Freed review: Finally, the Fifty Shades franchise can be put to bed

There is nothing to titillate the reader here, unless your kink is cringing so hard that your toes curl at Ana’s repeated use of the word ‘moist’

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 01 June 2021 17:10
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<p>L-R: The cover of ‘Freed’, and Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ film</p>

L-R: The cover of ‘Freed’, and Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ film

If ever there was a franchise to make a critic feel redundant, it's Fifty Shades. A decade since the release of EL James’s debut, Fifty Shades of Grey – a book that spawned countless think-pieces, parodies, a film franchise, and millions and millions of dollars – and here we are, with the final installment, Freed. What is left to say?

Freed is the third book to be told from the perspective of brooding billionaire Christian Grey, following on from the trilogy told through the eyes of the young, shy student Anastasia Steele. It is, essentially, the events of the third book in the first series, regurgitated, and spat out in James’s approximation of a “male voice”. Freed’s chapters are written as diary entries to convince you that this really is told from the perspective of an emotionally stunted businessman in his thirties.

Fifty Shades of Grey became notorious because it was supposed to be a “naughty” book. There is nothing to titillate the reader here, unless your kink is cringing so hard that your toes curl at Ana’s repeated use of the word “moist”. Her and Christian’s interactions are those of two people who have never encountered another human before. “Are you flirting, Ms Steele?” Christian asks for the 100th time. His observations of her physical appearance are creepily anatomical, rather than erotic: “Ana angles her head slightly, watching me, and I notice the rise and fall of her breasts increases as her breathing accelerates.”

This is not a book written by someone who likes their characters. James’s prose, never the best, is even more painful when she writes from the male perspective. Her attitude towards the different ways men and women think seems drawn directly from John Gray’s 1992 classic, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Christian the character continues to have a toxic attitude towards his relationship: he is possessive, jealous, controlling and coercive. He infantilises Ana, who is frequently made out to be a complete moron. Her eyes are a medical marvel. In the first chapter alone, they range through half-closed, sparkling with humour, shining with compassion and understanding, staring greedily, round with disapproval, luminous in the morning sunshine, doe-eyed, filled with the sheen of unshed tears, and impossibly large.

In 2012, Salman Rushdie admitted he had read a couple of pages of Fifty Shades of Grey on Amazon. “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published,” he said. “It made Twilight look like War and Peace.” The best thing you can say about Freed is that now, finally, the Fifty Shades franchise can be put to bed.

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