Eclipse Ramblings

This isn’t going to be a review on Stephenie Meyer’s third book in the Twilight ‘Quartet’ because I don’t have the will or energy to write about this book in that much detail, and most points have already been covered in my reviews of Twilight and New Moon.

Basically, this book just droned on and on.  The same angst, the same dilemmas, the same relationships – none of which experienced much development until the final 100 pages or so.  I was bored throughout reading, which, say whatever you want about the first two books, didn’t happen as I read them.  The quality is no lower than the others, and that’s precisely the problem; it’s basically the same book rewritten.  I excluded the final 100 pages because they are more engaging, though still never reaches what ought to be the novel’s full potential.  The book’s full of unbelievable gimmicks, such as Bella suddenly realising she loves Jacob when he forces himself upon her for the second time after threatening to virtually commit suicide – how much more morally abhorrent can you get?  Bella is increasingly dull and irritating and I am left unable to comprehend why these boys are so desperate to have her.  The bizarre morality debates (which also go on and on) about becoming a vampire and marriage completely jar with me.

But there are points I liked.  Jasper’s backstory, being involved in the American Civil War and then becoming apart of unrest in Mexico, was fascinating.  I enjoyed the theory that vampires can exacerbate human violence and instability in certain areas.  The werewolf myths were also highly an enjoyable read.  Victoria was an interesting character, though was not explored nearly enough – the same goes for every character besides the main protagonists, who are explored far too much and far too repetitively.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend Eclipse.  Read Twilight, sure, but New Moon and Eclipse are not necessary reads.  I *will* read Breaking Dawn at some point – my friend has offered to lend it to me, perhaps against my better judgement – and I hope it will be more entertaining than the others.

Final Rating: 4/10

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New Moon Review

Contains spoilers.

 

   Well.  My ambition to read all four Twilight novels (written by Stephenie Meyer) and review them continues with the second book in the saga (though the term ‘quartet’ would be more apt).  In this second instalment, vampire Edward Cullen leaves human lover Bella Swab in an attempt to keep her safe from himself and his family after an incident involving a paper cut and his ‘brother’ Jasper.  Overcome by grief, Bella first goes into catatonic shock then spends months in a lifeless void.  Her pain finally begins to heal as she spends time with her friend Jacob, until he develops into a member of the vampires’ bitter enemies: the werewolves.  Bella and Edward are reunited after he, believing her dead, seeks suicide by displeasing the power Volturi family – the vampire equivalent of a royal family – but she convinces him not to go through with it.

That’s the plot in a nutshell.  It really doesn’t sound like much and, well, that’s because it isn’t.  Plot was not a strong point in Twilight either, though that did pick up pace and develop well towards the end, something which can’t be said of New Moon.  The beginning is fine; the birthday party introduces well the underlying theme of Bella’s ageing and mortality, as well as forming a reminder of the dangers vampires pose to humans.  However, once Edward leaves Bella and walks out of her life, the narrative simply stops.  About 30 pages pass then until Jacob even makes his first appearance (6% of the book), and then around 80 pages (16%) spent developing Bella and Jacob’s relationship and sewing seeds for the werewolf reveal until an event actually happens.  The pace is so incredibly slow.

And yet, it was never once boring.  That’s perplexing me.  The development of characters does pay off and the reader gets to know them intimately, but as a rule this should never be at the expense of the narrative; rather, the two elements co-exist and feed off one another.  So how come New Moon somehow gets away with this?  It isn’t through the plain, clichéd writing style.  I’m not convinced it’s a reflection on the characters either.  Perhaps it’s in the relationships, which Meyer spends most of her time developing.  Is it possible for the relationships to feel deeply developed if the characters are not?  Perhaps so.

The pace does quicken with the werewolf reveal, although this does feel like a less detailed rehash of the vampire reveal in Twilight.  The book’s antagonist is revealed to be Victoria, bitter after previous events, who is seeking to kill Bella in revenge.  The werewolves are tasked with protecting her, and this seems to be where the story is going.  Then, suddenly, Alice Cullen arrives out of the blue after she ‘saw’ Bella jumping off the cliff (more on that later) and finds out about Edward.  The pair are consequently whisked away to Italy where the climax of the novel takes place.  The werewolf strand is utterly dropped, scarcely to be mentioned again.  I know this will be continued in the next two books, but to review New Moon as a novel in its own right – which is it – this is rather sloppy.  In addition to that, the threats are resolved astoundingly easy.  Edward’s about to kill himself!  Hold on, he’s seen Bella, he’s fine.  They’re being taken deep into the Volturi’s lair!  Wait, they’ve been let free after Alice wordlessly promised to turn Bella into a vampire so she’ll keep their secret.  Literally back home in time for tea.  When they return Esme thanks Bella for everything she did in saving Edward, and while it’s true she did risk her life in going to Volterra, she did little else.  This makes logical sense, but emotionally and structurally feels utterly wrong.

