Although, as I have already warned you, I am immensely busy both with university life and with my continued efforts on Fallen Love, I have managed to find a window of opportunity for something else: a book review. As you may be able to guess, it concerns Twilight, that most hated—and loved—of vampire novels. Here are my thoughts...
The world’s most loved vampire novel; the world’s most hated vampire novel. Revered with religious zealotry by its fans—and hated with equal zeal by its detractors. It’s Twilight, and... well, I love it. But you already knew that. The question I want to answer is: why?
This question is not as simple as it may first appear. Many have been mystified by the enormous success of these books (according to the publisher, over 100 million copies have been sold) and while many explanations have been put forward, they are—to my mind—highly superficial. So: allow me to provide my own theory.
As you can guess, this review will not be written in the usual style. Normally, I would address the book from the perspective of plot and pacing; characterisation; setting; and of course, writing prowess. By this formulaic account, Twilight is a perfectly good book. The plot is strong and for the most part well paced (albeit a little slow at times). The setting—Forks: a grey, rainy, and strangely phantasmagoric place—is excellent. Characterisation is fine, with character roles being clearly defined and compelling. The writing is clear and occasionally poetic.
Since the critics are probably frothing at the mouth by this point, I will delay the onset of my main argument to counter the points they raise. First off: no, the writing is not bad. It is clear, well-punctuated, and successfully paints both the pallid landscape of Forks and the beautifully seductive Edward. To peruse some examples:
Phoenix—the palm trees, the scrubby creosote, the haphazard lines of the intersecting freeways, the green swaths of golf courses and turquoise splotches of swimming pools, all submerged in a thin smog and embraced by the short, rocky ridges that weren’t really big enough to be called mountains.
The shadows of the palm trees slanted across the freeway—defined, sharper than I remembered, paler than they should be. Nothing could hide in these shadows. The bright, open freeway seemed benign enough.
His liquid topaz eyes were penetrating
He laughed a soft, enchanting laugh.
(You get the picture.)
As for the claim that Bella is an idiotic teenage girl dangerously obsessed with a killer: sure, that’s true in a very superficial sense. But I don’t think the critics are giving them enough credit. Bella is hardly a fool, for one; she’s intelligent, an avid reader of the classics, taking AP classes and planning on going to university. Edward is a vampire, yes, and a monster; but he is also selfless, urbane, capable of kindness, and willing to go against his nature in order to save human lives.
And this leads me nicely onto my main argument. The reason why Twilight has millions of adoring fans, and the reason why it draws such a storm of criticism, is the same for both groups. In Twilight, vampires are not cuddly. They may sparkle, they may be beautiful and charming—but they are monsters. Impossibly strong, indestructible to bullets, venomous; these abilities fuse together with something altogether more frightening.
Bloodlust. Vampires kill in Twilight, and they kill a lot.
So where does this put Bella and Edward? Meyer has a pithy set of lines:
“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb . . .” he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
“What a stupid lamb,” I sighed.
“What a sick, masochistic lion.”
The beauty of this book—and what draws its readers in—is this conflict. Love and death; human and vampire. Edward isn’t seductive just because he’s beautiful (as every other vampire is). In the forest grove scene, quoted above, the answer is clear: it’s because he does, despite being a monster, try to hold onto his humanity. It’s why Bella—and the millions of girls and women in her feet—fall so hard for him.
Critics, of course, provide the superficial explanation that Edward is a girl’s perfect fantasy (in much the same way teenage boys fantasise about hot, available women). After all, Edward doesn’t pressure for sex; he’s charming, protective, and good looking.
All of this is true, but a problem remains for the critics’ account. Why haven’t other books that replicate the same—be it with vampires or any other male protagonist—failed to gain the same success?
Nor does it quite capture the nuances of this book. For one, the duo don’t have sex for the simple reason that Edward would kill her if they tried; but Meyer makes it clear that the attraction is sexual as with any other couple. Maybe Edward, rather than being Bella’s perfect fantasy, is simply a responsible, mature adult, much like she is.
And yes: Bella is an adult, not just a whiny teenage girl. She cooks dinner and drives her own car. She takes responsibility for her schoolwork, and shows a high degree of social awareness. Her poor co-ordination and obsessive interest in Edward is one that many girls of her age (and older) are familiar with.
This brings me, at last, to my conclusion. Twilight is a fine book from a formulaic perspective—it’s competently written (albeit not a work of poetry), the plot keeps the reader tightly engaged, and the characterisation is spot-on. But this book has a magic ingredient that goes beyond all that: vampirism, and more broadly, the line between monster and human.
Critics may scoff at it and dismiss it. They may provide convenient explanations for its success, and wrinkle their nose at its prosaic writing (even though it’s not really that prosaic, and is written better than many ‘literary’ novels that abuse the English language with their logorrhea). Ultimately, though, Twilight stands on its own legs: 100 million copies, four blockbuster films, and an entire social phenomenon.