Fifty Shades Of Grey author E.L James has a new book out - our verdict on The Mister

23rd Apr 19 | Lifestyle

Can E.L James match the success of her first novel? Lauren Taylor reviews The Mister.

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Even if you didn’t read Fifty Shades Of Grey, you definitely heard about it. So what’s the author’s first novel since the trilogy that made her a household name, like?

What’s the book?

The Mister by E.L. James

And who is E.L. James?

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The author behind the phenomenally successful Fifty Shades Of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, all three of which have been turned films starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Her breakout novel sold more than 125 million copies, pegged as a ‘racy romance’ between troubled high flyer Christian Grey and shy student Anastasia Steele. Arguably, its popularity was mostly down to shock factor – everyone was talking about it – and the fact erotic fiction, in any capacity, had never really gone mainstream before.

What’s The Mister about?

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E.L. James calls her new novel “a Cinderella story for the 21st century.” But the fairy tale plot belongs in the dark ages: Wealthy, powerful man saves innocent, penniless, damsel in distress.

Maxim Trevelyan is a party boy living in one of London’s most affluent areas, Chelsea; he’s never worked a day in his life and has a different woman in his bed every night. Then his brother dies, leaving him to inherit a noble title, a huge fortune and responsibility of running the family’s expansive estates. Oh, and he’s sleeping with his brother’s wife – it’s pretty hard not to despise him.

Meanwhile 23-year-old Alessia Demachi has just arrived in London from rural northern Albania, and finds work as Maxim’s cleaner. They quickly fall for each other, but he’s keeping his newly-amassed position a secret and she’s on the run from something…

Is it anything like Fifty Shades Of Grey?

Many critics said James’ debut essentially depicted sexual violence and emotional abuse, in a controlling, manipulative relationship. Thankfully, there’s no Red Room or dodgy contracts in The Mister,  and interestingly, James addresses the issue of domestic violence in a separate relationship, perhaps a smart move after the Fifty Shades criticism.

It also delves into the issue of women’s rights in some parts of rural Albania – where an apparently patriarchal way of life still sees many arranged marriages taking place (although this portrayal has been criticised by Albania’s ambassador). There’s a more interesting backstory in the new novel too, delving into a dark corner of the black market in human trafficking, although it’s all just a handy plot device to ensure Maxim becomes the hero.

But it’s also a love letter to the landscapes of Cornwall and northern Albania, the power of music to soothe in the worst of times, and a lesson that even people who seemingly have nothing in common, can find everything in each other.

Out of 10?

The Mister by E.L.James
(Arrow Books/PA)

4 – The unattainable, complicated bad boy-turned-good is a narrative from books and films aimed at women we’ve been fed most of our lives, and, frankly, it’s getting old (also, please, they never change). Throw in that the main male character is sickeningly wealthy, and that women – even if they don’t know it – need to be financially saved and forever looked after by a man, and the fact the female protagonist is timid, doe-eyed and virginal, about to be seduced and ultimately saved by a knight (or in this case, an earl) in shining armour, and that’s a pretty troublesome cliché.

The unnecessary over-explanation about what the characters are thinking is pretty annoying, and much of the dialogue is laugh out loud cringe-worthy, but what James is adept at doing is creating suspense. You feel the tension in the build up to Maxim and Alissia’s romance – but he has all the power, so it’s inherently creepy.

If you are a fan of the author’s style though, it’s got a similar vibe to Fifty Shades – plenty of sex, minus the BDSM and blurred lines of consent. But I can’t help feel that it could be used to greater effect with a storyline that actually celebrates a woman’s power rather than diminishes it. For an author who’s supposed to be progressive and taboo-breaking, James’ characters never seem to be written from a perspective of female fantasy at all.

You’ll either get hooked on the romantic chase and suspense of it all, or be eye-rolling the entire way through.

The Mister by E.L. James is published by Arrow Books, priced £7.99. Available now. 

© Press Association 2019

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