Twilight

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Twilight really is a novel that needs no further introduction. It was written by Stephenie Meyer and published in 2005. Rapidly gaining popularity worldwide, it caused a boom in popularity for “paranormal romance” novels – typically books that crux around the relationship between a human girl and a boy who is far less ordinary. Twilight was rapidly followed by three sequels: New Moon (2006), Eclipse (2007) and Breaking Dawn (2008). It also has one short spin-off novella based around a character introduced in Eclipse, titled The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (2010).

The story is told from the perspective of Isabella “Bella” Swan, a teenage girl who has chosen to move away from her beloved life in Phoenix to live with her father in Folks, Washington. Although she is initially depressed by the thought of living in such a remote area, she is quickly accepted by the locals and finds that she fits in well at her school.

Although she is approached by a succession of boys who are all interested in inviting her to the school dance, Bella finds that she only has eyes for one. Edward Cullen, mysterious and beautiful, quickly comes to occupy her thoughts. The only problem is that he seems to be utterly repulsed by her, going at great length to avoid any kind of contact.

However when Edward manages to impossibly save Bella from being crushed by a van, Bella begins to suspect that he is actually hiding some sinister secret. How is it that he can be so impossibly strong and fast? And why does he seem so intent on pushing her further away? As she investigates Edward and his strange family, she quickly comes to realise that the answer is far stranger – and more dangerous – than she ever could have imagined.

Before I begin, I will tell you know that the reveal is that Edward and his “family” are all vampires. I don’t think I really need to tab this up as a spoiler. Although this is not revealed to Bella until about 150 pages into the novel, it does helpfully state this in the second sentence of the blurb so you only really would have remained ignorant to this fact if you had managed to purchase a copy which had no back cover.

While Twilight is not the kind of novel that I would ever choose to read, I can still fully understand the appeal. He has his flaws (oh and we’ll come back to those in a little while) but on the surface Edward Cullen is a true romantic. What girl, at some point in her life, hasn’t dreamed of having such a lover? The kind of person who would always be there for them, ever faithful and willing to do everything to ensure their safety and happiness? It’s a love that does not exist in the real world, and yet it is a beautiful fantasy. The dream of being swept away by a handsome prince is one that’s imprinted on every girl – for better or for worse – from their early childhood.

I really don’t have a problem with this mode of thought of all. If that’s your ideal fantasy, you just go right on and fantasise. I’ll be sitting in my own little corner, continuing to dream that I am battling alien forces using my power to morph into any animal. It’s just different strokes for different folks. My problem with Twilight is more that it’s not a particularly well written novel.

All narrative styles have their pros and cons. When a writer choses to present their novel in the first person, they are immediately restricted in that they can only describe things that their narrator encounters first hand. This is the cause of my primary irritation with Twilight. There is a terrible amount that we are told, rather than shown. In order to explain about vampires, great chunks of text are devoted to lengthy conversations between Edward and Bella. During these sections (some of which last for an entire chapter at a time) Edward describes their habits, their powers, their weaknesses and even the backstories of some of his family members in great detail. This is just tedious. Why do we need to hear a second hand description of how Rosalie and Emmett are wary of Edward’s relationship with a human? Wouldn’t it be more exciting to actually show how they react to such a thing?

Because of the perceived need to deliver all of this exposition to the reader, the novel is also badly paced. The story is incredibly slow to start – taking well over a hundred pages to really feel as though it is starting to move. I felt that a lot of this could really have been streamlined, as it seemed to largely tread the same ground. Edward has many conversations with Bella that can be simply boiled down to “I’m dangerous. Stay away from me” (though seriously, why does he feel the need to keep walking up to her just to say this. Shouldn’t he just actually act on his own advice and stay away?) and the multiple descriptions of Bella’s uninteresting school days really do feel as though they should have been trimmed.

The uneven pace really is a bit of shame as, when the novel does finally build to a climax over the last 80 pages or so, it really is pretty good. It maintains tension and there is finally an actual sense that Bella might be in danger. If sections like this were regularly interspersed within the earlier chapters, maybe the novel would not have dragged on so badly. It certainly felt that it needed some kind of drama to break up the dialogue heavy sections of the first three quarters of the book. I really hope that these pacing issues are addressed in the sequels. I think I’ll go insane if I have to sit through 300 pages of exposition at the start of New Moon.

Background characters are also somewhat of a problem in the novel, particularly as all we ever learn of them is affected by Bella’s own personal views. Although she has three or four female friends at school, they are presented as being nothing more than shallow individuals who like nothing more than boys and shopping. Both Bella and Edward seemed to regularly look down their noses on these poor ignorant girls. This really did get on my nerves quite a lot. What exactly is wrong with liking clothes and boys? I found it pretty difficult to like Bella, just because she came off as being somewhat of a snob who placed herself on some higher level than these girls because she was “different”.

The background vampires proved to be even more problematic, as they did not really have much of a presence within the story until quite late on. All we learned about them prior to this was from Edward’s exposition and so I didn’t really get a good feel for what they were like as individuals. Rosalie fared the far worst because of this, because she barely says two words in the entire novel. The stories we did hear about them (albeit second hand) were actually fairly interesting and I felt that some would even make decent books in their own right. I was particularly interested by Carlisle’s rather dramatic origin story. If you ever read this, Ms Meyer, please make that into a novel. I would love to read it.

But, of course, the most important part of the story to analyse is the love between the two main characters. This brings me to a particularly big issue that I have with Twilight. I can’t stand Edward Cullen and I can’t understand why Bella would want to remain within ten miles of him.

Bella, herself, is your typical Mary Sue. This isn’t the kind of thing I find especially offensive, but it does make her highly non-descript. She’s good at everything (except sport, but somehow this little flaw just makes her seem all the more wonderful). She can’t see her own appeal but all the boys love her instantly on sight. She’s different to the other girls (in the sense that she likes to read books) and somehow, therefore, she always seems to be better and more interesting than the rest of them.

I know that this kind of thing really frustrates some readers, but I can honestly say that it’s not something that I find especially irksome. It just makes her seem bland. Without any real flaws, she doesn’t feel like a real person and therefore I just don’t find her to be especially memorable or likable as a heroine.

However she is portrayed as an intelligent girl and because of this, I don’t get why she is so obsessed with Edward. Before any words are ever exchanged between the two, he makes perfectly clear that he doesn’t like her. When he does finally speak to her, he makes fun of her and insults her intelligence. Even when she does persist and eventually deduces his secret, he confesses that he has been stalking her (even going as far as to watch her sleep) and harbours a natural desire to kill her. Bella, seriously, get out of there! Some of this should be sparking warning bells. This is not endearing. This is creepy. Run, run away, and never look back.

Jokes aside, Twilight is one of those novels that are really difficult to sum up. If you are the kind of person who loves paranormal romances and can overlook some glaring flaws in pacing and characterisation, go for it. With such a huge fan base, it’s evident that the book must have some kind of appeal to these sort of readers. If these kind of novels aren’t your bag normally, I’d say give it a miss. It’s not well written and so it just doesn’t have the strength to transcend its genre in order to appeal to wider market.

Twilight can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

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