Now, I’m not saying that anything I’m about to say is original, well apart from a bit near the end, that is. But given the curiously insidious nature of the phenomenon of which I want to speak, I think that the more people who stand up and speak out against it the better, even if we do all say the same thing. For then maybe, just maybe, we might do something to slow the progress of this anti-cultural juggernaut, and therefore have done our small best to make the world a better place.
I am, of course, speaking of the cultural (if that is the word) phenomenon that is ‘Twilight’. Now, as a keen student of all that sucks, it was inevitable that it and I would meet. To be exact, when I read the reviews of the first film on Rotten Tomatoes I thought ‘I’ve gotta get me some of that’. Then, as I wasn’t prepared to waste £4.99 on buying my own copy, a kind colleague offered to lend me her copy of the book (on condition I didn’t absent-mindedly burn it), so one thing led to another, and a few days later, in a deep depression I was reading yet another scene where Bella gazed adoringly at her Edward, when my wife informed me that the impact of the book on my mental health was more than she could bear, and she wrest it from my hands.
So, I have read the first two-thirds of the first book, and I don’t intend to read any more. No, not even the inter-species paedophilia bits. Which means, to any twi-hards who may for some unfathomable reason be reading this, no, I may not mention your favourite bit. But I think I read quite enough to get a general feel for the stagnant pool that is ‘Twilight’. And so I’m going to treat you to my views on what’s wrong with it. Well, let me count the ways:
- Cutting remarks about Meyer’s prose style and the book as a book
- General disdain for what Meyer did to the vampire mythos
- Frothing at the mouth outrage at Meyer’s sexual politics
And then: a plan of action!
Twilight as Book
Let us start with a sad truth. Meyer may know her way round a thesaurus. In fact, she suffers from the bad writer’s disease of thinking that rather than repeat simple words you should find ever-increasingly-complex synonyms, only often they’re not-quite-synonyms, so perhaps she doesn’t quite understand the thesaurus after all. See, I repeated several long words there, and it worked just fine and dandy. What doesn’t work in poetry (you don’t want to create accidental rhymes or jingles, though of course deliberate repetition can be incredibly effective) can work very well in prose.
Where was I? Oh yes: Meyer may know her way round a thesaurus, but she has a tin ear for English prose, even of the American variety. I know this is a bit unfair but, if you doubt me on this, go get hold of a copy of any novel by Gore Vidal (I recommend ‘Myra Breckinridge’ or ‘Duluth’) and read a page. Then read a page of ‘Twilight’. See what I mean? One is cool and limpid, carefully calculated to create a particular effect while yet appearing totally spontaneous, and the other is like eating cold, lumpy porridge. And, by the way, just in case you hadn’t twigged, Meyer is the porridge.
This leads nicely on to my next point. Gore Vidal (him again) once made a very astute observation (he’s clever, he is): reading bad literature consumes energy; reading good literature releases it. And my, reading ‘Twilight’ was a slog. After each session I emerged exhausted. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to bad writing, but no, for I can charge through other books not noted for their crystalline prose without any difficulty: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie (that name again, but her parents knew how to spell) Plum books are a hoot, and I never have time to worry about the balance of the sentences. But anyway, I found reading ‘Twilight’ was hard work. Perhaps because I found the whole thing nauseating, but . . . I never found the characters even remotely real, I never managed get caught up in events (largely because there weren’t any), and so on.
Which leads on nicely to considerations of plot. Is there a plot? Well, yes, of a sort. Basically in the first couple of chapters girl meets boy, and then the rest of the book is taken up with an endless skirting round the question: will they or won’t they? (SPOILER: they don’t – unmarried people don’t have sex in Meyerworld). And, well, that’s it. But I want to just mention two specific cases which show up rather terribly Meyer’s lack of artistry.
First, there is the notorious scene where Edward sparkles. For those of you who have been in a Trappist monastery for the last few years, Bella asks Edward why he only comes out to play when it’s overcast, and he takes her out, one sunny day to show her why: he sparkles in sunlight. Now imagine what a good writer could do with this: the build-up, the anticipation, then the falling of the first sun-beam on him, the spread of iridescence, etc. Or even a throw-away approach, handled through dialogue rather than description. What does Meyer do? She simply baldly states that he’s sparkling and that’s that. No magic, nothing.
Now jump on a hundred pages or so. Edward has just told Bella that he loves her because her blood smells so sexy (yuck). And we get this extraordinary exchange. She said (I misquote because, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered to commit the deathless prose to memory) ‘So am I your brand of heroin?’, and he replied ‘You are precisely my brand of heroin.’ And no, that is not a typo. They’re talking drugs. What I want to know is (a) what made Meyer think this drivel was romantic, and (b) why the hell didn’t her publisher edit it out? I mean, metaphor is all very well, but there are good metaphors and bad metaphors, and this isn’t one of the good ones. It’s so bad it’s funny.
So why do I care? Why can’t I just accept it as a badly-written pot-boiler? Well, I wouldn’t mind if that was what Meyer claimed to be producing. But she has pretensions to literature. She speaks of herself in the same sentence as Jane Austen. WTF?
Twilight as myth
I’m not going to say much about this, as there’s not much I need to say. Merely that from Carmilla and Nosferatu to this is a bit, well, much. Oh yes, and Terry Pratchett handles the whole ‘vegetarian vampire’ thing much better. His vampires are real people, yet alien, in a way that Meyer’s will never be.
Twilight and sexual politics
Where do I start? This is not a good role model for teenage girls. The heroine (with an ‘e’ this time), Bella, is utterly passive, and shows no sign of initiative. Once she has found her man, she is content to simply gaze adoringly at him, while he lectures her on, well, how their love cannot be, and how tortured he is loving a mortal, and so on. And she just dumbly goes on acting as if he’s absolutely wonderful, and never questioning why their relationship has to stay at the level of ‘doomed romance’. Of course, in the second book it gets even worse: Edward decides it’s better for Bella that they part, so he buggers off, leaving her prey to absolute misery. Note: he doesn’t enquire about what she might think is best for her. He’s a man, so obviously he knows what a woman needs. Because he has the power of testosterone, he is the one to make decisions, while she, poor oestrogen-addled wreck that she is, meekly complies.
So, do we really want young women to be getting all over-excited about this Edward, and wishing they were like Bella? I mean, she’s worse than a Barbie doll. At least you can get creatively vicious with Barbie (why not give her a double mastectomy and chemotherapy-induced hair loss?) while Bella, Bella . . . well, I don’t know. Maybe I can . . .
What I intend to do about it
What I have done about it is simple. I may not be Stephenie Meyer (thank goodness), but I can write too, and I have written my reaction. To be precise, savage satire on ‘Twilight’ in which Bella becomes a tough dominant woman, and Edward is reduced to being a helpless patsy. So out there on www.fanfiction.net I have put together two pieces: ‘Bella’s Unnatural Urges’, in which Bella forces Edward to physically satisfy her and then discovers that she could have chosen a better lover than a 108-year-old virgin, and ‘Bella la Belle’ in which Bella has taken control of her life, moved to France, and become a kind of vampiric equivalent to Dita von Teese or Immodesty Blaize – Dita von Teeth, perhaps. And there’s a third one due out any time now. I know people are reading them, so I am doing my bit to ridicule Meyer, and to show a different, empowered Bella. Let us all do likewise
In my next instalment . . .
Following on from this, a look at the sexual politics of the present-day rom-com. They’re not pretty.