Review: Twilight

It seems like a copy of this book is in every sophomore girl’s backpack. I figured that anything this prevalent has to be either truly dreadful or rather extraordinary, so when I found myself near the Stephenie Meyer display at Local Bookstore Big Box I took the opportunity to check it out.

True confession: I read three pages and put Twilight down.

Twice.

Then I was invited to join a book club, and this was the first book on the list. Moreover, a friend loaned me her copy. I no longer had any excuse.

I pushed through the first chapter, then the second – and suddenly I was breathlessly reading the last chapter and bewailing the fact that I didn’t have the sequel on hand.

Twilight is not a “good book” but it is a terrific read. Written for a predominantly female YA audience, this book drops its 17-year-old main character, Bella, in a small town high school far from home. On her first day of school she has a nasty run-in with one of the school’s oddest characters, a startlingly attractive junior named Edward. Anyone familiar with the book’s premise quickly recognizes that Edward and his adopted siblings are vampires, and it isn’t too long before Edward and Bella get beyond their strained first encounter and become something along the lines of friends.

The story’s conflict stems less from the school’s nest of adolescent vampires than from the dangerous attraction between Bella and Edward. Edward likens his attraction to Bella to that between a thirst-ravaged alcoholic and a snifter of the finest brandy – she is exactly “to his taste.” Unfortunately, not only does Edward not want to suck Bella’s blood – he’s completely off the bloodsucking wagon. The attraction remains, however, and physical desire evolves to a more sophisticated relationship.

The high school drama is amusing and interesting. Meyer’s characters are drawn well enough that the reader becomes invested in their well-being (although as the narrator, Bella ends up a bit thinly-characterized for my taste). The star of the story – the romantic relationship – draws its power from the elegant tightrope walk Meyer orchestrates. Vampire fiction is almost by definition very sexual, and the passionate lust-love of two 17-year-olds (one, mind you, with over a century of life experience) is at times achingly steamy. Meyer, however, is LDS in addition to being focused on a young audience, and she keeps her characters out of one another’s pants with a surprisingly elegant plot point: Edward is so physically overwhelmed by Bella’s mere touch, and so concerned for her safety, that even a kiss presents extraordinary and unwanted danger.

Like any good first book in a series of four, Twilight ends on a dramatic upswing. After finishing it, I found myself hungry for answers. Would Edward’s family hold together in their support for Bella’s involvement with their lives? Will the town finally turn on the vampires? Will the “werewolves” (a gratuitously silly addition to the story, IMHO, but perhaps it will pan out in later books) engage with the vampires?

More importantly: will Bella remain human or become vampire? And if she becomes vampire, will her chief appeal for Edward disappear?

Reading this book gave me a great deal of insight into the psyche of a 16-year-old girl (or rather, reminded me of things I’d forgotten in my years since high school). I haven’t gained any great wisdom from having read it, but I was mightily entertained for a weekend and am excited for the next installation (which came out in paperback a few days ago, hurrah!) Definitely a worthwhile light read for those who enjoy fantasy.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Twilight

  1. I reviewed the book myself, and I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. But I also want to ask, what do you think of Bella’s “erasure”, as one reviewer put it” from the plot? She becomes a ghost-like entity in the novel, and feels utterly empty without Edward. As adsoofmelk said, “Were this presented honestly or literally as a case of a teenager who’s attracted to a violent stalker and wants to become one of his victims, or were Bella a woman from a different race who wanted to give up her essential self in order to assume a white identity (very white, in this case), many people would justly be outraged. Peel off the vampire overlay, and what you have is misogyny.”

    That’s harsh criticism, but it rings very true. What do you think?

  2. W.E.B.:

    That’s a fascinating point, and one I hadn’t considered. The term “erasure” describes my sense of unease with Bella’s character treatment. It’s a bit of a throwback to the 1970s-era romance novel trends, where victimization and helplessness was en vogue. Of course, that’s also a reflection of that whole “what 16-year-old girls think is romantic” issue; at that age, many girls daydream about “white knights” rescuing them from dire situations, and this is just a variation on that theme.

    The possible racial/cultural assimilation metaphor is intriguing. I wonder how it evolves in the later books? I’ve loaned my copy of the second book out before reading it myself, so I can’t comment on that yet.

    Thanks for the thought-provoker!

  3. Glad to provoke! I won’t ruin the second book for you, but it at least improves on some of the issues here. I haven’t read the third or the fourth yet, but here’s to hoping!

    I’m also glad I got to see your blog. I hope to come back again soon!

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