Twilight: The Review: Part the First

So I finally decided to see what all the buzz was about and read Twilight by Stephanie Meyers. So far — I’ve only gotten to the meadow scene, or about 280 pages in — it seems to be fairly well alright. The story seems to flow ok, however, the lack of plot at this point is becoming kind of frustrating. Even in Jane Austen and Bronte sister novels, which deal almost exclusively with the relationship between the protagonist/antagonist-who-becomes-protagonist or protagonist/protagonist, there is some sort of plot, some kind of major obstacle for their love that is evident from shortly into the novel. For example, in Pride and Prejudice the obstacle at first is Darcy’s seeming dislike for Elizabeth, and her returned dislike. Then, as they grow closer together, Elizabeth’s rather embarrassing family and both her and Darcy’s views about them drive them apart, and eventually, through significant character development and individual growth, they realize that their love is more important than how they are perceived. Similarly, in Mannsfield Park, Fanny Price is from a poor family, and though she loves her cousin Edmund dearly, her own self-esteem, a cruel care-taker, her cousin’s feelings for another woman, and Henry’s feelings for her all get in the way of true love. Over the course of the story, Fanny goes from being weak-willed and self-degrading to getting the internal strength to stand up for what she believes in, and enough self-worth to feel justified in doing so. In that way, even though it is predominantly a love story, it is more of a coming-of-age tale than anything.

However, Twilight, though ostensibly about the relationship between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, seems to lack the inherent character development necessary to make such a story grand, as well as lacking the essential obstacles to provide conflict. The situation that Bella is in — she just moved to a new town, is living with her father rather than her mother, and is generally unhappy about the situation — could provide the basis for a strong plot based on taking the city girl and showing her that there’s more to life than your environs; she could slowly realize that the people who she at first decided were boring were actually as interesting as her friends from the city, that the Pacific Northwest in all its greenery has charms unique from those of the Mojave Desert, that her father, as busy as he is, loves her dearly and wishes her only the best. In that regard, one would expect that by the end of the book, Bella would, instead of moping about her situation, be happy where she is, value her own self-worth a little more, and have a better relationship with her father. And Edward, initially rude to Bella, and seemingly aloof, would, by associating with her, realize that there’s more to life than he used to believe, becoming kinder and more connected with the community around him. His vampirism would serve as plot point, a fulcrum on which their respective character growth could tilt. However, so far as I can tell (and I’m halfway through the book), there is little to no character growth on either character’s part. Bella is still as unhappy about the weather as ever, has yet to even attempt to connect with her father — intentionally or accidentally, and is now considering her “friends” even more boring than before. Similarly, Edward, who we initially see as aloof, is now controlling and sometimes cruel, seemingly more selfish than he was before. Any obstacles to their relationship — so far, only Edward’s vampirism is offered as an obstacle — are brushed aside so carelessly as to not provide any sort of conflict for the plot. Some obvious obstacles have not come up — a conflict for Edward’s attention, Charlie’s dislike of Edward, the Cullens’ dislike of Bella. So, we are left with a book that appears to have no plot. From what I understand, the plot shows up a few chapters ahead of where I am right now, but in my opinion, that’s a literary Hail-Mary pass. If you’ve gotten 280 pages into a book with no hint of plot yet, then anything that follows is just a rushed grasping at straws.

Now, I’m not saying that Twilight is a bad book. In fact, so far I’ve been enjoying it. I’m just saying that it seems to not quite be up to the literary standards people are comparing it to. I’ve also had some other issues with it — like that scene where Edward grabs Bella’s jacket and forces her to ride home with him — but I think most of them could be boiled down to mistakes made by a first-time author that were inexplicably let through by her editor. I think the tone of several of the almost-abusive-Edward scenes was miscommunicated, and what was meant to be a playful scene comes across as something mothers warn their daughters about. Similarly, the Mary Sueishness of Bella (all the boys fall in love with her even though she’s plain and so, so suicidally clumsy and so on and so on) is a mistake made by rookie writers. Heck, I’ve written plenty of Mary Sues in the past. But now I don’t anymore, because I’ve learned how to write better characters, mainly by reading a lot (especially the classics) and writing more. In short, Twilight is appealing to readers because it is the kind of story they would have written when they were Bella’s age, making it the kind of thing they want to read. It’s good, but I think I’ll like the movie more, and I think I’ll like Stephanie Meyers as an author when I’ve read something she writes unrelated to the series a few years from now.

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Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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