Review: Twilight: Stephenie Meyer

[NB: I wrote this years ago. Found it hidden in an old blog I used to have and thought I’d resurrect it. Still stand by my assessment.]

When Twilight first came on the scene, I’ll be honest, I completely ignored it. In fact, it was my sister who bought the first book in the series and, after informing me that she’d given up at chapter three thanks to quote ‘an obvious plot and annoying characters’, I never really gave it much thought.

In England, the phenomenon of Twilight took a lot longer to grow that in the States, so even as the third book was due to come out, it was still fairly obscure, at least compared to its status today. And I remember standing at the shelf, looking at Meyer’s (at that time) three works and, having read all the blurbs, I chose to pick up The Host. And it was only because I really enjoyed that book that I picked up its vampire equivalent.

There are still times I wonder if the same woman really did write both books.

I believe that the characters are the backbone of a book. Bad characters. Bad book. Because on paper, Twilight looks good. Its got a good solid concept. It takes a popular theme and twists it into a unique interpretation. It has room for romance but also for intrigue. I can see why an agent took it on. Its problem can be summed up in one word.

Bella.

God is she irritating. Now I know hardcore fans will say that it was Meyer staying true to her character. Well fine. But then my advice is don’t write a character that is so intolerable. When Bella isn’t moping or moaning, she’s indecisive and such a cliché damsel-in-distress it pains me. I would put spoiler alerts but I doubt there’s a person in the world who doesn’t know the predictable plot. In book one, we are presented with a blurb that tells you in its first sentence what it then proceeds to take Bella half a book to discover – that Edward is a vampire. Now I’m willing to offer a little give and take on this one, I mean, vampire isn’t exactly the first thing you think. But unlike Stoker who leaves subtle hints and clues, Meyer includes so many obvious tells that you are practically screaming at Bella by the time she finally realises. And it is here that Meyer, for me, starts to undo her own plot. Instead of having Bella cautious about this new discovery. Have her doubt him. She just takes the word of her self-confessed vampire stalker and falls head over heels in love with him. She could have played on it so easily. You still keep the meadow scene but afterwards build in a sequence of chapters where doubt starts to creep in. Bella tries to stay away from Edward but her heart and mind are in conflict. Have her doubt her feelings. Is he manipulating her somehow? And indeed, have Edward killing James be the proof that Bella needs to finally let down her walls and trust him and slowly open her heart to him.

But no, she is turned into a female sap who turns to jelly and can’t seem to get through a chapter without at least once mentioning his bloody (no pun intended) gold eyes.

However, despite Bella’s best efforts, I actually enjoyed book one. The plot was clever, and if you could swallow the mills-and-boon style romance, well conceived. I also happen to like Edward as a character. Carlisle is a tad goody-goody but the rest of the vamp clan, particularly Alice are very likeable.

Book two starts badly and just gets progressively worse. There is a large section of book two that I have marked out. The page Edward leaves and the page Edward comes back, and I refuse to ever read again that which falls between. I saw the werewolf thing coming ever since the conversation on the beach in book one, proving once again that Bella is both slow and annoying. I actually don’t mind Jacob. Certainly I prefer his book persona to his movie one. But I just cannot stand Bella’s moping. Never has one taken being dumped quite so badly. Because that is all that has happened. Edward dumped her. Normally people eat chocolate ice cream, call in sick for a week and then get on with their lives. Bella, on the other hand, is comatose for three months. Just to put this in perspective, in PS I Love You (Another excellent book), Holly’s husband DIED and she doesn’t react as severely. I rest my case. The ending is… abrupt and a tad far-fetched in places but it does introduce the Volturi who I do think are a brilliant concept. A concept, which for the most part, Meyer almost completely ignores. They could have become such a powerful villain. I am so glad the movies (their one and only redeeming feature) give more focus on the Volturi.

Book three was actually my favourite of the four. There was an identifiable villain who had, for once, a fairly understandable motive. It had a clever idea, I liked the idea of a newborn army (though again, criminally underused) and we discovered a lot about the Cullens. Rosalie and Jasper in particular have very good back stories. I surprised myself by actually enjoying Eclipse.

Book four is so painfully predictably, redeemed slightly by Jacob’s chapters, destroyed entirely by Bella’s idiocy. And the ending, well, I don’t need to add to the rain forest of critics who have already explored how much of a disappointment that was.

For me, this is the book that could have been. Meyer is, despite what many say, a good writer. The person who wrote The Host knew what she was doing. And she had so much at her disposal. The Volturi could have been the ultimate villain. Edward, for the most part, is a perfect male anti-hero. And she has a secondary cast, any of which could  have had a story all on their own. A friend of mine once described Twilight as ‘amateur teenage porn’ and sadly, it’s not far wrong. The books are enjoyable. I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but that doesn’t make them good. What had all the making of an underground battle between good vampires and bad vampires, with a human girl who knows that if she follows her heart, she will pull everyone she loves into a war that they cannot possibly hope to win, but if she follows her head she will have to give away everything that mattered to her turned into a sappy love story where a seventeen year old virgin falls in love with her stalker who then proceeds to blackmail her into marrying him before knocking her up, with strong overtones of ‘abortion is baaad’.

The saddest part is there is one part of the Twilight family that I genuinely enjoyed and thought showed more promise than all the rest put together. Midnight Sun. Twilight from Edward’s point of view. It actually amazed me how much the story improved just by being told from a different point of view. Even Bella seemed less infuriating from his point of view. But it was the one project Meyer abandoned after it was leaked onto the internet. It is still available, the amount she wrote on her website and I would highly recommend reading it. Indeed, his telling of the car crash in the school yard is both clever and amusing. I was very sad to hear that Meyer didn’t intend to continue this version of the story. I think it could have become a powerful novel.

Twilight is an opportunity that was lost. It’s good meaningless fluff, but it could have been so much more. It could have been a book that utterly deserved its place in literary history, instead it’ll go down as ‘that vampire book that bloke with the weird hair made a film of’. Yes it is successful. Yes it has put Stephanie Meyer on the map. Yes people dare to mention it in the same sentence as Harry Potter *she shivers in disgust*. But none of that makes it good.

Rating (as a series): 4-10 – surprisingly high perhaps but it is, despite its massive downsides, still an enjoyable read. I have no problem with what it is, it is what it could have been that bothers me.

Favourite Quotes (2): “No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about being human. Things change.”

Favourite Character: Alice Cullen

Least Favourite Character: Bella Swan.