Twilight review…sigh

It’s here. I actually read Twilight and saw the movie. Hopefully now that the craze has somewhat died down I won’t get quite the onslaught that Elles (1, 2, and 3) and Skepchick did. Right? [shifty eyes]

I think I’m either expected to love or hate this book with equal religious fervor. Having finally read it to give my opinion some leverage, rather than going by others’ descriptions, I think you’ll find that there’s enough here to make both sides somewhat happy — or really pissed off.

Note: I’m going to assume for this review, probably correctly, that this book is aimed at girls aged 13-19 (give or take). I am 27 — well outside the demographic for this book. Given that, I’m going to gloss over the fact that the Edward/Bella relationship completely doesn’t do it for me. However, I still remember what it was like to be that age so I’ll do my best.

First off, I get why teenagers would eat this stuff up. The book is told from the first-person perspective of Bella, a fragile emotional type of girl. And sure, for some girls, their relationships are everything in their lives. So the book from this perspective (the urgency and importance of everything) makes a kind of sense. I’m not defending this attitude or saying it’s necessarily healthy, but it’s understandable that teens would be drawn to this portrayal of relationships even if they are not this type of girl. The strong, perfect boyfriend looking after them is alluring in fantasy-land. And this is a fantasy romance novel.

I think we need to get over the feminist aspects (or lack thereof) of this book. What if the genders were reversed? Would we “chicks of today” be so riled at the portrayal of this relationship? I don’t think we would be. Instead, I think we’d be more likely to interpret the relationship objectively as vampire/human rather than boy/girl. In this way, Bella’s portrayal is offensive more to humans than to women. It is as sarcastic as Superman’s performance as Clark Kent. And remember — this is Bella’s perspective where she is comparing herself to the strong “perfect” vampire and remembering love from the mindset of a person who is partly under his alluring “spell”. Is it the best model of a relationship? Probably not, but few fantasies are.

This book is about the fantasy of Edward, not the awesomeness of woman power in Bella. Bella has a weak and kitteny vibe because 1) of her clumbsiness, 2) she’s comparing herself to a superhuman being, and 3) Edward treats her that way. Either he’s being protective and chivalrous, particularly given his pedigree (born in 1901) or he’s genuinely being condescending. I’m wiling to overlook this dynamic only because it’s the staple of romance novels (which let’s face it, this IS). So fine, whatever — strong vampire thing, weak human kitten. I chose not to take it in a sexist way mostly so I could tolerate the book at all, although people are of course free to interpret a book as they wish. But I think we’re jumping the gun in assuming this is going to warp young minds.

We can’t think of this as a normal relationship and evaluate it that way; it’s not. This is not some regular boy meets girl story. And it’s not a lovely Buffy/Angel “I have a soul” fall in love romantic perfection story. Actually, on the Buffy tangent, this is more like an angsty Buffy/Spike match with a girl in love with a monster who is castrated by society and his love for a mortal and must quash his predatory urges. There is necessarily going to be much tension and excitement and it’s probably unfair to rate it by real healthy relationship standards. And let’s face it, if this book didn’t have that, it would be an even dumber book.

This is great teen porn. Bella is so unassuming and “normal” (i.e., not described as super beauty model type) with certain foibles (particularly clumbsiness). More average teen girls could identify with her and envelope themselves in the fantasy. Because sexual fantasy is perfectly healthy, even in an imperfect portrayal, I have no problem with this book on that level. It’s also age-apropriate sexual fantasy. It’s not dripping with explicit yet woman-oriented sex like most adult romance novels, it’s more about the feelings surrounding sex and sexual tension. This is something that most teens can identify with, whether before or after becoming sexually active.

There are more nits I could pick about the portrayal of this relationship, but I won’t because now I’d rather focus on the glaring suckitude of the other aspects of this book. But I will say that the defenses against the feminist critique (which is a valid critique — I don’t fully agree, but I do think it is a valid point) that consist of “but he loves her!” are absolutely terrifying. If that’s not the characterization in the book, great. But don’t agree with the characterization of unhealthy abusive relationship and then defend it with “but he loves her.” Under no circumstance is it acceptable for one person to abuse another person because they “love” them. Moving on.

This book was terrible. The reason I started out with sort of a “defense” is that I don’t think it’s terrible because of the so-called anti-feminist message, given that this is a non-human fantasy. It’s terrible because it’s just a badly-written book.

Long-winded descriptions of Edward’s “perfection”… I thought people were exaggerating. But seriously, it got to the point where I would shake my head and say “I get it” or at other times when it was missing (maybe twice ever) I was like “what, no perfect?” and then the next 3 sentences were a more thorough description of his perfection. Okaaaaaay. Edward is perfect. Move on. I think the book might have been 100 pages shorter without the unending verbiage of Edward descriptors and lamentations of how clumsy Bella is. That’s just lazy, repetitive writing attempting (and failing) to mask the absence of a plot or depth of emotion. For several chapters in the middle, literally nothing happens other than they look at each other lustfully.

The most interesting character is Carlisle, the head of the vampire family. We get a short chapter about him, but I think the book would have been better had it been entirely about him. He’s far more interesting than Edward. Edward follows Carlisle’s example, but Carlisle has to set it in the first place. I concede that this preference may be related to my age. Nevertheless, when tertiary characters are more interesting and dynamic than the main characters, there’s a problem.

