I was contemplating whether or not I should post this review at all. I wrote it a while ago and kept it in queue, wondering whether or not I should actually publish it. But alas, I have nothing else to fill out the Friday spot so I figured I might as well post it, and deal with the consequences later.
You see, there is this series of books out there that is making all the teenage girls pee in their pants, makes all the 20-30 year old females squeal with joy, and all makes the middle aged housewives write slash fanfics like there is no tomorrow. This thing is called Twilight, and if you happen to be of female persuasion it will pull you in like a drug. Essentially it is a series of books about teenagers, vampires and high school shit. Yeah, kinda like Buffy, but without Joss Whedon’s witt, humor and penchant for brutally killing important characters.
I did something shameful – I read one of these books. I probably should not admit to it, but, it happened. Somehow my penis did not fall off, and I did not grow a vagina. Or at least not yet.
Here is how it went down: my cousin pretty much inhaled the whole series in one sitting. She was liquifying these novels, heating them on a spoon, and injecting them directly into her bloodstream. Once she was done with them and she handed me the first book saying it was the best thing she read since forever. Better than Hardy Plotter, she said! I protested, saying that since I have this thing called the Y chromosome I may be physically unable to get through it. She rolled her eyes at me, and threw the book on my desk saying I should give it a chance when I grow up.
After she left, I swiftly removed the book from my desk, and concealed it under a stack of papers. I squeezed it between my copies of Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion and dumped some other stuff on top of it. I mean, I didn’t want to have to explain why I have this contraband book in my room. It would be embarrassing.
Then something happened – I ran out of stuff to read. I ordered like 5 books on Amazon the day before, so there was no point for me to go to the book store. I just had to wait for the shipment to arrive via snail mail. After a day or two of this, I figured that I might as well dig out that copy Twilight and check it out as I wait. My cousin loved it, all the ladies at work can’t stop talking about it, and someone in Hollywood decided to turn it into a movie. It couldn’t be totally horrible, could it? Oh wait, no! What the hell am I saying. My cousin, coworkers and Hollywood have very, very different tastes in literature than me. I like smart, thought provoking and difficult prose that will profoundly fuck up your brain – in a good way. They, on the other hand like… Light reading.
So I knew Twilight would be the type of literature that allows you to put your brain in standby mode and just cruise through it. But hey, they say that you should read a shitty book every once in a while. If all you read are masterpieces, then you sort of lose the reference frame. Sampling some trash will give you a new appreciation the good stuff you have read in the past.
Besides, I figured I will be able to trash it in a review. Bad books usually let you write funny reviews, and I don’t think I had one of those in a while. So I did it out of boredom, and out of my love for you my readers. I did it for you! When your wife or girlfriend demands that you read it, or demands that you see the movie with her (oh, yeah – there is a movie for each book apparently) you know what you are getting into. You will be prepared. See what sacrifices I am making for you?
I have to stress that it’s a very girly book. Not that I have read many girly books, but I imagine that this is how these things go. You can figure out who is the target demographic for this novel, by counting how many pages are devoted to shit like high school drama, shopping, cooking and of course love. But not the real love, but it’s immature 3 letter version that is spelled with a U and a V at the end.
There is a short introduction which familiarizes you with the main character – Bella, who is a bright and incredibly attractive, new girl in town. And when I’m saying “incredibly attractive” I mean it. Apparently she is an embodiment of female perfection – Venus personified. As soon as she shows up all the boys in her new high school immediately fall hopelessly in love with her. But since she is supposed to be likable, she is also portrayed as shy, a bit clumsy, absent minded and introverted. She is completely uninterested in all the attention she is getting and she is happy to hook all of her admirers with her friends.
In other words she is a perfect woman. Beautiful without being stuck up. Incredibly smart, friendly and benevolent and non-threatening to lesser females in the pack. She is the most popular girl in school – object of male desire, and female envy by the sheer virtue of her existence. She did not earn this distinction, she does not desire it – and yet it is heaped on her from above as if by some benevolent deity. She is the quintessential Marry Sue character.
Few pages into the story she meets the only guy in school who is not completely smitten by her. Quite opposite – he doesn’t even seem to like her. He gives her a cold shoulder, and generally makes it very clear he wants nothing to do with her. Her usual strategy of not having to do anything to attract hopeless devotion fails miserably. So, she immediately becomes irrevocably obsessed with this mysterious guy who is somehow able to resist her.
