Book Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Cover of Twilight, by Stephenie MeyerSo, yes – I finally read it: Twilight, the immense hit by Stephenie Meyer. I have heard a fair bit of criticism of this book, and a lot of ridicule, yet I also know some people who quite enjoyed it. And of course, there are all those young girls out there who have avidly gobbled up every word in this series and thronged to the movies based on the books.

So I decided I should actually find out what was going on with the book, and read it for myself. Kind of a research project, if you like. I shouldn’t look askance at something I know nothing about.

First of all, I can see exactly why those young girls love this story. I would have loved it precisely the way they do, when I was their age. And I thought the basic plot was fairly good, if a bit predictable, and pretty dramatic by the end.

I did feel, though, that it would have been a better story if it were perhaps half as long. I can understand why some setup was needed, because Bella, the main human character, needed a chance to get to know, discover the truth about, and fall in love with Edward, the vampire. I just felt that it took rather too long. The story could have been a lot tighter and faster moving, which would only have enhanced the plot.

I started to wonder how Meyer’s young readers ever endured the slow pace of all those setup chapters. But then I realized that they’d have been seeing and enjoying something that doesn’t attract me any more: the long, slow, extremely tantalizing mystery of who Edward was, his drawing near and pulling away from Bella, the “will he touch, won’t he touch” game. Before the book ever got to what I would call “the actual story” (which was in the last third, or maybe even the last quarter of the book), those young readers would have lived through countless shivering moments of romantic suspense at the thought of the temptations Edward represents. This doesn’t appeal to me, but would be thrilling to young teen readers.

Some feel that Bella was a strong, independent female character, but although she had moments of pluck, and talked a lot about taking charge, on the whole I just didn’t see it. In her life with her father, yes. But with Edward? No.

If she’d been able to endure Edward’s “dazzling” eyes and gaze, and not get distracted and succumb to it – I could have seen it. If she didn’t constantly need rescuing in some fashion – I could have seen it. That last comment may not be fair, though. After all, any human hanging out with a vampire is the weaker member of the pair, by definition. If someone needs rescuing, it’s pretty much always going to be the human. But dang it – it’s always the girl who is weaker! (Except, you know – Buffy. But the two stories are very different.)

I thought the basic story was fine, though, and both Bella and Edward were interesting characters. I just don’t think Meyer writes all that well, unfortunately. For example, the scene in which Edward has to rescue Bella (sigh) from the van that hurtles toward her is described very slowly. It should have been written in quick, immediate language, but everything is described in laborious detail. There’s nothing sudden about how this sudden event is written.

Again, I could be looking at this as a rather jaded adult, and not taking into account how young teens read. Things like the rather wordy, drawn-out explanation of the van-event may be another instance of the readers enjoying the thrill of stretching out a dramatic moment as long as possible. It could be that Meyer understands how her audience reads far better than I do. Or — which I still think more likely — it could be that Meyer doesn’t write that well, but in this case, by coincidence, she lucked out and it worked.

With that said — I do understand how the girls (primarily) who read this story would love it so much. I’d have loved it madly when I was their age. I still rather regret that it wasn’t written as well as it should have been, and that Bella needed rescuing as often as she did. There are many better-written books out there for girls this age.

But not being the primary audience, it’s very possible that my opinion in this instance doesn’t matter one single bit. 🙂


    1. Stephanie says:

      See, I was okay with the pace. Perhaps, because I grew up on “old-fashioned” books, Jane Austen and Wuthering Heights and Count of Monte Cristo. Hell, I LOVE character development.

      I also write action like that. I’ve heard the short sentences make it more powerful, but, again, that hasn’t been the case in my favorite books. I am, however, a character writer/reader, so I wasn’t necessarily looking for it either.

      The constant gushing about Edward’s beauty did get old and repetitive, but it’s in keeping with my local teenager. I still get breathless with sexual tension in books. It worked on me, here, too.