This book is meant for teens, but it’s written at a Grade 6 (or less) literacy level. Or have literacy rates changed that much since my day? Are teenagers seriously reading at this level? If so, I’m sad. My favorite books in high school were Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, and anything by Jules Verne. Even books I’ve read recently that are meant for children such as Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Neverending Story are more sophisticated than Twilight. This is Babysitter’s Club level reading containing a teenage love story wrought with sexual tension. Not sex, but still more adult than the literacy level of the book. So the tone doesn’t match the intellect here. I think teens are smarter than this book gives them credit for.

The book was better than the movie, though. Note that this a subjective assessment in that a fart in the middle of the living room is “better” than a shit in the middle of the living room. The movie completely glosses over the human characteristics of their relationship and I found it much harder to understand than in the book. The movie relationship was more along the lines of: “I think you hate me and I find you off-putting and rude, so I guess I’m totally in love with you now.” They’re all angsty and angry and then all of a sudden “ooh sparkly” and they’re in love. In the book they eventually go through the typical dating “get to know you” chit-chat and are actually quite honest with each other (well open anyway — there’s the appearance of honesty, but it is from only one character’s perspective). Movie fail.

I have also acquired the other books so we’ll see what, if anything, changes in them. Perhaps the writing style will improve. I’m willing to give the author the benefit of doubt for now, I mean JK Rowling’s last books weren’t exactly Shakespeare either but I liked the Harry Potter series — about as much as someone my age can relate to these types of stories, which I think is why I’m so forgiving towards them. But seriously, if I have to sit through much more perfect body/face/eyes crap I think I might have to give up. Violently.

Speaking of violence, let’s keep the comments civil and not like these.

UPDATE: I finished them.


7 responses to “Twilight review…sigh

  1. Ok, this is a completely fluffy comment, but I just have to say how much I enjoyed:

    “Note that this a subjective assessment in that a fart in the middle of the living room is “better” than a shit in the middle of the living room.”

    Ohhh, my mental image factory was working overtime on that one…

  2. Ok, this is a completely fluffy comment, but I just have to say how much I enjoyed:

    “Note that this a subjective assessment in that a fart in the middle of the living room is “better” than a shit in the middle of the living room.”

    Ohhh, my mental image factory was working overtime on that one…

  3. (Slight typo.)

    I tried reading the book, made it about 50 pages in, and gave up after I dropped the book because I fell asleep mid-page. So when the movie came out on DVD, I decided I’d watch it. Given, I’m a 22-year old male, so I realized I was far outside its age group by all accounts, but hey, I read the Da Vinci Code for the same reason–morbid curiosity.

    Either way, I agree; Carlisle is the most interesting character by far, and a book focusing on him would’ve been infinitely better. Edward’s romance could be relegated to a side story as he tries to win Carlisle’s approval or some such.

    The movie…made some things *really* creepy. Everyone Bella met seemed to leer at her like they wanted to rape her–including one of Edward’s sisters. I also thought it was really fucked up that Edward just *appears* in her bedroom, and *admits* that he’s BROKEN INTO HER HOUSE AND WATCHED HER SLEEP repeatedly over the last few months, and Bella’s response is…to make out with him.

    …Yeah. That was a really inappropriate response to creepy, stalkerish behavior.

    And, if you don’t mind some spoilers;

    I’m actually more curious about the later books, because I’ve heard they get *worse* in some ways. One of them apparently represents Bella being in a stupor by just leaving a half dozen pages *blank*. Horrible authorship, or latent hatred for trees? You decide!

    There’s also apparently a scene in a later book where Jacob, the Native American boy, attempts to rape Bella. And Bella’s father’s response is to the tone of, “Attagirl!” Because…I don’t know, it wasn’t Edward that tried it. So apparently it was okay.

    I really hope it *doesn’t* actually go down like that…but…yeah.

  4. Scott: I think I’ve just read the scene you’re referring to. In Eclipse, Jacob kisses Bella and she tries to push him away, but he’s too strong so she just sort of goes limp until he decides to stop. She then punches him in the face and breaks her hand. At home, her father asks her how she got hurt and Jacob explains “she hit me because I kissed her” and her dad then says “good for you” (I’m paraphrasing). So in fairness, her dad didn’t know exactly what happened because characters in the book are notoriously frustrating when it comes to explaining anything to other characters and never say anything they should say or behave in ways people would probably behave.

    I’ve gotten to about 2/3 into Eclipse and so far I feel I can sum up the entire series thusly: promising storyline, crappy plot.

    To be fair the story line of the girl being in love with a vampire and best friends with a werewolf who are mortal enemies is a potentially compelling one, but it’s executed so badly that sometimes I want to reach through the pages and punch the stupid asshole characters in their empty craniums.

    Each individual event in the book is either excruciatingly stupid, long, or frustrating. Frustrating because details that are clearly laid out for the main character to follow (because the book is in first person, she’s got all the information we do at the same time) are ignored until 100 pages later when she’s like “oooooh”. Her reactions are completely contradictory to her actions (for instance, she will be appropriately outraged at someone, yet decide a kiss and not saying anything is an appropriate way to express that outrage).

    Bella is so far the single worst character I have ever read in any book ever.

  5. “Each individual event in the book is either excruciatingly stupid, long, or frustrating.”

    I forgot disturbing, disgusting, selfish, hateful, fickle, ridiculous… Getting more and more into Eclipse is trying my patience and sense of decency.

  6. I completely agree. I was actually trying to explain the plot of the Twilight saga to my boyfriend who has never read, or seen any of it. We concluded that Carlisle was definitely the most interesting character, and a movie about his life would’ve been a hell of a lot more interesting. I can imagine it now, a bit dark, like Sweeney Todd, without the horrible singing, a bit like the remake of Dorian Gray… I think it would be much better in fact! =D

  7. Wow, I just reread this – I was waaaaaay generous.