The poor girl spends the next two chapters loosing sleep over this guy. She wants him, she hates him, she doesn’t want anything to do with him, she can’t wait to see him again. You know, the normal irrational, illogical bullshit that is the staple of every teenage romance. In the meantime, all the other boys in the school form a queue and take turns asking her out.
Fast forward few more chapter swooning, longing, hating, stalking and obsessing and BOOM! He turns out he is a 100 years old vampire who for some reason can read minds. And here we all thought he was just some emo dude but no – he is a vampire with striking good looks, mysterious demeanor and bad boy personality who also has telepathic superpowers.
It also turns out that he is not immune to Bella’s charms. In fact, it was quite the opposite – he was more attracted to her than anyone else, but he was afraid to get close because of the vampire thing. Also, Bella’s aura of female awesomeness somehow interferes with his mind reading powers which makes her mysterious and doubly attractive to him.
If you happened to catch the True Blood series on HBO, it’s actually exactly like that. Just the mind reader thing is reversed. But the whole “OMG I want to sex you because I can’t read your mind and one of us is a vampire” angle plays out exactly the same. This is interesting, because True Blood was based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series by Charlaine Harris which was published in 2001. Stephanie Meyer released her first book in 2005. Coincidence? I don’t think so. All I’m saying is that I think I know where she got the idea.
Anyways, plagiarism accusations wouldn’t stick because Meyer’s vampires sparkle in the sun. Yeah, they don’t actually burn like are supposed to. If you see one of them in daylight, they will just look… gay-ish. Or rather they look as if they spent the whole night rolling around in a pile of strippers – they seem to be shit covered with glitter that can’t be washed off. That’s apparently why they don’t go out during the day much. Cause you know – glitter ain’t a joke. I shit you not! Fortunately the glitter thing can’t be seen when it’s cloudy so they can go to school on rainy days as normal. Conveniently, most days in the book are rainy days.
It never really ceases to rain in that town, unless it is appropriate to the plot. It is a plot controlled weather system! I just could not figure out what happens to all that water which is constantly pouring off the sky. Normally, a persistent downpour like that would slowly turn the place into a soggy swap, wash out all the good soil and cause major mud slides all over the place. Not to mention flooding. If it rains for 3 days straight here, our local stream floods, the pond in the park becomes a lake which takes over the whole high school football field, the sewage system starts to back up, and I get water seeping in through the walls in my basement. In the magical town of Forks, WA where the book takes place it rains every day, and none of that shit happens. Maybe it has something to do with the vampires – I don’t know.
So yeah, there are bunch of Vampires in town and they all go to the local high school. I mean, what could be a better way to spend an eternity than to re-experience the bullshit that was high school all over again. Once she is done with the big reveal, Stephanie Meyer gets tired of teenage angst she switches gears and goes into what I can only describe as “George Lucas Love Story”. Let me explain. Do you remember the Star Wars prequels? Think back to those movies, and reflect upon how it depicted the romance between Anakin and Padme.
You see, George Lucas doesn’t really know subtlety. He actually wouldn’t recognize subtlety if it jumped out of the bushes and pissed on his head. So his way of depicting romance is to continuously draw attention to it, point at it, then have characters spell out exactly what they feel straight into the camera. “Anakin! My love to you is like a lovely river of loving love!” explains Padme. “I love you more than all the stars in the sky” responds Anakin, and they go frolic in a meadow while holding hands. Then they talk about their love some more. It comes of forced, ostentatious and fake.
Stephanie Meyer does exactly the same thing – up to and including the meadow frolicking scene. I shit you not – they do go into a meadow, and talk about love. Then they go home and talk about their love some more. And they use phrases such as “I love you so much”, “You are my life”, “If something happened to you I could not go on” and so on, ad nauseum. It was actually difficult to read these parts, because I was rolling my eyes so hard that I thought they will fall out of my head.
The sparkling-lover-boy turns out to be one of the good vampires. He and his buddies don’t actually feed on men, because they are total pussies and have no self control. Instead they go into the forest and suck on mountain goats, squirrels and other woodland creatures. Which I believe is supposed to make us like them.
