Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James calls her new novel The Mister “a Cinderella story for the 21st century.” Book critics are calling it something else entirely. Reviews for the 512-page novel, James’s first book outside of her hugely profitable, S&M-filled Fifty Shades franchise (which itself began as Twilight fan fiction), are more painful than an afternoon in the Red Room.
The Mister tells the story of a romance between wealthy, callous British aristocrat Maxim Trevelyan (also a DJ, photographer and model) and his Albanian housecleaner Alessia Demachi, a migrant who was brought to England illegally by traffickers. Though some reviewers praised The Mister for addressing issues of consent more effectively than Fifty Shades, many saw James’s heroine as a mess of contradictions and stereotypes, her male lead as a thoroughly unappealing cad and the power dynamics in their relationship as disturbing and unbalanced. They also had choice words for James’s prose style, which often defaults to listing things, always with brand names attached.
Here, some highlights of The Mister‘s worst write-ups. (And if you’d prefer to make up your own mind, the book is now available on Amazon.)
“James retains her capacity to write sex scenes that last thousands of words in a row, but not without including turns of phrase that make you, as the reader, want to bleach your own brain. Alessia’s moan, Maxim notes, ‘is soft and husky as her head falls into the palm of my hand. It’s music to my dick.’ Later, ‘a shocked giggle bubbles up from her happy place.'” — Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic
“Where cinema gave us the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, James introduces us to the Magical Poor Dream Immigrant: an ethereal and exotic foreigner who can woo us with their cute grasp of English (Alessia calls smartphones “clever phones”) and their outstanding, natural intellectual talents (Alessia is a piano-playing savant and chess grandmaster with synaesthesia, because of course she is).
“Just as James writes sex like a 14-year-old who thinks they know how it is done (“‘Kiss me,’ she growls, her voice low and demanding. She runs her tongue over her top teeth and my body responds, my groin tightening”), she also writes about wealth like she’s not the author of a trilogy that has sold millions. Trevelyan doesn’t just have a fast car, he drives an F-type Jag. He doesn’t just have speakers, he owns a Sonos system. His bubblebath isn’t just bubblebath, it is Jo Malone bubblebath. In one scene, he even orders a double Negroni in a bar, which is definitely not a thing, but clearly something James believes sophisticated men would like.” — Sian Cain, The Guardian
“Some people are not equipped to write stories of social realism that delves into topics like domestic abuse and sex trafficking. E.L. James is to these topics what Hannibal Lecter is to vegan cookery.” — Kayleigh Donaldson, Pajiba
“You will laugh a lot during this book, and not in a good way.” – Kat Brown, iNews
“This is where The Mister stops being a daft romp and turns into something morally repugnant. ‘Sex-trafficked. F— — that was one hell of a shock… even after all she’s told me, I can’t keep my thoughts above my waist. I’m like a f—ing horny schoolboy… the truth is, I still want her and don’t my blue balls know it’ Alessia wakes screaming from a nightmare about being found by her traffickers, and Maxim’s reaction is: ‘Of course, I’d like to make her scream in a different way.’ Utterly horrible.” — Anita Singh, The Telegraph
“The sex scenes, further, are rife with lukewarm recycled clichés and vagueness (‘She tastes of warmth and grace and sweet seduction’), and what’s meant to pass for yearning is often just lazy lists of body parts.” — Dana Schwartz, Entertainment Weekly
“The worst bit? To make up for the lack of kink, E.L. James seems to have decided to use food as a handy conduit for arousal and I really wish she hadn’t. By the time we get to chapter 15 Maxim and Alessia are having feasts before they tumble into bed together. First of all it is fish pie and beer in the pub, the following evening it is a pre-sex meal of beef and prune stew before some foreplay with the pudding afterwards. Let me say one thing, I’ll never eat banoffee pie again.” — Jan Moir, The Daily Mail
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