Saturday, 29 November 2008

Twilight and New Moon, Stephenie Meyer


This time a break from L. M. Montgomery, although there is still a link as on Meyer's official website she gives a list of recommended reading, which includes the complete Anne of Green Gables series.

I first encountered Twilight a couple of years ago and was drawn to it by its cover, by which a book should never be, but frequently is, judged. Frequently I picked it up, as its black and red and white appealed to my darker side, and read the blurb on the back:

About three things I was absolutely positive :
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was a part of him-and I didn't know how dominant that part may be-that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

"Puh-lease!" I thought, and put the book back again. I had this strange sense of deja vu. Once, years ago, I read a book about a girl meeting a vampire after moving to a new place - possibly living or working in a hotel, but I can't be sure of that. I think, but couldn't swear to it, that she was drawn to him, dangerously - I wouldn't say falls in love. I don't think I ever finished tht book, and there are few books about which I can say that. I just remember an image from my head of standing by a lake or a pond and all is dark blue. At twilight, it must be. I don't remember what that book was called, but I was very unimpressed by it. I was convinced, at first, that Twilight was that book, rereleased with a shiny new cover. But when I checked its publication date, it was too recent.

Several times I looked at the back of the book, but never got further than that. A sequel, two, three made their way onto the shelves, and I started to become aware, as I worked in a bookshop, that the books were very popular. Reading on the internet I discovered a little more. Edward, for example, was what Terry Pratchett would call "A black ribboner" - a vampire who has sworn off human blood. But Pratchett's characters work as his is a comic universe. In general, I felt that a vampire who didn't drink blood wasn't a vampire at all. After all - girls fantasise about vampires. At least two of my best friends have crushes on Lestat from Interview With the Vampire. But their attraction is their danger, surely. A vampire romance - with a vampire who didn't drink human blood - just sounded particularly insipid. Like fantasy fulfilment that backfires.

General consensus seemed to be that Twilight was bad, but enjoyable, a guilty pleasure, (apart from those teenage girls who were determined that it was the "best b00k evaah n edward is soooo h0ttt!!111") Despite myself, I found myself wanting to read it just to see what all the fuss was about... except that being in four books, one being rather a monster volume, I wasn't sure I could put myself through it. Rather like High School Musical, but with more fangs and less singing. Plus, the titles of the second and third books: New Moon and Eclipse made me think of a certain Jaffa Cakes advert that used to be on the TV.

In the end it was the film that decided me. I haven't been to the cinema in months and I was getting withdrawal symptoms, but there was absolutely nothing on that I wanted to see. So when I heard Twilight would be out soon I decided that it was the least of many evils when pitted against James Bond, unfunny comedies and unromantic romances. Still, that left me with a dilemma. I am, primarily, a book-lover. Films come secondary. I rarely watch a film that wasn't at one point based on a book, and I don't like to see adaptations before I have read the original. But could I do that to myself?

I could, and I did. I even read the second and am about to start the third.

The story goes that Isabella Swan, henceforth known as Bella, moves to the small, wet town (sounds like it's been lifted from England, or at least the weather has been) of Forks, WA. She starts high school and meets Edward Cullen, who is a vampire. They fall in love at first sight, as you do, though Edward's idea of love at first sight is like me falling in love with a box of Lindt Lindor at first sight. It takes all his effort not to swoop on her, and subsequently he acts as though he hates her.

Now, there's no mystery about Edward. He's a vampire, that is obvious to anyone who's read the blurb on the back, or seen the trailer for the film. It is Bella who is the enigma. I read her as rather an unreliable narrator. She tells us that she is plain, gawky and a misfit, but she has every boy she meets falling at her feet. Even Edward, though he tries to hide it. Also, in the very first book she shows traits of resembling a vampire. She is pale skinned. She is incredibly sensitive to the smell of blood. There is something about her that stops Edward, who has the ability to read minds, from reading hers. And, as before mentioned, he falls head over heels for her on first sight.

At the end of the first book, she is bitten by a vampire, but Edward saves her from turning into one. Or so it appears. In the second, Bella is often described as feeling very cold when no one else is. Now, later in the series, I will probably find that Mrs Meyer attributes this to the vampire bite, perhaps say that it had a slower effect on her but that at that moment she began to turn. However, the signs were there very early on. There is something that Bella is not telling us.

The love story, I'm sorry, does not convince me. It reads more like infatuation to me. Bella's attracted to Edward - we are told over and over that he is more beautiful than is humanly possible, like a Greek god, with perfect features and marble skin. I'm not sure that the "marble skin" image is as attractive as it is supposed to be. Not on a man. It makes me think of Othello's description of Desdemona:

"Yet I’ll not shed her blood
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow
And smooth as monumental alabaster."

