Summer Reading

One 28 hour flight journey, several very dubious approximations of Indian vegetarian food, four movies and two deeply unattractive sleeping positions later, I am hooooooooooooome! And of course back to lazing around and helping my mother with absolutely nothing.

Several things on my back-home checklist have already been ticked off: say hi to dad, surprise the crap out of my mum by arriving early, have one highly intelligent and one highly stupid conversation with my brother, see my two first-best friends. But I still haven’t gone to the library, and I’m literally out of reading material (GASP) since I finished most of it on the flights home. Which is my only excuse for reading Twilight.

I should actually have prefaced this by saying that I read in the restroom. I know, I know, the books get damp and then you get so caught up in plot that you forget that you’re meant to be doing other things. Besides the fact that it’s kind of embarrassing. But I’ve discovered the satisfaction in putting Twilight on my toilet-reading list. (I was going to make a clever parallel between the purpose of the restroom and the quality of the content, but I also have Agatha Christie up there…)

The thing is, I don’t actually hate Meyer’s writing – I think she’s a shade better than Brown in her use of language, to be honest. She has a fairly decent vocabulary, for instance. But I must point out that no matter how many three syllable words you dredge up to use, they’re useless if you can’t manufacture a decent plot or characters. In those respects Meyer is as bad as Brown, but while Brown at least has a fairly intellectual (let’s not get into the authenticity of that claim, though) basis for his stories, Meyer’s is limp romance, dripping with fake blood.

Others have already pointed out how trite her Bella is, but I’m just newly astonished every time I read it at the sheer carboard-cutout-ness of the protagonist. It’s alarming how easily Meyer satisfies her readers by portraying Bella as “different” yet “relatable” – the girl who finds a Wuthering Heights pop quiz straightforward and who thinks her brain isn’t quite wired right, yet is drab enough that the average teenage reader can slot herself into her shoes. Hello, at sixteen no one’s brain is wired right. Liking the classics doesn’t automatically make you smarter.

What’s even more annoying is how the smallest things in Bella’s life take on the most disproportionate significance. The reason she leaves Phoenix to live in Forks is presented as a suspense, something that’ll overshadow the book until the reason is finally and dramatically revealed. But that reason is disappointingly mundane – Bella’s mother is living with a new boyfriend, and Bella wants her to be able to travel with him (i.e. she feels like the third wheel, but that assessment is a bit mean). Bella continually reminds the reader that she’s a klutz – so much so that snow, walking down the classroom aisle, and speaking in public become nightmares. Kid, we’ve all been there and done that, shut it.

But the worst thing about Meyer is her conception of Edward, the vampire. And yes, this too has been said, but – glitters in the sunlight?! It’s like the My Little Pony of the teen romance novel! With a single page of dialogue, Meyer sweeps away every preconception of the vampire: no coffins, no burning in daylight, no turning into anything else. All right, so some of that verges on the ridiculous anyway. But I’m less annoyed by the lack of tradition than by the fact that she brings very little that’s novel to the table. The special talents that they seem to possess – besides the extraordinary strength and speed – are pretty cool, but not particularly interesting.

Now Anne Rice, that’s someone who knows what to do with vampires. It’s occurred only briefly to Meyer that creatures who are immortal and who’ve lived for a very long time have seen and participated in history. But Rice uses that to great effect, which is why I loved her novels for the historical fiction aspect too. The danger and the seduction of these creatures is also far more brilliantly portrayed in Rice’s vampires – they’re beautiful and tortured, the best representative of which is probably Lestat. Meyer just does not match up.

Of course, you can argue that Meyer’s novel is a romance, that the dynamic between Bella and Edward is the most important thing. But that dynamic itself is ridiculously weak. With Bella such a weak character, exactly what is left for someone like Edward to experience? What Meyer wants to create is an ideal boyfriend, someone who’s interested in all the stupidest things about you, who’s so strong he’s like a one-man transportation system, who wants to be with you forever, even if that means he mourns you for the rest of his eternity. It’s easy to see why this was a bestseller, but it also reads like pure fantasy.

But that’s probably what the whole point is – vampires and unrealistic romantic dynamic together.

The really puzzling thing is why I like reading it. I know I sound really, really mean demolishing Meyer like this, and then turning around and saying I’ve actually re-read the thing, but I’m really interested in figuring out what makes it tick. It’s like eating Snickers even though you know you can get your hands on Lindt. Or maybe it’s just high time I went to the library.

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