Yes, I’ve read it…
Another set text from my creative writing and English literature course, Twilight was the one entry in my reading list I was truly dreading, but also looking forward to dissecting. I studied it as part of a strand on popular romance fiction, and will review it accordingly.
I managed to finish Twilight, though it was with some difficulty. I generally have little acclination towards romance as a genre; personal relationships between fiction characters being the sole motivator in a plot is not something that appeals to me. However, even from this standpoint, both the characterisation of the two main characters, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, in this book, coupled with the nature of their relationship if observed through non-tinted glasses, was troubling.
Bella’s characterisation was virtually non-existent. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old girl who conforms to the stereotype of “hating her life”, but what else is there to her? Bella’s personality is absolutely vacuous. Her sole motivation and reason to even exist is to fall uncontrollably in love with Edward. Bella takes an almost nihilist approach to her entire life; she doesn’t want to live in the dreary backwater of Forks particularly, yet chooses it over her mother’s new life with her stepfather. She doesn’t have a good relationship with Charlie, her father – there is little characterisation or progress on him besides his establishment as the town’s police chief. I get that the reason Bella is so vacuous is so that the reader can supplant their own self into her shoes and live the story through Bella, but it is very hamfisted and makes Bella a truly loathesome and boring protagonist. She’s unlikeable – the few friends she does miraculously make in the local school are treated contemptibly as nothing can seemingly come close to her infatuation, early on, with the “mysterious” and “perfect” Edward Cullen.
Edward Cullen’s behaviour quickly becomes irritating – he’s trying to avoid Bella because her “scent” is so good, he’s doing her a favour, she’s “better off avoiding him” – the usual tropes are invoked clumsily. There are a few hints at Edward’s mystique and Bella frequently identifies him as “perfect” and, more cringe-inducing, as an “Adonis”. Multiple times. Why is Edward these things? There’s no qualification of these terms; partly as the reader is meant to imagine why Edward is so wonderful, and partly I suspect because Stephenie Meyer simply had nothing better to say.
Edward indicates quickly a few superhuman traits that lead Bella’s inquisition. Her concerns are almost confirmed comically – Bella googles vampires, and, lo and behold, we discover Edward’s secret (though it takes a while for Bella to finally wrangle that out of Edward). Vampirism doesn’t explain or excuse Edward’s creepy and, frankly, deeply concerning behaviour. He watches Bella sleep. He follows her. He controls her behaviour. He even, near the end of the book, appears to engineer her sedation. None of this strikes me as healthy, or acceptable behaviour. So why is Edward lionised?
Vampirism seemed, to me, to be crutch for a story that outstayed its welcome about 66% of the way through. There are clumsy attempts to subvert classic vampire tropes; the only reason I find Edward scary is not through his vampirism (though he is part of a group of ‘good’ vampires who don’t hunt humans) but through his behaviour and actions. The ending of the book, where Bella is discovered by a vampire “tracker” and must be whisked away from Forks while the Cullens counter this “threat” is farcical almost to the point of melodrama. The pacing is all off; the book burns slowly until – boom – Bella is suddenly in some manufactured mortal danger. Meyer’s own additions to the vampire gamut don’t seem effective as part of a whole cohesive group of underground bloodsuckers.
To her credit, Stephenie Meyer does, in the book, identify a few salient points. Edward does question Bella’s almost manic resolve, at 17, to become a vampire, stating that she has a whole human life to lead. Bella has no answer to this beyond the quite pathetic “I love you, Edward!”, but I will credit the book for making this point clear. It alludes to the important message of not surrendering your entire existence for one person, and to enjoy life as whole. The classic romance trope of perusing sensual experience (read: sex) is subverted in Twilight as a quest for abstinence. Bella and Edward spend the whole book fighting urges – Bella her urges to seduce Edward and Edward to suppress his vampiric urge to kill Bella for her “exquisite” blood. Perhaps this pro-abstinence position is borne of Stephenie Meyer’s Mormon upbringing; regardless, it’s done in a less-effective narrative style, and is drawn out artificially.
I feel Stephenie Meyer has not done her own story justice, ultimately. The prose is wooden and awkward, with phrases feeling like they’re first-draft material and it could do with a good copy-edit. I wish more of the ancillary characters were expanded – some of them seemed more interesting than the protagonists. I realise this is a book about the burgeoning romance between Bella and Edward but these characters – most of whom, especially the classmates, are treated appallingly by Bella – have potential stories of their own outside of the vampire narrative that could’ve been explored at the same time as the Bella and Edward thread.
Overall, though, I did it. Certainly it was an unchallenging read; Twilight is certainly not anything I would consider “literary”, however I feel that the writing and the characterisation left a metallic taste.
Buy Twilight on Amazon UK