Between the movie and the release of the final book, everyone seems to have heard about and read Twilight (2005) by Stephenie Meyer by now. The book came to my attention a couple years ago when I started hearing it mentioned a lot in the library although I initially confused the title with another YA book called Luna by Julie Anne Peters about a transgender teen.
Since then I met numerous librarians who vehemently dislike the series, teens who are obsessed with all of the books, and others who don’t want to like the books but can’t stop reading them. Given the negatives I heard, I had been prepared to not read the books. But then the movie came out and it got even more popular and it seemed like I had to read it just to see what all the controversy was about.
So. Stephenie Meyer’s novel Twilight has added its own spin to the age-old vampire story. Sort of like a vampire book for people who don’t read fantasy since most of the old vampire facts are simply dismissed as myths rather than being explained in some new way. We’ll let that pass.
Bella Swan begins her self-imposed exile in Forks, Washington hoping for little more than a quick stay in her own personal purgatory. Coming from Phoenix, Forks feels like another world: dark, green, and everything Bella hates.
Her opinion of the town begins to change when Bella notices the enigmatic and beautiful Edward Cullen along with his equally lovely siblings. The closer Bella gets to Edward, despite his rebuffs, the more obvious it becomes that Edward is not human. Unbelievably, he is a vampire. And Bella is in love with him. And, even more shocking, he loves her.
I won’t get into spoilers, but the rest of the plot revolves around Bella and Edward trying to answer the question, “Now what?” given, shall we say, their divergent outlooks on life.
Despite the overblown hype and negatives I heard, I did want to like Twilight. However, the more I read, the less likely that outcome seemed for a number of reasons.
First of all, I wasn’t thrilled with the writing. The style here reminded me a lot of Eragon by Christopher Paolini. But Paolini was fifteen when he wrote Eragon while Meyer is a grown woman. I feel like that suggests that Twilight might not be the best written novel out there, not a damning fact in itself although compared to other novels this one did seem weak.
I also felt like the writing would have been stronger simply if there were less of it. The novel runs nearly 500 pages in paperback. I read it in four days, so it does go fast. Still, I feel like the writing could have been pruned a hundred pages and not suffer, which usually suggests to me that it should have been. That assertion is further supported by the repetition of the prose. Words and phrases came up with such frequency that I started to experience deja vu.
I’m also still not sure how I feel about Bella or Edward. I really liked Alice and Jasper, Edward’s siblings, but they didn’t get enough screen time to redeem the story. In the beginning, Bella struck me as kind of whiny. I’ve always thought of the Pacific Northwest as picturesque and neat, so it bugged me when Bella kept complaining about too much greenery.
After meeting Edward, Bella began whining in a different way. Every chapter is filled with Bella’s angst that she could never be beautiful enough to be worthy of Edward. That would be fine if eventually Bella realized otherwise, but even in the face of Edward’s undying (get it?) adoration Bella still refuses to accept that he loves her just for herself. Now, to be fair, I have my own bouts of feeling not pretty and most people do. There are, in fact, a lot of books for teens where the humor or plot stems from a girl having low self-esteem and using self-deprecation. The difference, and it’s a big one, is that in most of those other books the girl ends the novel with a stronger and more positive sense of self. Bella ends Twilight with Edward which, while awesome for her, is not the same thing as a sense of self worth.
That brings me to Bella’s other fatal flaw. Meyer repeated, constantly, that no matter what Edward did Bella could not conjure the appropriate response of fear. While weird, it was acceptable given the sweeping-yet-impossible love story that Meyer sought to create here. Then we learn that Edward likes to watch Bella sleep and, instead of freaking out even a little tiny bit, Bella is flattered. Because why would beautiful Edward deign to watch boring, not pretty Bella sleep? I can almost appreciate the pseudo-flattery of such a gesture. But Bella’s reaction to it felt so unrealistic with her total lack of concern about such behavior.
The last thing that really ruined this series for me was Bella’s use of “anyways” in conversation. We already have a word in the English language that can serve as a segue or extender in conversation. That word is anyway. Without the S.
I realize all of that sounds pretty negative. I didn’t hate the book though, it was okay. I have read worse, but I’ve also read a lot better. Some parts were genuinely romantic and funny, but they were too few and far between to warrant my commitment to three more books of the same.