I have a grave responsibility to understand important developments in popular culture, for the purpose of mocking them. This is why it has been my painful duty, for instance, to pay attention to Justin Bieber. But for years, I’ve resisted Twilight. Even as the phenomenon grew, I just couldn’t quite bring myself to endure Mills and Boone with a cast of sexually-frustrated vampires.
And then, a number of people I respect got addicted to the books, and I decided that it was time to see what the latest publishing phenomenon was all about. This weekend, I was staying at a country house which had a copy of the book and not a huge amount else to do, so I finally ploughed through Stephenie Meyer’s bestseller.
Just in case you missed the subtle title of my post, I didn’t like it. Here’s why.
1) There was no romance whatsoever
No romance? But isn’t Twilight all about romance? Isn’t that the entire point of the series? Well, the book’s certainly full of cheesy passages where Bella and Edward bang on about their intense feelings for one another. But romance as I understand it – and certainly, the things I enjoy about romantic literature – are curiously absent because of Meyer’s plotting. If you haven’t read the books, I won’t spoil them for you. Not because I’m not going to avoid revealing key details – I’m not – but because it’s impossible to spoil a book with such a paper-thin plot.
There’s no romance in the book because by definition, Bella and Edward are in love from the first moment. Well, except for this brief period when they’re pretending to be angry. But Edward is immediately drawn to Bella because of how she smells. So, instead of bothering to write any chemistry between them, Meyer has used actual chemistry. Instead of having to justify why Edward bothers with such a vapid, annoying girl (see point 7 below) through the conventional devices or plot and character, Meyer simply defines her as irresistible to him.
Most romances allow love to develop between the pair. Take Jane Austen, where there is often genuine antagonism between the romantic pair, but circumstances change and draw them together. But Meyer, it seems, is incapable of this kind of emotional complexity. Bella and Edward are in love BECAUSE THEY ARE, darn it, and that’s all there is to it.
And why does Bella love Edward? Well, that’s even simpler a case of plot-by-definition, because…
2) Edward is perfect
He’s immortal, impossibly good looking, has superhero-like speed and strength, and has an entirely noble character. He is supernaturally flawless. The novel tries to present as his one flaw the fact that he’s prepared to risk everything for Bella – but as a million sighing teenage girls will tell you, that’s no flaw.
In fact, Edward’s perfection is surely the main reason for Twilight‘s popularity with teenage girls. What insecure adolescent wouldn’t like to imagine that they went to a new school only to discover that a paragon of impossible male perfection was immediately and irrevocably in love with them, and would give anything to be with them until the end of time? Oh, and even composes totally amazing piano sonatas for them? Even though he’s supposedly a vampire killing machine, there’s no light and shade with Edward.
To me, this makes Edward’s character boring. The only interesting thing about him is that he drives irresponsibly fast, although unfortunately he does it so well that he never even crashes.And yet despite his dull perfection, when you think more about it…
3) Bella should take out an AVO against Edward
Not only does he constantly battle with his desire to murder Bella and drink her blood – not usually a sign of affection, even though both Bella apparently think it is – but he regularly breaks into her bedroom and watches her sleep. Yes, devotion can be kind of romantic, but there’s a line beyond which it’s disturbing and even criminal, and Edward is well over this line. It may be news to Meyer, but most people who are stalked tend not to find it flattering and endearing.
I could give quotes to illustrate how disturbing Edward’s behaviour is, but there’s no need when the Reasoning With Vampires blog (hat tip – @msmaddiep) has brilliantly – and a little obsessively, which is somewhat ironic – charted dozens of places in the book where Edward’s behaviour inexplicably makes Bella swoon instead of getting a court order.
But swoon she does, and that’s largely because…
4) Being a vampire is awesome
Bella wants to become a vampire so she can stay with Edward forever, and yet thoughtful Edward loves her so much that he wants her to have a normal life. But in fact, it should be an easy decision, because in the book, being a vampire is all upside, with immortality and super powers. Sure, there’s the whole bloodlust/killing thing, but the Cullens just dine on animals – and what’s more, they do it in an ecologically sustainable way, not overhunting any particular species. Could they get any lovelier?! Unlike every other vampire story in history – all of which, by contrast, involve some degree of moral complexity – there is absolutely no downside to joining the legions of the undead as defined in Twilight. And still, there’s more…
5) The extra vampire powers
If their superpowers weren’t enough, a few of Meyer’s characters have extra abilities which allow her plots to be even more lazily constructed. Edward can read minds, meaning that he can just save Bella whenever anyone’s trying to do her in, and Alice can foretell the future – what an excellent way to avoid having an intricate plot, or any suspense? Why construct a clever narrative that leads us from logical point A to B, then C, and so on, when Edward and Alice can flip straight to Z?
