Themes Explored: teenage angst, depression, broken families, immortality, vegetarianism, vampirism, high school drama, adoption, obsession, love triangle, stalking, romance, love, myth, legend, mob Vampires, social anxiety, social exclusion, single fatherhood, interpersonal relationships, death, divorce, forbidden love, deceitfulness, fantasy, melancholy
Synopsis: About three things I was absolutely positive: first, Edward was a vampire; second, there was a part of him that thirsted for my blood; third, I am unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen are a pair of star-crossed lovers whose forbidden relationship ripens against the backdrop of small-town suspicion and a mysterious coven of vampires. This is a love story with bite. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: I resisted reviewing this book for a long time. Mainly due to my utter disgust for the storyline. But I find myself unable to recall another book in glaring detail today, so I will strive to be as objective as possible with this review. When Twilight first entered mainstream popularity, I was no longer a member of the target market. As a result, I never had any inclination to purchase or rent the book. After an awkward family get together, I decided that I needed some conversation material so I could talk with my younger cousin the next time we met. In this spirit I asked her for a book recommendation and she started gushing about Twilight for a solid twenty minutes. And she conveniently had a copy to lend me. After reading the book, I can understand why it sold so many copies and spawned a successful, albeit horrible, movie franchise. Stephanie Meyer does not possess the writing talent of JK Rowling, but her prose borders on the hypnotic. She knows her audience incredibly well and how to pull in the angst ridden adolescent reader.
Twilight begins by introducing Isabella “Bella” Swann, a 17 year-old girl bouncing between divorced parents. Due to her mother choosing her boyfriend over her, Bella packs her bags and moves to Forks, Washington. Her father, Charlie Swann, is the Police Chief. Bella desperately wishes she could go back to the sunny Phoenix and leave the dismal town of Forks. Since she has no choice in this matter, she resignedly enrolls in and attends the local High School. While there, she meets the pale and interesting Edward Cullen. He treats and looks at her as if she is a piece of trash, with an intensive hostility that Bella had never experienced before. Over time Bella and Edward form an attachment, which is jeopardized by his drive to drink human blood. Mainly hers. Throw into the mix a brewing vampire war, a vampire hunting party, and a former male friend who is now incredibly attractive and Bella is set to have a truly unique high school experience.
Meyer lists Romeo & Juliet as a major influence on her writing. This influence is evident throughout the narrative. Both narratives deal with forbidden love, star-crossed lovers, disapproving families, social tensions, and family tensions. Though Meyer gave Twilight a somewhat happier ending. In keeping with this theme, Twilight contains a fair share of relationship drama and sneaking around. One major difference, besides the vampire theme, is the age disparity between the lovers in both narratives. Romeo and Juliet are supposed to be around the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Meanwhile, Bella is seventeen and Edward is one hundred and two. My main question is why a century year-old and highly educated vampire male would want to date a depressed high school student. This is similar to the real life question of why a college junior would want to date a high school senior. Both scenarios beg to ask what is wrong with the guy that he cannot find a mate in the same age group. And this does not even begin to cover the massive difference in life experience. If you want a quality star-crossed narrative, I suggest reading Romeo & Juliet. It a meatier tale, even with the tragic ending.
Stylistically speaking, Meyer wrote Twilight using a first person perspective. Everything is narrated through the lens of Bella. As a result, Edward and the Cullen clan remain a mystery. Even by the end of the book the history of the Cullen remains clouded in shadow. (This is somewhat resolved in later books). Twilight is Meyer’s debut novel and it shows. Some of the pacing is off and a lot of the characters lack realistic development. Lack of development is one of the main problems with first person narration. As Twilight is told from Bella’s perspective, everything is biased in her favor. This creates the problem known as “the unreliable narrator”, this is true for anything written in first person. Bella only describes things through her own understanding of the events, which means the reader sometimes does not fully understand the importance of some scenes. Another drawback of first person is that the main character becomes nearly impossible to describe. Writers often get around this hurdle by placing the POV character in front of a mirror or window. Though this is now a clichéd scene due to its popularity amongst first time writers using this perspective. Meyer falls into this cliché several times and it bogs the narrative down with heavy handed descriptions. The main benefit of first person is that the reader can really connect with the main character. I think this is one of the reasons Twilight became so popular, readers felt a connection with Bella.
Character wise, Bella resembles most modern American teenagers: a single child with divorced and absentee parents. Charlie is present but is the textbook definition of “oblivious”. Bella is depressed, lonely, socially awkward, clumsy, and self-sufficient. Most teenagers have similar feelings, so Bella is an accurate representation of adolescence. However, she does exhibit some questionable tendencies. She enjoys moping and staring blankly out of windows. And she accepts the existence of vampires without so much as blinking an eye. This is one discordant chord that, I think, detracts from the believability of the novel. Most normal people would probably freak out or express extreme skepticism. Meyer never explains why Bella so easily accepts Edward’s existence. Does she have past experience with vampires? We will never know. As a heroine, Bella is okay. She is stubborn and headstrong but not overly intelligent. If Edward had not dutifully stalked her, Bella would have died about halfway through the novel.
Edward and the Cullen clan are presented in an extremely sympathetic light. They are merely misunderstood creatures who desperately try to fit in with their natural prey. All of them possess superhero powers, swoon inducing good looks, impeccable style, and highly developed intellects. No wonder Bella longs for Edward to turn her. Meyer presents vampirism as a sensible and appealing lifestyle choice, though with an extremely limited diet. The Cullen’s provide the moral and ethical perspective of the narrative. Despite being the historical bloodthirsty monsters of legend, the “vegetarian” Cullen clan espouse humanistic values. Which begs the question, are vampires morally absolved of past sins if they only kill animals and not humans? And no wonder Edward is moody, he is constantly fighting his biological urge for human blood. When did vampires become the longed for Prince Charming in Young Adult fiction? Is it the wildness, the fangs, or the immortality that appeals to readers? Personally, I thought Edward made a terrible romantic hero. In any other story he would be the creepy stalker villain.
However, the narrative is incredibly easy to read. And there is just enough mystery to remain intriguing. Twilight partly appeals because the main characters feel like outsiders and struggle to make connections. Nearly every teenager between the ages of fourteen and eighteen experience similar feelings. Bella is remarkably relatable, vampire love interest aside. While I personally did not enjoy Twilight, I can understand why it captured the imagination of so many readers.
Twilight, Little Brown & Company, 2005, ISBN 9780316015844