tears refuse to fall. She’s all cried out.
What is Maxim doing?
Is he missing me?
Is he with Caroline?
She sees Caroline in Maxim’s arms as he holds her close, and Alessia wants to scream.
So, she’s laying there, not thinking about escaping because her heart is just so broken by seeing Moss hugging someone. She just wants to die.
So brave. So strong. So clever.
After a section break, she wakes up and hears Anatoli talking on the phone to her father. He’s upset because he doesn’t know what happened with Moss or why she left Albania in the first place.
“Yes. I will bring her back to you. I will make sure she’s unharmed.”
Demelssia thinks about how that’s a lie, but honestly, would a man who beats the shit out of his daughter not just consider routine DV injuries “unharmed” anyway?
Anatoli tells Demelssia that they’re going to leave and at first, she defies him until he mentions her mother.
If Magda was the one who told her parents where she was…wouldn’t her father and Anatoli already have figured out that her mom knew where she was? Since Magda is her mom’s very bestest friend? Why didn’t the thought of her mother’s safety come up earlier?
Demelssia goes to take a shower and finally, her fucking brain starts working again.
She has her money. Maybe she should return to Ablania. She can get a new passport–and a visa–and return to England.
Maybe I should stay alive.
She will get back to Maxim. And see for herself. See if everything they shared was a lie.
Oh good. Her primary motivation is not to escape a violent man and gain her freedom. That would have made her seem. You know. Strong and brave and all the shit we’ve been outright told she is. Glad that can be avoided.
My Impression So Far: I wouldn’t be so pissed off about the number of times she’s had a chance to escape if we hadn’t heard over and over about how courageous and resourceful Alessia is. Is her freezing-up reaction realistic for a victim of trauma? Sure. But this is fiction and this is a character we’ve seen react bravely before. She ran back to the apartment thinking she would protect Maxim when the traffickers came to his house. She managed to survive on her own to escape them. Yes, she can be traumatized but let’s note that the only reason she stopped fighting for herself was that Maxim took over protecting her. That’s the point in the story where she becomes weak and cowering. That’s the point where she can no longer take care of herself. And that’s what makes her characterization so maddeningly inconsistent.
The fiancé plotline is bizarre, as well. There’s absolutely no reason for it to be there beyond creating a reason for Maxim to be able to rescue her again. It’s unnecessary in the extreme and it only makes the backstory with the grandma and the uber-traditional family seem even more inconsistent. Let’s look at the plot point-by-point on her side:
- Alessia is going to be married to an abusive man.
- She was sold to him by her abusive father.
- Her mother sent her away to escape the abuse.
- During Alessia’s escape, she is trafficked.
- She escapes the traffickers and goes to live with Magda, who is aware of the fiancé situation.
- The traffickers follow Alessia
- Maxim protects her and she eventually fesses up about the traffickers.
- The traffickers try to kidnap her and are apprehended.
- But Magda rats her out for no motive that’s been presented so far.
- The fiancé shows up and kidnaps her.
But consider how this could have been written, which would have avoided all the inconsistencies and unexplained motives that are driving me up a fucking wall:
- Alessia is a student at the university (because she was written that way in the book already).
- She answers an ad for au pairs or whatever.
- It’s a trafficking scam.
- She escapes the traffickers and finds Magda, who is unaware of the trafficking situation.
- Alessia is afraid her family is in danger because the traffickers have her address on her passport.
- The traffickers follow Alessia.
- Maxim protects her and she eventually fesses up about the traffickers.
- The traffickers try to kidnap her and are apprehended.
- Alessia wants to stay with Maxim but realizes that she has to go to Albania to protect her family, so she leaves him.
- He goes after her and they manage to take down the whole big trafficking ring.
The book still has the trafficking plot. It can still unroll exactly as it already has. It just doesn’t have the tacked on fiancé or the strange disconnect between the grandma and the medieval blood-feud code thing. It doesn’t have Alessia’s only ally turning on her for reasons that aren’t explained and which we’re directly told won’t be examined in the text because it just makes the hero so ding-dang angry.
But you know why the book couldn’t go that way?
Because it would have given Alessia agency. And that’s not the audience that’s being written for here.