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Stephenie Meyer – Twilight

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Disclaimer: this review was posted with caution, even though my overall view is favourable I hope I’ve outlined enough faults for it not to be too biased a recollection. I realise that this topic may make or break my reputation.

Who, by now, has not heard of the author Stephenie Meyer? Her debut was woven around a dream she had and now she’s earning millions in both currency and fandom. Meyer hit the big time quickly and the long hours spent away from family have paid off.

Publisher: Atom
Pages: 434
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-904-23365-7
First Published: 2005
Date Reviewed: 27th November 2009
Rating: 4/5

I can’t say I remember the releases of any of the books in the saga as I do those of Harry Potter. The first I knew of Twilight was when my cousin asked if I’d like to go and watch the movie. Suffice to say however that they are everywhere and continually at a knocked-down price. Not that I mind either for the covers are exquisite.

Isabella Swan, or rather just “Bella”, decides to move back to the town of her birth and her father after her mother marries a sportsman. Forks is a town she hates but she goes regardless. There she comes across the youths of the Cullen family, a group of five who keep to themselves and are often absent from school. Bella’s presence changes that, she stirs Edward’s senses in a way he really wishes she wouldn’t, for he is dangerous, a vampire, and until then had successfully remained able to live alongside humans with little worry. He and Bella fall in love. But it doesn’t matter if he can keep himself at bay – there’s a whole host of them out there just waiting for him to turn his back.

Being as I was a viewer before a reader I can advise with confidence that yes, it is worth reading the book afterwards. True to the format of book-to-film a lot was missed out and significant scenes altered. Of note is the scene where Bella tells Edward she knows he’s a vampire. In the book she casually mentions it in the car, whereas the movie goes all out on dramatics and has Bella afraid to speak while the backdrop of a dark forest becomes ever more suffocating. The movie also handles Edward’s temperament in a way more suitable for young people, the written version of which I will discuss in time.

For all that’s been said about Meyer’s poor ability as a writer, I found her style and structure surprisingly good. In fact I would go as far as to say that out of the 20 or so books I have read this year Twilight has been the most satisfying literature-wise. Some of her paragraphs read like poetry and unlike many other authors who have studied English, Meyer is certainly at one with the subject. She uses a vast array of words generally forgotten in today’s world, never hesitating over the idea that her readers might not understand.

The story itself I would split into three parts, using the nature of the parts as my reasoning for doing so. At first everything is easy to read and honestly a joy, even if the setting of a high school is unappealing to the older reader. Bella is a savvy, sassy young woman who favours independence and will not give in to other’s requests. Edward is the typical heartthrob, maybe a little arrogant, but likeable nonetheless. Then things change, Bella becomes needy, helpless and paranoid while Edward in turn hikes up the arrogance and anger and displays the kind of traits generally accepted as the beginnings of a domestic abuser. It was on reading this part that I wrote to my boyfriend “these two characters certainly aren’t good role models for either gender and the idea that there are millions of teenage girls now looking for an Edward Cullen is worrying”. My theory about the dramatics of the film came from there too. This part is difficult to read, especially if you’ve already heard the cries of others that Edward is far too aggressive.

The story reaches it’s third part when Meyer finally provides subtle reasons why Edward is the way he is. But by subtle I mean subtle, they should have been expanded upon and given more time. Edward’s life as a vampire has been hard and as he constantly tries to balance his human feelings for Bella with his need for blood he inevitably falters at times. When he saves Bella from possible rapists he explains how he could have killed them in a raging frenzy, his explanation hinting to mental instability. It makes for worrying reading, but as said, finally the characters regain more (unfortunately not all) composure and become equals, helpless damsel periods aside. A surprise comes in the form of Alice whom Meyer teaches you to be wary of before showing us that Alice is actually pretty darn cool.

Something that has oft been debated is the excessive use of sexual references in the book and it is indeed the case that for a story promoted as teenage fiction the explicitness of the references are too much. If they were simply innocent emotions it would be a different matter but Meyer does tend to go all out in explaining that Bella and Edward have feelings of a sexual nature towards each other and, whether deliberately or by accident, she is labelling the physical exploration of these feelings acceptable – which given the age of the target audience is perhaps not. While they aren’t the most mature things a teenager could engage in there’s enough to raise your brows at and enough to suggest that there will be more in the later books. It’s worth noting that the film leaves out a lot of these references.

Another thing that has been debated is the fantasy – vampires. Does the story feature them a lot, yes. But does it hold the stereotype up high, no. Edward and his family do not kill humans and it really is the case, as told by many, that he just happens to be a vampire. Essentially, Meyer has used the idea of forbidden love but to different effect.

For all it’s hype and fandom, Twilight proves itself a particularly decent and well written read for both teenagers and adults alike. Even if the subject matter is beyond the realm of what we as a society are used to, in those many ways talked about, Meyer’s skill more than makes up for it. In a time where good literacy skills are falling and children are becoming cocooned in text speak her books will ensure that they at least know better, and her vocabulary will create a need for a dictionary. For this alone we should make sure she is in our libraries.

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April 28, 2010, 3:20 pm

I have read Twilight and I enjoyed it. A lot more than I had expected, I might add. I think her style is highly readable, although I do not think it is ‘literary’ but pretty simple. I can also see why some people might object to some of the subjects. When I look back what I find most important is that Edward is often seen as this dreamboy, which I think is an unhealthy model for a good boyfriend, but then again, who can help but like Edward in the books? I don’t have many problems with the references to sex, but that might have to do with the YA lit that is considered “normal” in the Netherlands, where most characters end up having sex at 16 (which I have slightly bigger problems with than Twilight).

Charlie: Yes, my enjoyment was a lot more than expected too, though I’ve been careful with who I choose to tell. That’s the “problem” with Edward I think, in many ways he really is a great example but that’s wrapped up in bad ideas. In regards to different countries issues with the sex references, it’s interesting you say that characters have sex at 16 in your country. Over here in the UK, although 16 is the age of consent I would say that most authors wouldn’t include it in books aimed at that age group. There’s this big issue surrounding cutting the number of teen pregnancies though which possibly influences writers, the general goal is very much getting teenagers to wait.

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