I’m not sure why I was possessed by a sudden desire to read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. As its reputation demands, any books about such fantasy romance should be hideous to all males. I guess that’s precisely why I decided to read them, so I could decide for myself what I think of the books. And also, I feel compelled to read books which reach a certain level of popularity so I can see what the fuss is about. (Fifty Shades of Grey is on the same pile. At the bottom). I’d seen the film before and wasn’t greatly impressed, but I know too well how little this says about the book. So, after particular difficulty acquiring the book – I decided not to take this as a sign – I began reading with great interest.
And, you know, it’s really not that bad. Sure, it is a romance novel which I appreciate isn’t everyone’s thing, but I don’t feel as if any shred of ‘manliness’ I possess has been compromised for having read it. The concept is very simple: vampire and human fall in love, vampire fights desire to kill her and drink her blood; he must then protect her from less restrained vampires. It’s a good concept but the execution, I think, is the main flaw with the story.
The book begins when Isabella, ‘Bella’ Swan moves to the dull, wet and green town of Forks to live with her father. Her reasons for doing so are immediately unconvincing: she wanted her mother and her mother’s boyfriend to have space as they travel across the USA, although mildly in character, as it is revealed that Bella generally response to situations in the opposite way which would be expected. It took me a while to warm to Bella. She seemed very conceited to begin with but I began to realise it was all part of her awkward, but generally pleasant, manner. However for someone so independently minded it’s disappointing that she becomes so submissive and thoughtless in Edward’s presence. At the book’s end, as she pleads with Edward to let her become a vampire, it’s clear she really hasn’t thought it through. Sure, she’s infatuated with Edward now, but is that really worth an eternity of putting humans in danger, having to seclude yourself from society? Granted, I wouldn’t necessarily turn down the offer myself, but her knee-jerk reaction is rushed and for all the wrong reasons.
I also was less than impressed with the development of Edward and Bella’s relationship. While that may be down to my distaste of the flimsy nature of relationships in general, I would expect such feelings of love to come with some appreciation of the other’s company. Yet all Bella and Edward do for the first half of the book is endlessly debate the philosophical nature of their relationship, or prattle on about how they feel about one another. Which is fine, I’m not criticising that, but there’s never any indication they actually like one another beyond their attraction towards each other. Edward is in love with Bella’s scent and she is in love with his perfection. I suppose that’s just how relationships work, but it never felt believable until their love for each other had been established.
Despite my criticisms of their relationships, I do like the characters in Twilight. Bella is interesting and unique, particularly when contrasted to the ‘typical teens’ of Forks High School. That said, everyone’s so innocent in Forks. When Mike arranges a trip to the beach everyone’s content to build a bonfire and then go exploring. From my experience this outing would not be complete without at least a dozen tins of various alcohols – but perhaps that’s more a reflection on the culture I live in; Forks is four and a half thousand miles from where I live, after all. But I digress. Although Bella was different, there are a lot of people like her in the world and I couldn’t see what made her so special in particular. Edward is initially the most interesting character with one hundred years of experiences, though he does begin to get repetitive as the novel progresses. And what’s with his dominance over Bella? I get that his domination over her, more than once dragging her to do his will (she always stops complaining before long), is meant to be romantic, but I see it as verging on misogynistic. Charlie is your stereotypical American police officer, unable to cook and hobbies consisting of fishing and watching football. The teenagers at the school are just as stereotypical, though mostly realistic.
The Cullens are the most interesting and varied characters. Some are not given much development yet: Esme is ‘kind’, Rosalie is ‘hostile’, Emmett is ‘funny’. Jasper, Alice and Carlisle are the most developed characters, and are consequently the most likable. Carlisle in particular garners the reader’s respect, and takes the role of a wise mentor for the others. Jasper and his ability to mildly control people’s moods is an intriguing character. Alice, with all her enthusiasm and intuition, feels the most human of the vampires. Then there’s James, the sadistic hunter after Bella’s blood. He was very well crafted, and responsible for the novel’s most suspenseful moments. I knew Bella would survive – I practically know the plot of all four novels – yet I was gripped. The plot leaps in pace after James’ introduction and feels as if it’s finally found its feet.
Overall, Twilight is a far better book than I expected. Not perfect, certainly, and nor is it aimed towards my demographic, yet I enjoyed it nonetheless. I intend to read the three remaining books in the series, though I fear my resolve may fail at the repetitive nature, particularly as the love triangle around Jacob is formed (side note: Jacob’s far younger, clumsier and awkward than all the promotional images for the films would have me expect. Interesting marketing techniques). But I’ll persevere. It’s been years since I last abandoned a book and I don’t intend to start now. Who knows – I might even enjoy them.
Final Rating: 7/10
(PS: How do I tell whether I’m ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’ ?!)