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Book Review: Twilight

May 14, 2009

In ancient Greek mythology, there was a man who offended the gods by stealing their nectar and ambrosia and later serving his son to them for dinner. His punishment was to spend eternity standing in water up to his neck surrounded by trees bearing luscious fruits. When he got thirsty, however, the water would recede, and when he got hungry, the branches would blow away. His name was Tantalus, the origin of our word to tantalize, meaning to promise without delivering, to entice without bringing satisfaction.

I finally caved and read Twilight. After all, I had railed strongly against those who criticized Harry Potter without having read it. I wanted to be honest and make my own informed opinion, rather than blindly throwing myself in with the detractors simply because the idea of sparkly vampires makes me very, very sad. Yes, I went into it with a strong bias, fully expecting to hate it, scrutinizing every sentence for evidence that it was indeed a festering heap of twaddle. Having finished the first book of the series, I’m forced to admit that it wasn’t that bad, but neither was it as good as the fans make it out to be. It’s horrifically over-hyped and doesn’t deserve the recognition it’s received.

For starters, it’s a romance novel. A teen romance novel. A teen vampire romance novel. I’m not trying to put down romance novels; Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind are examples of how romance novels can be good, solid pieces of literature. And it’s not because Twilight involves vampires. Two vampire romance series I would love to recommend are the Real Vampires series by Gerry Bartlett and the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson. The brilliant thing about these series is that they’re written as humor. There is so much you can get away with in humor that just flops otherwise. It didn’t take long at all before I grew first tired, then sick, of the constant, repetitious descriptions of how divinely gorgeous Bella thought Edward was. It was a monotony that drove me crazier with every gratuitous gasp. Yes, I get it, Bella thinks Edward is über-hawtt. That style is typical of modern romance novels, which is fine as far as it goes, but it also rather disqualifies any book that uses it from being considered anything more than entertaining escapism. The hype surrounding Twilight implies that it’s more than that, better than that, and it’s simply not. Twilight tries both to be serious and to model itself on the bodice-ripper, and given how chaste the main characters are, it fails spectacularly.

The book reads like it was written by a slightly precocious and very hormonal 13-year-old before being polished into a superficially professional form. The basic mechanics were mostly solid, although there were times I wanted to throttle the editor for terrible proofreading errors that slipped past (“dust moat” for “dust mote” and “unloosened” for “loosened” disappointed me to no end). The exposition is competent and the dialogue is uninspired. There was exactly one truly good line in the entire book, about halfway through, although it was followed up by a truly terrible one that completely ruined the effect for me. The bit of dialogue in question involved Bella encouraging her father to go ahead with his fishing trip. In a brilliant stroke of casual sarcasm, Bella remarks that they’re “getting dangerously low on fish — we’re down to a two, maybe three years’ supply.” But that’s followed up with:

“You’re sure easy to live with, Bella.” He smiled.
“I could say the same thing about you,” I said, laughing.

That just struck me as terribly insipid.

The characterization leaves so very much to be desired. Bella is without a doubt a Mary Sue. She’s the newcomer everyone instantly falls in love with. Hers is the only mind Edward can’t read. She’s smart, she’s tidy, she’s not proud that she (gasp!) took one sleep aid. Her disability-level clumsiness does not qualify as a flaw to balance her out. Flaws are of the personality nature, and she has those only when convenient to the plot, such as the way she’s stupidly unafraid of vampires and insists on being transformed, despite the warning that it involves three whole days of agonizing pain, pain she experienced a small sample of when the hunter bit her hand. And speaking of which, what was the point of initiating the transformation only to halt the process? (Although I have to admit I’m vaguely amused that she now has a tiny spot on her hand that’s several degrees cooler than the rest of her. I wonder if it sparkles in the sunlight.)

The tantalizing thing about this book is that there really does seem to be a pretty good story in there, somewhere. There were sections that actually pulled me in. Twilight is a potentially good story that’s rather poorly written. On the whole, there were just too many things wrong with it to let the good story shine through. If it weren’t for the hype, I’m sure many people would just shrug it off as the amateurish attempt that it is. If Stephenie Meyer had revised a few more times, envisioning her teenage audience not as a teeming mass of shallow teeny-boppers but as thoughtful, intelligent readers, then she could very well have made a worthy contribution to the paranormal romance genre. But as it stands, the mismatch between the actual quality of the work and the hype it’s generated lets me down in a big way.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2009 10:04 pm

    Glad I wasn’t the only one to notice the proofreading issues. šŸ™‚
    I’ve read and pretty much enjoyed the whole fluff-tastic series: I agree that as a novel, “Twilight” isn’t all that impressive. I think that what makes it so popular is the bare bones of the story, particularly the relateable nature of the romantic tensions therein.
    Have you come across this article?
    http://bitchmagazine.org/article/bite-me-or-dont
    Seifert makes some excellent points, characterizing “Twilight” as “abstinence porn”.
    Also, I highly recommend Tanya Huff’s vampire series, which begins with “Blood Ties”.

    • May 14, 2009 11:51 pm

      Also, *relatable. Oops.
      P.S. – I facebook’d you, but I know you don’t check it too often: I have a shiny new blog. šŸ™‚ The “Manda S.” links to it.

  2. Amy R permalink
    May 21, 2009 8:02 am

    I’ve been a big fan of vampire romance novels lately.

    I guess I got sucked into the the hype of Twilight. I like them, but think there’s definitely too much yearning in them – they need more satisfaction.

    I like the Undead series, but don’t think the latest few have been as good as the early ones in the series.

    Just getting started on the Sookie Stackhouse series and finished the first one. Have you read those?

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