Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twilight- review by The Cynical Pen

I loved his review, he was dead on and expressed more eloquently, than I ever could have, what I was feeling about this book. I asked him for permission and he kindly gave it to me to post this review from his blog. If you want to read something worth your while please visit him: Cynic's Paradise.

A Re-Write:

I have decided to re-write my Twilight review. Partially because I can be more objective now, having gained some perspective (i.e.: I didn't just finish the book this morning), but also because it looks bad to have my readers' reviews better written and more thoughtful than my own.


Twilight is bad, let's make that clear right away. It's bad in three very distinct and bold ways, each blowing their trumpets loudly - competing with each other. As a result, I'm not sure which is aspect is the worst. So these are in no particular order.

1 - Story is unimpressive
2 - Characters are flat, simple, and worthless
3 - Theme is beyond ridiculous

The Story:

Everyone likes a good story, whether it's a gripping thriller novel, a cinematic masterpiece, or just a Dilbert comic, everyone likes to experience the lives of characters they can both relate to and fantasize being-like. We want to share their emotions, follow them on their adventures, in the best stories we feel what they feel, and we cheer for them when they succeed, sympathize with them when they fail, and fear for their safety when they are in danger.

In each novel a different story is told for each reader, rather - a new story emerges between different reader/author combinations. The writer creates the world and tells the events, but the reader is free to interpret and relate to them according to his/her own life, experiences, and tastes. So though the words of the story are the same, the journey can be different. Which is why it's generally hard to make a clear formula for what is a good story versus what is a bad story.

But that doesn't mean anything goes.

Imagine a story about a romance triangle set in picturesque 19th century England, we follow the lives, fears, and tenderness of two men competing for the same woman. Then, just as the tension is about to boil over - and we're hanging on edge, wondering who will win her hand, with only a few pages to go - aliens invade and use their rayguns to kill everyone in the town. Changing the story from romance to sci-fi out of nowhere, and rendering everything within the story (up until that point) completely irrelevant.

I think we can agree that this is an unsatisfying ending. It might appeal to people who don't care for romances, or people who think it's just a funny ending, but in neither case are they really enjoying the story and connecting with the characters.

So there are limits on what an author can do, and we can make a rough guess about how a story should be structured.

I highly dislike the structure of Twilight.

In the tradition of most story telling we establish character and setting, and very quickly introduce a problem that will continue to intensify until reaching climax, followed by a relief and a resolution. The story usually begins when the problem begins and ends shortly after it is resolved. This is the basic structure of a good story, or more specifically - a story arc.

Anything that doesn't directly contribute/relate to "the problem" is a stray away from the arc, a tangent. This is okay, for instance further setting development or character development might enhance the experience. But the more the writer wanders from the meat-and-potatoes, the more misshapen the story's arc becomes. In general, the tighter the story arc the better.

The problem with Twilight's story is that there is no arc. (Not really.) We are introduced to a character and setting right away, but it takes a while before we're introduced to "the problem" - which is the romantic tension between Edward and Bella, but that is resolved quickly, since, really, no tension exists. They like each other. No one is competing here, no one is trying to disrupt their mutual attraction. Once their feelings are public they leap into each others arms (probably about 1/4 of the way through the book) and what was once the problem (source of tension) is now, effectively, resolved.

But the story continues ... or rambles forward about the simple, boring goings on of their daily high-school driven lives. Once could argue the new "problem" is the strangeness of their relationship - their physical incompatibility for instance, but this problem never recheas climax nor resolves. It's mostly just a novelty ... she's in love with a vampire, okay, that's vaguely interesting... but not 400 pages interesting.

Because there is no real, practical endpoint for the book, Meyer gives us a rather pathetic offering by introducing a "villain" near the end of the book. Someone we don't know anything about, except that he's vicious, tough, and evil. But we don't care about him, because he hasn't been developed. Most good villains aren't flat, they are usually introduced early on and made (st least partially) sympathetic, or at the very least they are directly connected to the main story arc. This villain is nothing like that, he's flat, so he bores us, and we find this new conflict uninteresting because we're blind-sided by it from nowhere. And not for one minute do we see it as a serious threat.

It exists as a cheap, simple, thoughtless way to create cheap, simple, thoughtless tension. And just as we've swallowed it and are beginning to follow this new story arc, beginning to feel a trickle of tension, it resolves itself off-stage. And we wake up, completely unsatisfied - because the tension has built to a climax and we're never given any kind of relief. It's there at its highest point and then ... it's gone. This is a very dissatisfying and unusual way to resolve tension. And certainly not a good way.

It would be like seeing the X-wings in A New Hope on their way to attack the death star, and then a jump-cut to it blowing up and Luke flying away, practically alone. Using his communication to the base over the radio as a cheap device to hand us an info-dump about how he somehow managed to win. But we don't get to see him win. So we aren't satisfied, because we aren't allowed to experience it.

Another example, and perhaps a more relevant one. Let's go back to the romance story we came up with before, the one with the aliens. But let's omit our marsian friends and assume the story ends with one of the men ending up with the girl, and the other guy finding a way to accept that. So we follow every little intimate detail leading to this climax, the three of them are about to confront each other and then ... the book skips ahead to everything suddenly resolved ... and we don't get to be there when it happens.

We know what happens, because we're told vaguely through dialogue (the easiest of all literary devices to abuse) but we're getting it second-hand, which is never as exquisite.

So, on the grounds that the shape and flow of the story is irregular and dissatisfying, I think the story of Twilight is poor - at best.


The story is loaded with minor characters, so I'm only going to focus on the major ones. Bella and Edward. Truly no one else matters.

