Twilight (Review)

December 30, 2009

Book cover for "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer.Title: Twilight

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Publication Year: 2005

Pages: 512

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Source: Borrowed from my younger sister; plan to purchase

I never thought that I’d actually read these books, but it would seem that somewhere along the line, I lost that bet.

Last year, when I was teaching grade nine English, there was an independent book report assignment where the students had to select their own novel and have it approved before continuing the assignment. As I was explaining the assignment to my three classes, each time I had to give them examples of what was appropriate and what was not. And, each time, I had to let them know about my one and only absolutely condition – no Twilight.

As I had expected, I always also had to explain my reasoning for this, because the announcement was always followed by a loud (but distinctly feminine) communal groan and at least one student insisting to know why not. My answer was simple:

  1. The movie version had just come out a month or so earlier, and since I hadn’t read the books – and wasn’t planning on it, or on seeing the film – I wouldn’t be able to tell if they had actually read it, or if they just went to see it.
  2. Most of the people who would have wanted to read it would have already read it, which wouldn’t make it a “new” book for them to read, which they were supposed to be doing.
  3. From what I’d heard about the storyline, characters, and themes (particularly the Christian/Mormon abstinence message), I wasn’t inclined to promote them to read it.

There was actually a girl in one of my classes who got up and walked out at that point. I had to talk her into returning a few minutes later. Also, in response to a complaint that I was “only banning a girl book”, I ended up disallowing the Harry Potter books as well to even things out. (That also made my job easier, since I haven’t read those, either.)

My little sisters read the whole series when it came out, including going to one of the midnight sales at least once at the local Chapters. Even though I’ve always been in love with vampire stories, I had never let them talk me into it, and the more I heard about the novels, the less I wanted to read them.

That is, until my visit to Ottawa a few weeks ago.

While I was there, one of my friends wrote about “the trouble with Twilight“. Since I hadn’t really read much about the series beyond a few short articles and what people had told me, I read the blog post, and then started going through the links. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in years. It was also rather hilarious to hear one of our other friends keep repeating “vampires should not sparkle!” over and over again, something about which I had apparently never been told.

The final straw, though, was reading this blog post about why Breaking Dawn (the last book of the series) should be turned into a movie. Among the other fabulously amusing plot points that this post talks about, it includes this gem:

In a moment that demands to be shown on the silver screen, Edward gives Bella an emergency C-section with his fucking teeth.

It was at that point that I decided that I must read this series, if only to be able to get to that part.

A few weeks later, my youngest sister was coming to visit, so I asked her if I could borrow her copies of the books. She brought along Twilight, as well as the movie, telling me that if I finished the first one, I could borrow the remainder. We spent a couple hours one evening watching the movie (along with our own running commentary tearing it apart – even she doesn’t like it), and I started reading the book on the Monday after taking her back home. I was finished before Wednesday night without even trying, and brought it home to exchange with the other books on Thursday during Christmas with the family.

So what did I think of it after all of the hype and what I’d already heard about it? To be honest, it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be.

Yes, I know, I’ve got to have lost my mind.

It has some good points and some bad points, though. Let’s start with the good. The plot itself, if you strip it away from all of the angst and teenage romantic drama, is actually fairly decent; there’s a backbone of something there. By the end of the novel, there’s actually been some movement, she’s set up the mythology of her vampires, and there’s been some fighting going on between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. It was also a very quick read, because if nothing else, it does tend to propel you along and want to find out what happens next.

On the flip side, though, there are reasons why it’s such a fast read, as well as reasons why the main demographic for the series is teenage girls.

The characters are basically not fleshed out very well on the whole. Bella has absolutely no defining traits besides her constant klutziness, and there’s also not much about Edward except for his beauty. That would be fine, except that it means that there’s really no reason given for them to fall in love with each other. How is a series of four books – over 2000 pages! – supposed to revolve around a romance that doesn’t have a solid basis for existence? It’s entirely possible, though, that this is the appeal. As another review points out, it’s as though Bella has been created purposely lacking in detail, so that readers can put themselves into her place.

In a way, the two are ideally suited to each other: Her insipidity is the counterpart to his flawlessness. Neither of them has much personality to speak of.

It’s very obvious, after reading this book, why so many teenage girls love the series. They can put themselves into it, in the place of the unpopular, clumsy, awkward girl, allowing themselves to live out their fantasies of being loved by the hottest, coolest boy in school. They aren’t threatened by anything – Bella is plain enough that she’s easily replaced in their minds, Edward is the strong, handsome man who can sweep a girl off her feet and take care of her, and there’s no sex scenes to differentiate between their lives and the life they can have vicariously through the book. It’s the creation of a whole new genre – abstinence porn – and it definitely works, as the success of the series can attest.

As many bloggers, critics, and other writers have already pointed out, another weak point of the novel is that Meyer’s writing simply isn’t that good. This makes the story more accessible in some ways, because it draws you into the plot more than into the writing, and it means that you don’t have to be a brilliant reader to get into them. It also means, though, that the books are generally never going to be taken more seriously than as a teen fad. Another result of the writing style is that it makes the big words stand out more when she decides to use them. There were more than a few instances where I actually had to read a sentence again in bewilderment, and then moved on thinking that she had thrown a word in there just to prove that she could. (Or, in some cases, where it took me a few minutes to realize that the reason I was shaking my head was that she had used a word – like “smoulder” – improperly, or simply too repetitively.) For someone who has a degree in English literature, I would have expected more from her.

Finally, there are so many comments to be made about the anti-feminism in this novel that I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll probably tackle that in one of my upcoming reviews on the remainder of the series, since it’s a theme that definitely comes up over and over again.

All in all, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It was entertaining and fun, but by no means a great book. For my intended purpose (relaxation during the winter break) it suited just fine, and it would probably be equally as good for things like beach reading. But definitely don’t go looking for a great piece of vampire canon: Meyer does not compare in any way with Rice or Stoker.

If you’re going to read it, check your seriousness at the door. Just take Twilight with a grain of salt, and read it for what it is – a guilty pleasure, delicious but not nutritious.

Rating:

2 Comments

  • Catriona Silcock December 30, 2009 at 8:17 am

    “it means that you don’t have to be a brilliant reader to get into them.”

    I think this is a big part of the appeal: people reading a ‘big’ book in a few days, and being proud of themselves. Her foreshadowing is like a truck: impossible to miss. Her characters are shallow and simple.

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