Thursday, September 18, 2008

Twilight series - the verdict

Given that the web is awash with reviews and comments about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, it seems almost superfluous for me to weigh in to the discussion.

However, I’ve spent more than 2,300 pages and the past three weeks working my way through the four books, so to not discuss them would seem a waste!

Now, I know people either love or hate this series, so I’ll say upfront I generally enjoyed the overall experience (and yes, I hear the ink-stained toe-poker howl in pain).

For me the first book, Twilight, remains the best from a tight storytelling perspective (perhaps not surprisingly, it is also the shortest). New Moon and Eclipse develop the mythology and progress the story arcs that all come together Breaking Dawn, the fourth book.

At the core of the series is the romance between teenage Bella and her impossibly attractive classmate Edward, who also happens to be a vampire. Edward and his “family” have chosen to abstain from biting and killing humans, but Bella’s blood is so appealing to Edward, that even though he loves her, he’s terrified he’ll kill her if he loses control.

Their relationship is one of restraint and longing, filling the pages with sexual tension. As the story progresses, particularly in the third book, the focus becomes on Bella’s growing desire to become a vampire, which Edward opposes.

For those who haven’t read the books, I won’t spoil the twists that arrive in the final 754 page instalment. Some readers have complained the first three books are a little too much the same, but – regardless of any other criticism - there can be no such complaints with the fourth book.

It takes the story in a different direction and has more sex and violence than the other three books combined – but still falls a long way short of being a “horror” story. It also sets the scene for further stories (although Meyer has said she won’t write any more from Bella’s perspective).

I’ve read Meyer talk in interviews about how much she loves her characters and loves spending time with them, and my greatest criticism with these books is that she indulges that love more than she should – or needs to - from a narrative perspective.

Plot points are demonstrated more than once, because the author clearly loves how the characters interact on the page. I grew continually frustrated – particularly in the middle two books – when it was obvious a scene or chapter was simply reiterating something that was already well established (for example, that the werewolf Jacob was in love with Bella … and don’t get me started on that relationship. Never been a fan of romantic triangles, and this one really annoyed me – but it does resolve itself with a nice sense of ironically in the end).

At nearly 800 pages, Breaking Dawn is longer than it needs to be, but, in fairness, an enormous amount happens plot-wise.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Bella and Edward’s relationship was a metaphor for sexual restraint, and while that symbolism continues through the bulk of the story, it takes a back seat to the growing mythology. (Although, maybe her desire to be a vampire is symbolic of the transformation after marriage...)

When Meyer set out to write these stories – inspired by a vivid dream – I doubt she imagined she’d sell the number of books she has, or spark the kind of rabid fans and critics who now populate blogland.

I think she’s a writer who loves her characters and loves writing them. Enough people are devouring the series to send a message she’s not alone in her affection.

I may not be willing to don a “I love Edward Cullen” badge, but I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy large slabs of this story.

So bring on the jibes…


the ink-stained toe-poker said...

Things to note: apparently - and this is pure gossip - a lesbian love scene was removed from BD before it was published - ooh (fingers over the mouth) scandal... and... Meyers has apparently refused to write any more of any of this 'utter tosh' after an excerpt from proposed book 5 Midnight Sun was posted somewhere on the net. Hallelujah!!!
I say no more, but if all it takes to stop her writing another door stop is a wee sneak on the internet -I say show me the ms.
I'm kiddin' obviously. Aye right.

Placey said...

Like many, I found myself addicted to the whole 'Twilight' phenomenon – read all the books one after the other, watched the first movie (which I felt adapted the book brilliantly and I enjoyed more than the novel – but that’s another blog, Paula!), got the soundtrack and the sheet music- I stopped short of the bumper sticker stating "I drive like a Cullen!" when I realised I was getting a teensy bit obsessive!

I have recently re-read the whole series in a less frenzied state, hoping to stop and smell the roses a little more now that I know how the whole story ends.
Some parts of the plot that bothered me the first time around, I felt I could live with more easily. In my first read of ‘New Moon’ I found it hard to accept that Edward would just up and leave after previously swearing he couldn’t live without Bella. I didn’t find this such an issue the second time around, perhaps because I knew Edward was returning, or understood better his justification for leaving in the first place. Like many, I found myself sympathetic to Jacob’s cause.

I also found parts of ‘New Moon’ repetitious – yes, we get that Bella is inconsolable after Edward leaves. I actually think Meyer expresses this teen emotion extremely accurately, I can remember being in a goth-like depression for over a year at about that age over a boy, I don’t know how mum and dad survived! But I don’t think my diary would have made for good reading and perhaps that’s why parts of ‘New Moon’ don’t either.

In ‘Eclipse’, I found the love-triangle was wearing a little thin by now, Bella should just make her mind up and give one of these guys a break, and Jacob had moments of stalker-like behaviour (such as their various kissing scenes), although I realize that Meyer was trying to convey that Jacob was more aware of Bella’s feelings towards him than she was.

In both ‘New Moon’ and ‘Eclipse’ I really enjoyed the growing mythology of the Volturi, the new-borns, and the werewolf clan.

I read a bunch of really bad reviews of ‘Breaking Dawn’ from previous ‘Twilight’ fans, which surprised me (although I agree on one point - Renesmee is a ridiculous name!). There was criticism ranging from Bella being a bad role model for marrying and getting pregnant so young, to domestic violence issues following Bella and Edward’s honeymoon. Perhaps not having a teen daughter to worry about reading the books along with me (I gather Mother/ Daughter joint obsessions have been part of the Twilight phenomenon) prevented me from seeing these perspectives.

I really enjoyed the chapters in ‘Breaking Dawn’ being told from Jacob’s perspective; Bella’s first person narrative had been starting to get to me. I also liked the version of ‘Twilight’ that Meyer commenced from Edward’s viewpoint. I think the whole series could have been a little better balanced if it hadn’t been skewed so much to Bella’s perspective. Bring on the ‘New Moon’ movie – here’s hoping they do as good a job with it as they did with ‘Twilight’!