Edward: In summary, Edward is a very powerful, practically omnipotent, alpha male. He can read minds, he has infinite money, he's supposedly handsome beyond all reason, he cannot die, he's charming, he's faster than a speeding bullet, he can probably leap tall buildings in a single bound, and he's completely ... flat.

There isn't much to him. He doesn't make any kind of major realization, he doesn't develop or grow in any way. He is not a dynamic character. He's completely static. The same at the beginning as at the end. The only difference is, he's found a joy toy. Which, to him, is all Bella is.

He knows a meaningful, lasting relationship is impossible, and dangerous. He even admits so within the dialogue. But he pursues her anyway, because, for the time being, she is the object of his obsession. But he must know that it is only a passing sensation. If he doesn't, then he hasn't learned much about the world in the last 100 years of his life.

He has more years behind him than Mr. Miyagi, but lacks the sagely wisdom that comes with age, instead his behavior and thought patterns are more like the 17-year old he appears to be. (Who, for whatever reason, chooses to retake the same high school classes ad infinitum - talk about hell)

He does not grow, he does not develop, and he does not catch our interest. Appealing only to those girls who fantasize about his body and out-dated charm. Which, incidentally, is what keeps money in Meyer's bank account.

Then there's Bella:

Bella is our Main Character, and our viewpoint, so while we may be let down by Edward, she is situated perfectly to redeem the story. It's her story, and it could be about her as a dynamic character, obtaining wisdom through experience, learning more about herself and the world, growing and become more than she is through both aspiration and perspiration. But she doesn't.

She's not only static but completely lifeless. She is an empty shell with very little personality, very little individuality, she exists only as a window for the reader to vicariously fall in love with Edward. Perhaps if she were even remotely developed, and molded into into an individual with distinct personality it would be harder for Meyer's readership to connect with her, and pretend she is they. Bella's emptiness may accidentally Meyer's pocketbook, but it doesn't help her story.

Bella is as flat as a character can be. Even Ziggy looks developed, dynamic, and interesting by comparison.

So while the journey (story) is uncomfortable and dull, our traveling companions (Edward and Bella) don't make the trip any pleasanter. Leaving only one hope left.. perhaps, just maybe, it's got a good message.

Too bad it dosn't.


There isn't much of an intentional theme to Twilight et al, except for a brief fleeting reference to a belief in God, but otherwise it's simply the rambling story of a masochistic high-school girl and her all-seeing-all-knowing-blood-thirsty boyfriend.

But there is an accidental theme to the story, and a very very bad one. I don't think Meyer intentionally put this here, or if she did I doubt she realized the fullness of her actions. But this theme, better than anything, connects all the dots and threads the story together - since it is completely consistent from start to finish.

The theme is woman's dependence on man, and her "natural" submission.

I don't like that theme. I oppose it strongly. Which is why I recognize it so easily.

Bella, first of all, is a very bad role-model for young, impressionable girls. She is a push-over, always following Edward's ways and directions, fulfilling his whims and desires, and believing/following him without blinking, too obsessed with his physical, masculine greatness to object to him, or sneak out an occasional independent thought.

At one point she's described as revolving around him, literally, like the earth around the sun. Adjusting herself to better match him, and wanting--without guilt--to give up everything she has, everything she is, her very future and potential, to be with him, forever in his orbit. Forever dependent. She can't live without him.

A good female role model is a strong female, someone with bright ideas, talent, a burning sense of morality, and a hunger to assert herself and change the world. Believing... no, absolutely positive that she is as good as any man. But Bella is not this character. She only obsesses about Edward's superiority, accepting it wholly, and Meyer writes so that Bella is right, Edward is literally superior in every way. He's stronger, he's smarter, he's more clever, he's more rich, he's more attractive. He's basically flawless and Bella is lucky to have him. Their relationship is unequal, out of balance, and therefore a bad one.

She gives him nothing, he gives her everything. She depends on him completely. He controls her completely. And he does not respect her.

He spies on her without her knowledge or permission, watches her like a creepy voyeur, and he follows her around - exactly like a stalker. Were he sick-minded and unattractive Bella would hate him for it, at least she should, and so would the audeince. But since he's the epitome of Bella's desire she loves him for it, she's flattered by the attention. Not for one minute realizing that she's being violated, that she isn't being shown even basic respect for her privacy.

Edward simply does not respect her. And she idolizes him. Just one more way their relationship is unequal. Bella is a bad role-model, and their relationship - which is not love by any means, more like steamy, lusty, childish imitation - is unhealthy and wrong. But girls everywhere are carving hearts into their notebooks with bic pens, dreaming about how much they wish they were Bella, how much they wish they had an Edward to dominate them, and assert his superiority over them.

I object to that. I think it's horrible. And that is why Twilight is a bad book.


Annie Coe said...

Thank you so much for saving me the trouble of reading this book!
It sounds awful.Great review.

ThatGirl said...

My daughter loves this book (she's 13). The mere fact that she loves it so much had already clued me in to the idea that I might NOT like it ;)


The Ginger Darlings said...

Oh dear. I just bought the set for my daughter and was thinking of reading them myself! Did read a lovely book called Wicked Lovely though, by Melissa Marr, flawed but maybe more lovely for that. And now am engrossed in A Certain Slant of Light, which has a way about it.
Love from Jackie and the gingercats

Nyla said...

I've been trying unravel the secret to the success of these books since the first novel became a phenomenon. I read a ton of YA novels, and there's no denying that Meyer somehow tapped a teenage vein (pardon the pun), but what exactly did she tap?? The level of devotion to this series is mind boggling (esp. considering the content.) This is an interesting perspective that help explains the appeal: