I'm currently taking a break from English teaching to enjoy raising my son. Reviews may also be published on my website www.buriedunderbooks.co.uk and / or on DooYoo under the name brokenangel. Will always return a read and rate.
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How dull can a tale with vampires in it be?
easy to read; no complicated plot twists
lack of plot; two dimensional characters
Would you read it again?
How does it compare to similar books?
How does it compare to other works by the same author?
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Several years ago I read and loved Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’: it was sensuous, enthralling and transported me through time and place. Some years before that I had read and quite enjoyed a series of books whose titles I can’t even remember which dealt with vampires in love with young girls. They’re still in the loft somewhere because they made an impression on me and I thought I’d quite like to read them again one day. Why am I mentioning these other books? Because sadly, albeit perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘Twilight’ failed dismally to live up to the hype surrounding it. Billed as ‘the thrilling tale of a vampire romance at a high school’ and ‘an extraordinary love story’, it sounded like the bizarre offspring of ‘Sweet Valley High’ (twee pictures of American sweethearts enjoying high school life) and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (sexy teenage girl in love with a vampire). I was ambivalent when this was presented to me as a birthday gift, but several teenage pupils reassured me: ‘It’s brilliant, miss!’ Well, how could I ignore such confidence?
Hmm. In 450 odd pages, you’d think there’d be quite a bit of this, but you’d be wrong. In retrospect, the extract printed on the back should probably have been a warning:
‘About three things I was absolutely positive. ‘First, Edward was a vampire. ‘Secondly, there was a part of him – and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be – that thirsted for my blood. ‘And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.’
I’m all for being concise, but that seems like quite a breathtaking set of items. How could anyone simply list these and move on? Well, our heroine, Bella, is just a little bit different from ‘normal’ teenage girls. As her vampire boyfriend points out later on, she’s not scared of going to meet his vampire parents; she’s just nervous that they won’t approve of her. In fact, Bella’s entire relationship, and therefore the whole ‘story’ of Twilight, is summed up in those three sentences. Edward is a vampire. He lusts for Bella’s blood. Bella doesn’t care. Why doesn’t Bella care? Because he’s gorgeous – and sparkly – if a bit icy to the touch.
Normally, a plot synopsis would take up a few more lines, but that really is all ‘Twilight’ has to offer. Girl moves to town (for reasons never satisfactorily explained) and falls in ‘love’ with a dangerous boy. After three hundred pages, even Meyer seems to get a bit bored with simply repeating how fascinating Bella finds Edward, (sometimes she even forgets to breathe when he kisses her, he’s just that hot,) and injects some random villains into the plot to add a bit of spice. The trouble here is that the developments are simply ridiculous, and incredibly fast, and, actually, the reader can see further ahead than Bella can, meaning that the ending is rather obvious. The only other real development in the ‘story’ is that Bella decides she wants to be a vampire (this really isn’t a spoiler; it becomes obvious very early on that this is the only possible resolution) and Edward refuses to let her.
From the final point above you might have noticed that this isn’t a very ‘equal’ relationship. Well, how could it be when one partner could accidentally kill the other, as Edward keeps reminding Bella? He’s dangerous. And hot. And sparkly. However, the inequality goes deeper than this. Bella is, frankly, a bit of a muppet. She is depicted as clumsy in the extreme and deficient in basic common sense. (‘Ooh, here’s a dark alley leading I don’t know where…how soon can I lose myself in it?’) Edward repeatedly chides her for her lack of self preservation and the one major plot incident hangs on this. He frequently instructs her to take care and not get herself into any danger. Of course, when she does, our hero is there to rescue (and scold) her, and hold her (and tell her how silly she is).
While it’s true that Edward was born in 1901, Bella wasn’t. Where is her sense of self? In response to his anger, she apologises. When he instructs, she pleads. There is no sense of who Bella is or what she might have wanted from life before she met this supernaturally gorgeous hunk. Edward does ask Bella questions about her life, but these are ‘off-stage’ for the most part and have no interesting answers. Much more ‘screen time’ is given to Edward’s history and that of his vampire family, which seems to reinforce the notion that he is more important than his human pet. Frankly, this irritated me. At one point, Edward reveals that he has watched Bella sleeping. In her bedroom. Without her permission. Repeatedly. I appreciate that Bella is meant to be in love with Edward, but her reaction is still superbly understated: it seems that she feels being stalked is flattering. I suppose part of my reaction here is due to my awareness that many teenage girls see Bella and Edward as role models. If you add his supremely patriarchal attitude towards her to the fact that he is many years older than his teenage love then this pairing becomes even more disturbing.
Other aspects of Meyer’s characterisation seem simply odd. Bella’s complete lack of fear is surprising to Edward, but seemed entirely bizarre to me, especially since she faints at the mere sight of blood, yet is interested to hear details about his hunting. This is not the only aspect of Bella’s character that does not seem to hold together. She calls both her parents by their first names in an offhand manner, yet claims to be incredibly close to her mum. Of course, most characters in the book aren’t given an opportunity to seem contradictory: they simply aren’t involved enough in the ‘story’. Whole pages follow Bella’s thoughts simply lusting after darling Edward. At the start of the book she moves in with a father who sees only spent holidays with for the past 15 years or so, but this relationship gets pretty much zero time spent on it. Ultimately, characters outside the two ‘lovers’ are undeveloped.
This is perhaps not surprising when you consider that Meyer wrote the story in three months. This could also explain why I found the preface irritating (ridiculously dramatic), the first few chapters very dull (long descriptions of Bella’s physical actions rather hold up the ‘plot’), and the style generally very repetitive (Edward is gorgeous, sparkly, gorgeous, sparkly). Overall, I feel that although the final product is easy to read, if you ignore the inconsistencies in character and accept the two dimensional ‘prop’ characters, it is not an especially worthwhile read. I finished the novel feeling that I had no real desire to spend any more time with these characters or their story.
Now, I appreciate that I’m not the intended target audience for this book, but I often read and enjoy fiction aimed at teenagers, so I’m not responding to this book from a vacuum. The pace does pick up slightly towards the middle section of the book, and there are some mildly comic touches that help the narration along, but on the whole I found it rather dull, rather than compelling. That said, I did read it through to the end without the help of wine, so it isn’t dreadful, just unmemorable.
Finally, I would disagree with the marketing which claims that this is a love story: Bella is enraptured by Edward’s looks and he is deeply affected by her scent. Every time they touch they are both shaken. For me, that is clearly lust, not love. Perhaps that makes it a lot more relevant to teenagers discovering these feelings for the first time, but it isn’t really this century’s Romeo and Juliet. Although, actually, I also thought that they were really just a bit lustful and silly…
So would I recommend this? No. Personally, I’m now planning to reread Rice’s ‘Interview with the Vampire’ and enjoy the genuinely sultry dimension she brings to vampire life. However, as always, there may be some who enjoy a lighter read.
I enjoyed this review. Some of my friends have been encouraging me to read this, but a big part of me thinks I won't be impressed. Even after reading this I'm tempted to give it a go just to see how bad it is :D xxx
silverstreak 19.11.2009 12:19
Oh dear, sounds like you're at odds with your students!