Meyer’s plotting is lazy even when she’s not relying on the vampires’ super powers. For instance, Bella spends a lot of time wondering what Edward is. How does she work it out? She happens to meet this Jacob dude, who just tells her, even though the existence of vampires is meant to be a huge, carefully-protected secret. How entirely uningenious. So it comes as no surprise that…
6) The climax is lame
Two-thirds of the way through the book, Meyer suddenly remembers that she has to have some sort of plot to make the novel suspenseful, so she just bolts one on. It goes like this: a bunch of other vampires turn up, which Alice saw coming. One of them, James, arbitrarily decides that of all the billions of other potential humans to feed on, he must kill Bella, and will pursue her to the ends of the earth to do so. Why? Because he’s a hunter. But all the vampires are hunters, aren’t they? No, but this guy really, really likes hunting. In other words, he’s determined to kill Bella because… well, just because.
Fortunately, even when he lures Bella away from her superhuman vampire guards by pretending he’s abducted her mother, Alice can easily work out where they are. After which the Cullens easily kill him, because Emmett is super strong. Too easy.
Even though it was obvious that she’d survive, I was a little disappointed Bella was saved by the end of the book, because her self-sacrifice to save her mother was the one moment when I didn’t feel that…
7) Bella is annoying
We’re supposed to simply accept that Edward, who has been alive for over a hundred years, finds a self-absorbed seventeen-year-old interesting, but it’s impossible to see why. In class, she’s an insufferable know-it-all. She claims that no-one ever found her attractive back in her home town, but when she moves to rural Forks, there’s a conga line of hicks queueing up to ask her out. And yet she turns them all down, often quite patronisingly, because she thinks she’s too good for them. Only literally the greatest guy ever can cut the mustard. Fortunately, he’s totally into her – but unfortunately, I couldn’t see why.
Oh, Bella suffers from depression, apparently, and loneliness, the poor thing. But like so much in Meyer’s book, we’re merely told this – we never see it. In fact, Bella is a remarkably self-satisfied young woman, with remarkably little cause to be so.
8} There is no humour
At least, not intentionally. It’s a book about vampires and werewolves – couldn’t Meyer have had a little fun with it? No, she couldn’t. There’s none of the delightful humour that made Harry Potter so enjoyable, at the same time as JK Rowling’s broader plot of the war against Voldemort was terribly serious. There are no laughs in Twilight, even though the sexy cool hero vampire drives – wait for it – a Volvo.
9) The writing is dreadful
Now despite appearances, I’m not a total literature snob. I found The Da Vinci Code unputdownable, and the way he worked existing works of art and architecture into the plot fairly ingenious, even though Dan Brown’s writing is such dreadful doggerel. But in Meyer, there are few redeeming features to take one’s mind off the clunky writing.
Again, Reasoning with Vampires has done an excellent job of charting the depths of Meyer’s writing – I won’t pull apart her sentences because he’s already done it so comprehensively. But let’s just say that I found myself regularly stopping reading for a moment, staring at a sentence and asking myself whether I was reading an unedited first draft.
10) Too many extraneous, undeveloped characters
Meyer has a habit of introducing three or four indistinguishable characters where one would have done. There are about a zillion Cullens, all deeply similar. I assume that in later books, we come to appreciate the differences, but after finishing the first, I found myself struggling to tell them apart. All the boys who have the hots for Bella are pretty much identical, except for the one who’s obviously a werewolf, and so are all of her female friends. We barely see her parents.
11) ‘Stephenie’ isn’t a name, it’s a typo
Okay, so it’s a pedantic point. But really, has she not heard of deed polls?
12) Her books have sold roughly a million times more copies than mine
Yes, there’s a bit of sour grapes here. But at least my characters get to have sex lives. So there, Stephenie.