As I mentioned Stephanie Meyer is a stranger to subtlety, so she can’t do foreshadowing for shit. From the get-go you know that there are also other, less friendly vampires out there, and that they are going to show up sooner or later fuck shit up. That’s exactly what happens.
Remember how I said that Bella is pretty much a irresistible embodiment of female perfection that no male in a 5 mile radius can’t resist? Well, one of the new vampires in town turns out to be a dude and when he finds himself within that 5 mile radius he decides that he must have her in a worst way. And we are talking about vampires “the worst way” involves blood drinking, disembowelment and corpsification. Hilarity ensues.
I mean, drama. Drama ensues, but it is pretty hilarious. It includes that time tested plot twist when the bad guy goes “You must come alone” and then the hero is actually dumb enough to follow that instruction and has to be rescued via shitty Deus Ex Machina device.
So that’s Twilight for you. The plot is simple, schematic and predictable. There are really no plot twists to speak of and it ends with a unexpected, but predicable deus ex machina rescue. Characters are paper thin, and tend to semaphore their feelings and intentions ostentatiously. In fact, only the two of them get any kind of attention. The humans are pretty much defined by how much they pine for, or envy Bella and they don’t really matter in the story. The vampires do play small supporting roles, but they have pretty standard personality templates: a big strong jock, offbeat hipster girl, evil bitch who hates Bella for no reason (just like every other girl in school btw – but they don’t all show it outwardly) and etc. Their distinguishing features are their vampire superpowers that are used as a crutch every time Meyer writes herself into a corner. One is a precog, one is an empath and so on. Whatever is useful at the moment, one of them will probably have it. They are essentially mobile plot devices.
The writing is… Competent, but simplistic. Meyer is a stranger to metaphor and she only seems to use the most literal and simplistic similes. If you like verbal pyrotechnics, or a clever turn of phrase you will be disappointed. Stephanie Meyer simply isn’t that keen of a wordsmith.
But I’m not alone in noticing this. Let me quote someone with much more credibility than me – Mr. Stephen King. In an interview with USA Weekend he compared her to Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) and pretty bluntly said:
Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. … The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.
He is right. She is a pretty lousy writer. That doesn’t stop her from being successful. Most people who read these books remark on how easy and accessible it was. Meyer writes in a language that the gossip magazine reading masses can understand. Simple, blunt, unsophisticated, sterile and literal. It ain’t pretty, but it sells books apparently.
The book sucked. I was silly and childish and immature. But then again I’m not the target reader. Teenage girls will probably get a kick of the overblown sensuality and over dramatization. Maybe…
Here is the thing – people compare these books to Harry Potter. I read one of the Rowling books, and I didn’t find them enthralling or original. But they were far more imaginative, and smarter than Twilight. Rowling did succeed in creating a quirky world of her own, coined several neologisms that entered common parlance and did somehow manage to sneak a commentary on a human condition into her novels. She wrote about friendship, rivalry, growing up and etc. Well, for the most part – there wasn’t much of it there, but she did try. Meyer is more interested in holding hands, and kissing dudes covered in sparkly glitter. The relationship of the main characters dwarfs and overshadows everything else. Supporting characters fade in and out without leaving a lasting impression on the reader. There seems to be no underlying message, or commentary. The book is one dimensional
Surprisingly, hen I read it I did not totally hate it. It does have some limited appeal and may provide you with some degree of entertainment. It’s not satisfying though. It’s not enthralling, and the story is entirely forgettable. It’s a “light reading” high school romance novel with some vampires thrown in for good measure. The book’s success I believe stems from it’s mediocrity. It appeals to the lowest common denominator, and it scratches a particular itch. It delivers a love story that tries really hard to deliver almost tactile sensual experience. It is almost erotic in the way it describes the physical interaction between the two young lovers, but it never crosses the line. It steers clear of explicit sexuality remaining non-threatening, non-explicit and clean enough to be appropriate for readers of all ages. That, I believe is the hook. People don’t read it for the story, for the characters or for the commentary on human condition – they read it for the clean, but very touchy-feely romance.
That’s it – I read it so that you don’t have to. Someone will doubtlessly find this via Google, disagree with me, will tell me that I suck, and then point out my spelling and grammar mistakes. That is to be expected since the books have an established fan base.
Also, I didn’t read any other books in this series. Stephanie Mayer might have gotten better over time – I wouldn’t know. Angry fangirls should keep in mind that this review was based solely on Twilight.