Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Book Review - Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

OK, I was the last person on the planet to read Twilight. I hadn't read any of the other three books in the Edward/Bella series. I haven't seen the films, or even trailers for the films.

How? Just lucky, I guess.

All I knew about Twilight was that young girls raved over it, anyone over the age of thirty hated it, those blessed (or cursed) with even minimal amounts of testosterone became nauseous in its presence, and vampire afficionados spat garlic and holy water when any mention was made of sparkly vampires.

So, last weekend, since my daughter has the complete set, I read Twilight with a relatively open mind.

Possible spoilers
Let me start on a positive note. I liked Stephenie Meyer's style of writing - fast, easy, page-turning stuff. But then I also like Dan Brown's writing style for the same reasons. And James Patterson. All three have accessible, smooth prose and, generally speaking, fairly natural and believable dialogue.

Back to Stephenie.

So, I liked the style. I'm afraid that's almost it for the good points.

Now for the rest.

Our main character is a teenage girl (Bella). Shallow, self-obsessed and totally absorbed in trivia. Never mind global famine or war in Afghanistan. She worries about what her new friends will think of her, and does that green go with her eyes.

Oh, and she falls like so totally in love with a vampire in the space of two weeks or so.

This vampire has nothing going for him except for being inhumanly beautiful, amazingly fast, unbelievably strong, rich and, presumably, never belching or farting. Well, he doesn't eat, does he? Oh, and he saves her life three times.

See? The girl is shallow, like I said. Nothing about his personality, mind, world view or plans for the future. In fact, all the characters are shallow, veering from furious to placid in the space of two sentences - which is always the sign of poor characterization. Real people, and real vampires, hold grudges. They harbour festering resentments. They are slow to change their opinions. Not in teen-girl world, obviously.

No, wait - Edward Vampire is a tortured soul. We know he's tortured, because both he and the author tell us so, constantly. He is in torment, torn between killing the annoying whiny teenager and falling in love with her. He writhes on a knife edge. He oscillates between love and thirst.

Hmmm. Vampires aren't supposed to have a soul, are they?

Most of the vampires in this book have the same moral dilemma. Humans - frail, slow, blundering, short-lived, pathetic - friends or food? Social circle or herd? No wonder people, including our heroine, want to become vampires. Where's the downside?

The vampires - yes, plural. There is a family of these demi-gods going to school with our heroine. This school is set in Washington State. The cloudiest, wettest, most cloud-bound, fog-shrouded part of Washington State. Echoes of Thirty Days of Night.

Why there?

Because our vampires sparkle in the sunlight. It's the place in the USA with the least amount of sunlight per year. The author explains this sparkling as a mechanism to entice their prey closer.

OK, you can catch fish with something shiny. So if their prey (us, remember?) has the IQ of a mackerel, that's plausible. Oh, wait, teenage girls - yes, fair enough.

These vampires also play baseball. Score one for irony. No problem there.

Oh, and they don't hunt humans any more, because they've all sworn to be good vampires. Sometimes they slip, but not often. Well, yes... I suppose I could just about accept that.

When Bella first thinks Edward is a vampire, and then has it confirmed, her reaction is: 'OK, yeah, so, like nobody's perfect, yah? Look how handsome he is.' Where was the emotional trauma about falling in love with a blood-sucking creature of the night? An undead creature of limitless evil? Oh, sorry, I forgot, these are good vampires. They don't even have bad breath.

The trouble with the book, is that in five hundred pages, nothing much actually happens.

She falls in love, he saves her life, but it's all negligible in terms of visceral action or excitement. Even when a rival clan of 'bad' vampires hunts her, we have no real action. There is a hunt, the excitement builds, she is separated from her vamp protectors, she sacrifices herself for the sake of others. Yes! Action at last!

Er, sadly, no. The climax of the book, from my point of view, is totally missed because our protagonist passes out before most of the action occurs. I felt cheated.

And, if I had to read one more occurrence of ' crooked grin', 'sculpted chest', 'burning eyes' or 'compelling gaze' I was going to vomit.

The biggest problem of all?

Plot structure. There isn't one. There is no nemesis. A baddie is brought in 75% through the book, but he's an incidental plot mechanism enabling the author to further elaborate on the implausibly sudden, unbelievably intense love of girl and vamp. You can discount the Indian boy who also wants Bella, and is a werewolf, because he won't be revealed until Book Two or Three. Because there is no nemesis, we can have no major action. It's all Act One - set up stuff.

Of course, for commercial reasons, that may have been the intention all along. How many people bought the book only to find that, in order to gain satisfaction, they had to buy two or three more books afterwards?

So, my verdict?

If you're a teenage girl worried about surface appearances, peer pressure, the allure of 'bad boys' and very little else - 5 stars.

If you belong to the real human race - 2 stars.

But I do think that Stephenie identified and hit her target market perfectly. I have nothing but admiration for that. She can write well. She just needs a decent plot and some believable characters to bring out the best in her.


  1. I enjoyed this! Though I have to say (personal preference) I don't much care for the style of writing either....

    (I had the same problem with Dan Brown)

  2. Haven't read it, but the review made me smile. Someday, I'll get around to it, but there are so many other books out there that are actually good.

  3. I haven't read Twilight but this does strike me as an accurate review. It's also clever and amusing and fair to the author. Very enjoyable.

    I wonder about this being set in the rain forest where it rains approximately 364 days of 365. This would limit sparkle opportunities.

  4. Hi Jeanne. I think that's why the vampires live there. They'd be a bit conspicuous living in e.g. Las Vegas. At least when it's always drizzling, they can go out in the daytime. They came from somewhere else originally. Or so I gathered.

  5. Nice review, Paul. I did not have the same fortitude and couldn't finish the book. I didn't like any of it, not even the style. Of course, she did hit on something golden; teen angst. She knew what made teen hearts tick, and she mined that straight to the bank.

    Would her books have done as well without the movies full of hotties? No. Good call there as well. Sparkling vamps...still makes me gag.

  6. Great review Paul. I like that you liked the style, because for me that's what made it an easy page turner, fast read. But I did fall into the roamnce aspect of it for a short time. Then reading it again realized that it was shallow! Great review.

    I think out of the whole set, I enjoyed Eclipse the most because it seems like there is a love triangle, and a true nemesis, but the last book, BLEH, horrible stuff.