In honor of the last of the Twilight movies coming out, Biblio-therapy is going to be posting two reviews: one positive and one negative. I’m posting the negative review. I read it when the series was only just becoming a phenomenon. Someone told me that I’d love because I like young adult fiction and I like vampire books.
Alas, I did not like it, but I also wasn’t horribly offended by it.
There were a few good scenes, a few interesting premises, but overall the characters and plot didn’t hold together for me. The only character I actually felt any empathy for was the main character’s poor beleaguered father. I took this as a sign that I was, perhaps, finally aging out of my YA fiction reading days, and got on with my life.
It’s not that it’s a bad book, per se, because, let’s face it, I have read and enjoyed many quite bad books. The problem is that it’s bad in ways that I can’t wave away with a thoroughly suspended disbelief or a good faith effort to believe some character is not an idiotic milksop in need of a spine.
I am perfectly capable of overlooking all of the weird and outdated sexual advice presented in metaphor that has offended so many readers. At least the advice is presented metaphorically and in regards to vampires rather than outright (I’m looking at you, Barbara Cartland).
Belle is something of an idiot, making peculiar and random decisions, trusting strangers too much and her family too little. I found her mostly confusing. Why does she do the things she does? Is it just the “she’s a teenager” excuse that lets her get away with random acts of idiocy? I have apparently become an old woman, shaking her head at “kids these days.”
Edward is an unfortunately standard paradox of a stoic individual, putting great effort into showing how stoic he is so that everyone else can look at him and see that he’s really hurting inside and is a soft woobie. Also, as any strong guy (vampire or not) should know, that excuse of “I can’t help myself” is not a valid excuse for anything. If you have the strength to hurt someone then you had damn well better have the control to refrain from doing so.
Some of the basic premises of the story are even more problematic than having characters that I simply didn’t care for.
Bella enters school as a new student, having been nothing special before, and is suddenly the most popular and desirable person there. This is completely random. There’s no reason for it, either internal to the high school social structure (why did the kids like her?) or external to the plot arc (what did it bring to the plot?).
Despite first appearances, the trope of instantaneous and unexpected popularity is not inherently terrible; it can be done well. In fact, Meg Cabot has a few books that deal with exactly that issue and do it well: How popularity occurs and/or is manipulated, and what some of the related issues are. Stephanie Meyers, in contrast, avoids all of the real complexities and looks at the issue of popularity very much from the perspective of an unpopular student: I want to be popular but I don’t want to be like those popular girls*, and if I were suddenly popular I would show a becoming amount of humility and talk about how I really didn’t want it, so there.
Then we come to the sparkly vampires. This is possibly the best thing ever since the Care Bears and/or My Little Ponies. I’m not even joking. Here are Vampires that can’t go out into the sun because they Sparkle! How is that not awesome?
However, it does raise the question: why can’t they go out into the sun and share their sparkly magnificence with the world? They have none of the traditional vampire weaknesses:
• They don’t fall dead during the day.
• They can’t be staked.
• They’re too fast to be snuck up on.
• They’re too strong for it to matter if they are snuck up on.
• They have family and community ties.
• They aren’t creating enemies by eating anyone.
So why are they hiding?
If you answer: “Edward is a teenage boy (no matter how long he’s been that way) and doesn’t want to let anyone know that he naturally looks like he’s covered in glitter,” I would definitely agree with you. That would be an awesome answer. Unfortunately, it’s not Stephanie Meyer’s answer.
She doesn’t give an answer. Vampires hide because they’re vampires and hiding is what they do.
Admittedly there are bad vampires, too, who do go out and make enemies by killing people and fail to make allies by, you know, killing people. However, they still have all the other strengths of these Meyer Vampires. So why are they hiding out in the wilderness rather than simply living in a house and eating anyone who tries anything?
The vampire culture, such as it is, is a hold over from the traditional vampire cultures of other books, all about angst and dark secrecy. The problem is that Meyer has changed the vampire mythos so much already that it’s disappointing that she didn’t follow through on the repercussions of those changes.
So, to sum up, it was a story about stupid people making random decisions in a world that didn’t make sense. This was not, alas, the worst book I have ever read, or even real competition for the title, but it was still pretty bad.
However, one good thing about this book (and movie) is:
* I must have been really lucky in my high school because the popular girls that I knew (not very many of them, admittedly) were all very nice. They were popular because they were nice and outgoing and people wanted to be their friends. That’s what made them popular.