What didn’t make logical sense was Bella’s dreaming.  Every night, for about four months, she dreamed the same dream.  Then suddenly, when her lifestyle changed, the dreams also changed.  This shows a lack of understanding towards either dreaming or effective symbolism.  Even worse symbolism was the sledgehammered references to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which revealed in advance exactly how the plot would go.

Bella was starting to grow on me throughout Twilight, but I’m afraid after New Moon I’m finding her completely unbearable.  I can empathise with the deep trauma she feels when Edward leaves, particularly when it is later explained that she not only grieved for him but for his family, her way of life, and her future.  Yet, after four months, she really ought to have had the capacity to at least smile, or communicate with people.  It’s hinted she may have deep psychological problems when her father suggests a psychiatrist, and the more I think about it the more it makes sense: Bella is crazy.  Insane.  Loopy – mad – doolally!  It all fits!  Her hallucinations of Edward are shrugged off as being ‘merely her subconscious,’ but since when have hallucinations being natural and normal?  This is why she is immune to the effect of vampires’ powers!  Her erratic, self-destructive personality, and her lack of awareness towards danger, is now finally explained.  Her shocked reactions to reveals which were obvious from the beginning…  The Twilight quartet suddenly works, thinking from the perspective of, forgive me for the lack of tact, a lunatic.  It almost becomes a work of high literature.

My opinion has not changed of the Cullens since Twilight; while Edward was extremely flawed to abandon Bella in the way he did, it’s in his character to do so.  It’s also in Bella’s character to so rashly forgive him without a trace of anger.  The most interesting character to be developed in New Moon is Jacob Black.  To fully analyse Jacob, he needs to be treated as two characters: pre-transformation Jacob and post-transformation Jacob.  Pre-transformation Jacob is likeable, reliable, and the reader feels compelled to appreciate him.  Then, when he becomes a werewolf, his character seems to change.  He’s far angrier, more assertive, less of a ‘klutz’, more reckless… Maybe, in Meyer’s mythology, these are the normal effects of a werewolf transformation, but in terms of characterisation it feels wrong and cheated because the reader is expected to sympathise with New Jacob just as much as with Old Jacob, which doesn’t happen.  I have no idea what Meyer intended Jacob’s purpose to be.

His werewolf comrades fare little better.  All males, inexplicably, and all overtly boyish.  If Twilight oozed suppressed tension and desire, New Moon is sweating in testosterone.  Another inexplicable facet is how virtually every male with a speaking role seems to fancy Bella: Edward, Mike, Jacob, Quil… Bella laughs and shrugs it off awkwardly, as she only can do, but it feels wrong.  Girls (and boys) with this talent do exist but I don’t believe Bella to be one of them – I’m not convinced.  There’s no reason for her to be so ‘fanciable’.  Bella admits this herself, going on about how worthless she is, but drawing attention to a quandary without resolving it does not make it go away – Meyer might as well have stuck an arrow saying “Look!  Irregularity!”

I did, however, like the Volturi – particularly Aro.  His friendly enthusiasm, greeting people as friends one moment and planning to kill them the next, makes for edgy reading.  The moment when dozens of unaware humans are led in for ‘feeding’ is intentionally horrific and has precisely the desired effect.  They are a real and credible threat, which makes it all the more disappointing that this threat is not yet realised.

One final criticism: Meyer’s repetitive writing style is beginning to grate on me.  How many times did she use the word ‘twisted’ when referring to someone’s facial expression?  The convoluted references to literature and science in explaining everyday occurrences – although if we’re going with the “Bella is insane” explanation then this is suddenly genius.  But I return again to my earlier point of how readable Twilight is.  It absolutely shouldn’t be… And yet it is.  Meyer must be doing something right, but what that is escapes me.  I must give her credit for the unresolved threads at the end of New Moon, nevertheless.  Victoria is still loose, the Volturi will kill Bella if she does not become a vampire but the werewolves will declare war if she does, Bella’s impending choice of either Edward or Jacob… I have to go on, keep reading…

Overall, New Moon is not a spectacular work of fiction.  It’s slow, all over the place, at times nonsensical and unconvincing.  And I enjoyed reading it despite each of those potentially ruinous flaws.  I had a conversation with the school librarian today about the Twilight quartet (she gave me a look of shock when I asked to borrow Eclipse), who told me she feels New Moon is the weakest book of the four, and that the next two improve.  Will I agree?  Watch this space.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Twilight Review

Contains spoilers.

 

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’ ?!)