      I didn’t get the weak female thing because she still made key decisions (and, hey, did what she felt she needed to even if it were stupid). Over the course of the books, she seemed to have far more power in the relationship even though he remained oppressively overprotective. But that could just have been me.

      I was thinking it might be part of the manga thing, too. I’ve been reading a lot of manga and things move VERY VERY slowly there, events dragged on for chapters that might be months apart. Maybe it’s a different way of dealing with things.

      I’m glad you read it with an open mind. I don’t consider it perfect and parts grated on me, but I liked it. And I think you did a fine job capturing why I and others did.

      • Phyl says:

        Stephanie! Oh, I’m so glad you saw this and read it! I was thinking of emailing you about it, in fact; I wasn’t sure if you’d see this, when you’re not blogging much any more. (Which I only just discovered, and am very sad about, but can completely understand.)

        I had been planning to ask you what you thought of the pace. It’s funny — I hadn’t made the comparison with things like Jane Austen, who I also love. So I’ll have to think about that.

        I’m in the midst of the second book now, so I may see more development of Bella’s independence, as you describe. I really did try to look for it in the first one, since you had mentioned it. Naturally I don’t have the whole picture yet, but I do plan to read all four, to get that.

        Have you seen any of the movies? What did you think of them, compared to the books? (I haven’t seen those either, but I plan to do that as well.)

        • Stephanie says:

          Interesting that you brought it up. First, though I think she has inordinate power in the relationship, I’m not a huge fan of Bella actually. Admittedly, it might be because I have a teenage girl at home, but her motivations frequently frustrate the hell out of me. They seem so shallow. I guess that fits. New Moon is actually my least favorite of the books, but that’s because Edward is my favorite character.

          I’ll confess. I love protective men, I do, just as long as they don’t get in my way. As soon as protective equates with simple control, I lose interest. Many manga I read are like that, too. If you can make it to Eclipse, I think you’ll see what I mean about the difference. And the power thing.

          I actually saw Twilight the movie first. My daughter was a fan but she’s always wanting to read her books, but won’t read ones I suggest. I like a more quid pro quo, so I was resisting reading Twilight. But I got caught up in Edward’s character *potential* in the movie, saw something that struck a chord with me. By nature, I’m quite like Edward which is why I’m less done in by the gender thing. I’m like that so it’s not just machismo.

          In fact, I so liked the character in the movie, I read all four books in one weekend. I never fell in love with Bella, but I love Edward. I don’t get the pro-Jacob faction of all. But, part of the reason I like Edward is because he IS old, he IS mature.

          I’ve seen all the movies and was surprised to even like New Moon. Eclipse is my favorite yet, though, unlike my sister, I didn’t camp out to watch it. Like the books, they’re imperfect, but I get a real sense for Edward, which is, admittedly, why I read the books.

    2. Stephanie says:

      Given that I see myself in Edward, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m narcissistic.

      • Phyl says:

        Hee! I think you’re one of the least narcissistic people I know. 🙂

        I actually liked Edward better than Bella too. I haven’t got Jacob’s whole story, though I’ve just found out what he is, in the second book. I still quite like him, because he at least started out as a very good guy.

        I know what you mean about New Moon — I’m about 1/3 through it, maybe close to half, and all this time I’ve been thinking, “When do we see Edward again??” So I skimmed through the rest of the book, discovering how close to the end he reappears. I didn’t like that, though clearly, Meyer wanted time to flesh out Jacob’s character (and his relationship with Bella) in a complete way. But I certainly had gotten the impression that the series was mainly about Edward and Bella, so it didn’t make entire sense to me to have him mostly absent from the second book.

        (I also thought it was ridiculous that Bella would actually believe him when he said he didn’t care, just before he left. That was pretty much the most implausible thing I’ve seen in these books so far, so for me, it cast serious doubts on the plausibility of the entire second book. It felt extremely contrived, and not convincing.)

        Anyway, I’m really enjoying talking to you about this. 🙂

    3. Stephanie says:

      You know, me too. Feel free to talk about it any time.

      stephanieebarr at earthlink dot net

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