Review: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Twilight Twilight
Stephanie Meyer
Little, Brown and Young, 2006
J: I mean I’m sure it’s written well and that’s kind of why I don’t want to read it.

Me: Wait, you mean you don’t want read it because you’re afraid you might like it?

J: Um….yeah.

That little snippet of dialogue occurred with me and a co-worker at the bookstore a couple weeks ago when discussing Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.  I’m not sure if those feelings accurately reflect the majority of the male demographic but I begin to suspect it consists of more than are willing to admit.  As for me, well I already had a number of facts working against me; at the top of that heap is probably the fact that I watched every episode of Dawson’s Creek (I’ll barely mention my near miss with a dangerous Hills addiction;I have since made sure that any background television programming is of the harmless cartoon or sitcom variety).  So, needless to say, my tolerance for teen angst and melodrama is, in a word, enormous.  It is probably worth mentioning my belief that every book, no matter how terrible/ridiculous, has its audience (see “Oh No John Ringo!” for excellent reference).  Unfortunately, for those expecting a sarcastic review laden with outrageous incredulity, I found Twilight to be far from terrible though occasionally veering sharply into the ridiculous.

Read on for my review or skip it and head over to the Toasted Scimitar for the review you probably expected.

The story of Twilight is fairly simple and straight forawrd.  (Isa)Bella Swan is the new girl in town and, having vacated the perennially sunny Phoenix for the nigh endless clouds of Forks, Washington, isn’t too happy about it.  Bella is a bit of klutz crazy spastic and in the real world likely would have some sort of neurological condition which seems to make her a bit socially akward.  In Forks she is introduced to the mysterious and aloof Cullen family and it is to Edward Cullen that Bella feels an immediate attraction.  Turns out that Edward is a vampire (though one who eschews the consumption of human blood) and attraction is mutual, facts we alone learn after a bit of back and forth I hate you/I like you/I hate you moments.  Once the emotional conflict is mostly resolved we get a bit of physical attraction as a clan of wandering vampires decides to make Bella its prey.

The bulk of the novel deals with Bella’s internal conflict/confusion over her feelings for Edward and in turn Edward’s frequently contradictory treatment of her (nice one moment, a dick the next) as well as the mystery of Edward and the Cullen family in general.  Oddly enough the emotional drama is oftentimes both the novel’s its strength and its weakness.  I’m willing to admit that the push/pull attraction of Bella and Edward makes for compelling reading but at the same time the intense nature of the narrative often takes on obsessive overtones and frequently suffers from a bit of heavy handed writing.  As compelling as the emotional (melo)drama can be the Bella/Edward relationship often feels forced as much as it does natural.

Meyer uses a clear, concise proses that tends towards to be direct rather than symbolic.  That isn’t to say her writing isn’t without its problems she occasionally dips her hand a bit too deep into the good old bag of dialogue tags.  She also seems the need to remind us how “beautiful” Edward is, I’m hesitant to blame Meyer’s for that weakness, but I felt the word “beautiful” was used every chapter to describe him.  Meyer’s vampire mythology is a mixed bag.  On the one hand each of the Cullen vampires has a “special gift.”  Edward has telepathy, one his “brothers” soothes emotions, while his sister Alice is a precog.  Why or how they acquire these gifts is never actually revealed but there is a hint late in the novel that they might have existed (or perhaps the potential for them) existed prior to being turned into a vampire.  The concept fired my imagination quite a bit.  In turn the actual vampirization (?) process was also pretty interesting as well: there bite contains a venom that, if a victim is left alive, will slowly kill them in an excruciatingly painful way.  Of course the “sparkly” vampires who glisten in the sun almost ruins everything.  I get the feeling that Meyer may have painted herself into a corner when dealing with vampires out in the daytime but it does make for a very jarring WTF moment that comes fairly close to spoiling the novel.  Last, being the librarian/techie that I am, I cringed a little at Bella’s online searching skills and almost cried when I read that she was using DIAL UP!!!!!

Given that the emotional drama features so prominently in the novel the addition in the final third of a new plot thread feels a bit contrived (though it is foreshadowed early on).  It certainly ramped up the pace of the novel and was probably the first time I was actually impressed with Bella as a character.  Some might say that walking into a trap at the end of the novel was a stupid thing to do but I’m not one of them; I thought it was pretty brave and showed a strength of conviction that is rare and certainly impressive.  Again some might argue that Bella’s decision hinges on her love for Edward, which as I pointed out earlier I don’t completely buy, but it also stemmed from her love for her parents and her belief that, undead or not, the Cullens are good people.

Again, that moment of conviction leads to one of the novels problems, probably its biggest, in that I never felt we get to see an accurate or complete picture of Edward.  The bulk of the novel follows the narrative from Bella’s point of view the read looses perspective.  We never see their relationship from the other side and we don’t get a clue as, other than verbally, to Edwards thoughts and feelings.  Furthermore, I felt that Edward remained to much of a mystery for the bulk of the novel.  Even the fairly rigorous Q & A sessions between the main characters tended to reveal little about the enigmatic vampire.  In a novel that hinges on a relationship between two people to leave one a nearly complete question mark is unacceptable if that relationship is be at all believable (and no it isn’t enough to know simply that Edward “would do anything” for Bella.

In the end I found Twilight to be entertaining and fairly engrossing read.  Given its subject matter and angsty tone it will likely remain a guilty pleasure for adult readers.  For male readers it will like remain the bibliographic equivalent of persona non grata.  For those willing to take a change I’d give it my recommendation.   Given the current vampire-craze that seems to be dominating the genre/young adult/romance/everything market these days Twilight and its ilk are going to be hard to avoid.  As much as I did enjoy the story I didn’t find it engrossing enough to continue, especially with the mountain of other awesome fiction that seems to be amassing every second.

4 thoughts on “Review: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

  1. Man, you’re fair. Like I said before. I actually like the character of Bella. I see myself in her a lot, but I still can’t really get passed the changing of vampiric traits and not explaining or giving it back story. I guess I’m an asshole about all that stuff.

  2. I do highly recommend that Toasted Scimitar review, it was pretty hilarious. I really wanted to hate it.

    You’re not an “asshole.” As someone who reads vampire stuff in a more academic fashion you have every right to be frustrated by the Meyer’s inconsistencies with accepted vampire mythology. As silly as the whole “sparkly” thing is, I just didn’t think it impacted the story enough for me to care all that much.

  3. Well there is that whole feeding off the blood of the living thing. But, yeah it is kind of silly. Then again the whole novel is kind of silly. Truth be told the weak vampire mythology was the least of Twilight’s problems.

    I was perhaps a bit too even handed in my examination plot. The more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realized that the total lack of any plot what-so-ever for over 2/3 of the book is huge problem. Twilight is an interesting, if mostly disturbing, character study but relatively poor storytelling.

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