Book Review: The Boss, by Abigail Barnett. 50 Shades with less abuse, more fun

We all understand the reasons to hate 50 shades of grey, right? It idolizes a relationship that is abusive to a mind-blowing extent, both physically and emotionally, and does so under cover of BDSM. The fact that Christian Grey’s behaviour can be seen as socially acceptable, even romantic, deeply unsettles both the kinkster and the feminist in me.

Many people have said the same, more eloquently, and at greater length. My favourite is by Cliff of Pervocracy, whose on-blog readthrough began with humour, but turned into sheer horror as she realised the depth of abuse in 50 shades.

Abigail Barnett has taken a different tack. Her novel The Boss is, among other things, a riposte to the nightmare that is 50 shades. She has taken the same setup: a young woman starts a kinky relationship with an older man, powerful and unimaginably rich. But in Barnett’s hands this is a sane, consensual relationship. They talk. They negotiate. They deal with the power imbalance in their lives, with their commitments to other people, with their plans for the future. And — anathema to EL James — they actually enjoy each other’s company, joking and chatting and generally having fun. It’s a rare romance — let alone a kinky romance — that you can read without constantly running up against misogynist assumptions. The Boss manages it, though, and it’s a joy to sink into comfort reading without the constant need to mentally rewrite the rapey bits.

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