Now, I've read that Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward in the film, is getting absolutely mobbed and rather scared by all the teenage fangirls who have fallen in love with Edward. Or rather, infatuation. I suppose it's the tortured hero idea, but to me he is irritable, temperamental and changeable. "Ah," you might say, "That is because he loves Bella and wants what is best for her, but wants to be with her, and the two needs are not compatable." That's true, that's accurate... but... there is something flat about their relationship. Trying to pinpoint what it is that doesn't quite work, but when I think I've got it I remember something that contradicts it. I think, what it is, is that Bella seems infatuated with how Edward looks and the exoticism of him being a vampire, but I don't see much of what makes her love him. She is obsessed with him, certainly, to an unhealthy degree, to the point of abandoning interest in everything else.

Even more unhealthily, Bella demands again and again that she wants to be a vampire too, and Edward refuses, again and again, to bite her. Bella shows a shockingly selfish disregard for her humanity, ignores Edward's telling her that immortality is not all fun and games. She seems like she's got this pretty, daydreaming, unrealistic idea that she clings to about being a vampire, without giving any thought to the torture the Cullens (especially Edward) suffer as a result of their lifestyle. She also pays no thought to how her parents will react. In short, she is a heedless teenager who lives in a world of her own. The sad thing is, I'm sure she will get her wish before the end of the series. I wonder whether she will live to regret it. I think of that awful journalist at the end of Interview who after Louis has told this story about how terrible it is to be a vampire, thinks, "Oh, go on, it can't be that bad, make me a vampire and I'll do a better job of it than you did." To which Louis thinks, "Have you not listened to a word I said?" Bella, too, thinks she knows better than those who know what they're talking about because they've lived the undead "life."

Bella and Edward's relationship all happens so quickly I don't quite believe it. And he seems to love her as though she were a box of Lindt Lindor that he knows he mustn't eat. It seems to be her blood he loves more than anything else, but he resists going in for the swoop. At the same time, though he's always saying he's dangerous, I'm not sure I quite believe it. There are moments when you see it, but usually not.

In the sequel, New Moon, Bella gives herself a paper-cut in the presence of Edward and his family, after which Edward jumps at her to protect her from his brother Jasper, who struggles with the black ribboners' non-human diet. That causes her to injure herself more seriously by, if I got this right, falling onto a load of glass at the dinner table. Edward and the Cullens leave Forks to protect Bella, which causes her to sink into a more severe case of moping than I gave a main character after killing off her fiancé - and I thought I was overdoing it.

After this, the Cullens also disappear from the story for about, oh, the middle third or half of the book, and at this point, despite Bella's moping, the story becomes more interesting (ie there is more story and less description of Edward's marble statue beauty. Bella spends a lot of time with her friend Jacob, and this relationship with the blurred edges of whether they should count count themselves boyfriend and girlfriend or just friends is one of the more realistic relationships in the book. Jacob, too, is a more rounded character than Edward.

Not that this section of the book will escape analysis or criticism. Jacob becomes worried about his friends, who seem to be falling under the spell of one Sam Uley, looking as though they are being drawn into a cult and acting strangely. Then Jacob is next. Bella is exceedingly thick at this point. For someone who dated a vampire for six months or so, she takes a long time to realise that Jacob is a werewolf, even though, at the same time he told her the old Quileute legends about vampires which led her to realise the truth about Edward, he told her that he was supposedly descended from werewolves.

Second issue - this being a writing criticism - when it finally does click with Bella, it is in a dream where she sees him turning into a wolf. This is a weak narrative device - though one I have been guilty of myself as a teenager. It must be another clue to Bella being an undiagnosed vampire, as the vampires all have supernatural skills. Edward's sister Alice can see the future. Perhaps Bella too has this ability.

Criticism 3: Werewolves vs. vampires. Either/or, please. Both in a fantasy set in the real world is too much - too many mythical creatures running around. And the two species being at war makes me think "Underworld" and Montagues and Capulets. (Having said that, there are a lot of Romeo and Juliet references in this book.)

The last part of the book shows Bella jetting off to Italy, as you do, to stop Edward committing suicide by angering the Volturi, or Vampire royal family, into killing him (as suicide for the undead is a bit difficult.) For a while it stops being fantasy in high school and changes genre to epic fantasy. I think, overall, I prefer the local, small-town stories. I think I always do. I'm rather a home-girl at heart, and when reading - or writing - a book, I like it to be set mostly near to home. When you change settings you change the tone of the book, and despite the corniness of the Twilight books, I do have to admit to enjoying the local, high-school, small-town setting of them. Though some of the characters are very two-dimensional, I like the human (and once-human and part-human) stories, in a guilty pleasure sort of way. I just have to ignore the swooning and the moping and the constant descriptions of Edward's unearthly beauty.

In conclusion, the Twilight series so far is bad, really bad, and yet... fun. I certainly will be reading on.

Watch this space for reviews of the other books, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

5 comments:

  1. Well...the level annoyance won't get any lower through the rest of the series. Good luck. :P

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  2. I do agree that the vampires vs werewolves rivalry has been atrociously overused.

    I don't think I'll be reading twilight any time soon, or seeing the film, but I loved this review of it! Glad to see you've moved from Xanga, I'm a bit of a blogger fangirl by now ;)

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  3. I still use the xanga site for my regular blog but I needed somewhere for my book reviews and I do like Blogger.

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