Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
First published: Atom/Orbit UK, September 2006;
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
OK- so I finally gave in. Just before the media frenzy that is Twilight the movie gets here to the UK, I decided to read Twilight the novel, the first in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire quartet.
Having reviewed The Host (HERE) (which I thought wasn’t bad back in April 2008), I put off reading Twilight, despite its enthusiastic support at SFFWorld.
The book was, for me, a victim of its own success. The Forum raved about it, to the point where I began to realise that there must be something, though I wasn’t sure what. The Harry Potter word-of-mouth effect seemed to be happening again. To some extent, a book couldn’t be that good, could it? How many times have I (or you, for that matter) been suckered by that comment of ‘best book ever’, to find that, in the great scheme of things, actually, its not.
So I faltered. And it got left in the ‘to-be-read’ pile. But it was there. And it nagged. What was I missing? Could it be? Should it be worthy of my attention?
Eventually, looking for something a bit different to read, I succumbed.
Putting myself resolutely into ‘teen-mode’, getting in touch with my inner-teen (even though, for me, it was a good half-lifetime ago) and looking for that increasingly elusive vibe, I began….
And what I found was quite surprising. At the end, the book is actually an emotive reminder (in my case, a long time ago, admittedly) of the highs and lows of actually being a teenager. Stephenie, through her lead characters, evokes the tensions and inequalities of just being at that cusp of adulthood, that unholy mixture of rampant hormones, burgeoning independence and alienation from peers and familial adults.
This will encourage many a reader to continue, identifying with those emotions, despite a plot that is pretty unremarkable. In fact, on the downside, there are plot holes a-plenty and that feeling of things just moving a little too quickly, though this has been countered by my remembrance of how rapidly these life-changing events seemed to adjust at 15 or so; nevertheless, it is an engaging tale with a great deal of contemporary relevance and humour.
The book is written from the perspective of Isabella (Bella) Swan. Bella is in many ways a typical teenager, pale skinned and dark-haired, engagingly gawky and filled with insecurities, who downplays her talents, preferring to hide in the shadows. This downplaying is also precipitated by Bella’s move to Forks, Washington, one of the rainiest places in the US, to live with her father, Charlie. Though she lived there when younger, her mother’s divorce has led to her being a visitor rather than a resident. Upon going through the trials of settling in to a new life - the dangers and tribulations of High School, the stress of new domestic routines and making new friends - Bella meets Edward Cullen, an incredibly handsome enigmatic member of the aloof Cullen family. As the book progresses, Bella finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. The complication, of course, is that Edward and his family are vampires. Bella’s discovery of this fact clearly complicates things, as well as making her complex social life much more dangerous. Such a situation in a small community leads to the risk of discovery and the consequences of living as outsiders in society.
As a parent of teenagers myself, there were little twinges of unease with some of the issues raised here - would I personally be happy with my daughter going out with someone whose life-experiences outstrip mine by some considerable distance? There were also romantic moments of what some teenagers would see as ‘yuck’, with repressed sexual tension steaming off the page.
In its defence, in the end the book is a positive and even an uplifting tale, where love conquers all (or at least most.) It is not sexually explicit, surprisingly chaste in fact, though there is enough yearning, throat stroking, emotional gushing and unfulfilled sexual tension to keep any sensitive teenage girl reader thoroughly immersed. And, despite being about vampires, it is resolutely not too scary. Indeed, perhaps the greatest attraction is that the boyfriend vampire is often distant, supremely in control of his emotions and, of course, only really understood by his true love. Something far from the traditional vampire.
So: in summary, a good page turner, with humour and intelligence that is not too demanding nor too intimidating. Not ‘the best book eva’, perhaps, but not the worst by a long way either.
Mark Yon, November 2008
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