Sunday, 30 November 2008
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
This is another fairly quick read, which I chose because I may well go and see the film and I don't want to repeat what happened with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (where I saw the film before reading the book). I was also hooked, in a giggly way, by a line on the back which described the book as "the thrilling tale of a vampire romance set in high school", which is pretty irresistible. But the actual book was so entrenched in teenage and romance cliches that it never managed to explore what for me was the most interesting part of the story (more on that later).
So, there's a suspiciously beautiful girl (tick), Isabella Swan (interesting name: tick), who even more suspiciously doesn't seem to realise how beautiful she is (tick). Her parents are separated (daughter of a broken home: tick), and she suddenly moves to live with her father in Washington state (emotional and physical upheaval: tick). All the boys at her school immediately fall in love with her and fight over her, but she's intrigued by this uncommonly handsome family, the Cullens, especially the boy Edward Cullen who seems to really hate her. Except of course he doesn't hate her - he's a vampire with super-human powers of strength and speed, who only appears to hate her because he's so overwhelmed by his attraction to her, and, more worryingly, to drinking her blood. Isabella works this all out pretty quickly, but doesn't seem hugely peturbed by the revelation that the supernatural is very much alive and kicking - and we never find out why this doesn't faze her at all, why she accepts happily enough that he's a vampire and so are the rest of his family. (The vampire equivalent of vegetarians, of course, meaning they have given up on human blood to live off animals in an attempt to save their own souls.)
Here the story could get interesting. Edward has never felt such a strong attraction to anyone before, and their early encounters show promising hints of both his physical coldness and his difficulty controlling his appetite. But he deals with this problem fairly easily, so for a large part of the story there isn't actually any real conflict. Only when they run into some less moralistic vampires, and Isabella becomes their prey, does the tension mount - but even then, I didn't find the action as gripping as I could, partly because it was all so very predictable, with one mildly eyebrow-raising twist. Also - and this is a big problem with the book for me - Isabella got on my nerves, a lot. She can't play sports, she can't even run without falling over, she isn't musical, she's not particularly clever. She's also not particularly nice to her father, mother or her friends, reserving all her spark for Edward. In fact her only distinguishing feature seems to be her beauty and her sense of humour, which - I suspect, like Meyer's - doesn't stretch beyond the odd sarky remark. Such, perhaps, is the American way.
Edward, on the other hand, is so gorgeous and clever and talented and able to run/play sports/ save Isabella from all her troubles/play the piano like a virtuoso that he too got annoying. His "perfectly muscled chest" seemed to crop up a bit too much, without any real exploration of the sexual attraction that Isabella clearly feels, except with romance-laden words like "longing". We don't see enough of his flaws, and in this context I just don't think being a vampire counts as enough of a flaw. Both characters spoke like characters from a bad nineteenth-century novel half the time, always professing how bloody much they love each other, Edward being mildly amused at her other suitors, said suitors being a bit pathetic and not showing any balls ... Essentially, I rather felt that, given a course in literacy and a stack of Mills and Boon, a monkey could have written this book. It is readable, fair enough, and cinematically-written, so it'll probably translate quite well onto the big screen, but I really can't see why this series has become such a bestseller, and rather regret spending my £6.99 on it. Shame.