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