Twilight was one of those books I just had to read. You see, I’d already read so much about it, and what I’d read was divided into two camps. People either seemed to absolutely love the book beyond all reason, or they absolutely loathed it to the point of vomitting at the mere mention of the title. I had a hard time imaging a book that could invoke two such extreme reactions, but after reading a few reviews and synopes of the book, I had a feeling I’d probably fall into the loathe camp rather than the love camp. The whole thing sounded too much like a bad romance too me, and I’m not a romance reader by any stretch of the word, especially if the romance in question is bad.
So this sounded like the kind of book I normally wouldn’t have wasted my time and money on, but like I said, the reactions were so extreme, I just had to find out for myself what the book was really like. Sort of like a car accident, you know? You just have to see how bad it really is.
With all that in mind, I did want to give the book a fair shake. I wasn’t sure how easy that would be to do, given my personal biases against romance and the fact that I already knew the plot in advance (honestly, I think there was no way for me not to know what the plot was once the movie came out). Still, I promised myself I’d read at least three chapters before writing the book off as a waste of my time.
Imagine my surprise when I ripped through the book in just four days.
Well, not exactly four days. I started the book, got through the preface and the first two chapters and then I stalled for a couple of weeks. The opening was just so slow, and the main character, Bella, rather dull. It was only my decision to get through at least one more chapter (along with the recommendation of the ever-sensible Patty, one of the moms in the Screeching Harpies) that made me pick up the book again. My family and I were getting ready to visit my parents in Arkansas for a week, and I thought maybe I’d squeeze in that third chapter then. Somewhere during that first day of travel to distant, rural Mountain View, I got hooked. I stayed up late the first night to read “just one more chapter (or three)” and then spent the next two days with my nose buried in my netbook, devouring the rest of the story. It was definitely a romance, but not a bad one, and better than even most good romances I’ve had shoved into my hands.
The book isn’t perfect, of course. There’s an article on Salon that gives a very complete and accurate list of the flaws, and I agree with a lot of that list. Myself, I found the opening preface to be entirely pointless, and the book would have been better without it. Also, the first two chapters were pretty slow. I understand the need to set the scene and introduce the characters, but this seemed tto happen at a glacial pace. The story starts out with the main character, Bella Swan, moving to Forks, Washington, to stay with her father. Once she gets there, a lot of mundane events unfold around her – she goes to school, meets the other kids, runs into Edward Cullen, who eventually becomes the love interest in the story. She complains a lot about how much she hates being in Forks.
And that’s about it.
Have you seen the movie Coraline yet? It’s a similar set up. Coraline moves to a creepy house in a rainy area (either in Washington or Oregon, I think), and she complains about how she doesn’t want to be there. But the very first thing Coraline does when she arrives in her own personal hell is to go exploring. She makes a dowsing rod and looks for an abandoned well. She explores the house and finds a tiny locked door, which she eventually goes through to find a magical world on the other side. Coraline goes in pursuit of the adventure, the adventure doesn’t come creeping to her.
But that’s not what happens in Twilight. Bella is very passive. She doesn’t explore her surroundings, and she certainly doesn’t go looking for adventure. She just plods through her day to day routine, and that’s boring. It isn’t until things start happening to her that the book gets interesting. In fact, I’d say about 98% of the book deals with what happens to Bella, rather than with what she does herself. Bella is constantly reacting to the events around her, never really taking action herself to make anything happen in the book. She’s in love with the mysterious Edward Cullen, but never dares approach him. Instead, he initiates all the contact, and sets the course for the relationship (which may be why so many of the negative reviews I read called Edward overbearing and domineering). Bella does get into into trouble a lot, but not because she goes out looking for it. She is, in Edward’s words, a trouble magnet, someone simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Getting out of said trouble always involves someone else, i.e. Edward, showing up in time to rescue her. In fact, it isn’t until the final chapters of the book that Bella takes any initiative to act on her own. I wish I could have seen a lot more of that sort of thing scattered throughout the book. When Bella took action at the end, I felt more of a sense of danger and excitement that the rest of the story lacked.
None of this is to say that Bella is completely useless as a main character; she’s got plenty of wit, plus a snarky sense of humor that I found enjoyable. I even found her extreme clumsiness, which is practically pounded home with a hammer throughout the book, to be entertaining. But the real interest in the story is Edward Cullen. Is he a vampire or isn’t he? (Actually, that question got answered so early on in the book, and in such a clumsy fashion, that I was left very disappointed.) And why is he alternately hateful and then friendly to Bella? Edward’s got some serious problems to deal with, including his love for Bella warring with his instinct to sink his teeth into her and bleed her dry. This is where the romance comes from, and this was what had me intrigued. Not because I had any doubts that Edward would give in and turn Bella into a midnight snack (that would have been fun to see, but this is romance, which I’ve been told requires a happy ending). But there was something about the dialogue, the descriptions of Edward, his interaction with Bella… It was fun to watch Edward fall in love (Bella was hopelessly in love from the get go, so her point of view on things wasn’t so exciting).
Of course, Edward is flawless, and it’s oh-so-easy to understand why Bella falls in love with him. He’s perfectly handsome, perfectly smart, perfectly strong and fast, and perfectly tortured. Meyers manages to hit all the right notes when writing Edward, making me want to see more of him. But she also left me asking the same question that Bella asks throughout the book – why the heck is he interested in her?
I can’t answer that last question. Like I say, Bella initiates almost no action, is in constant need of saving, and is in no way outstanding physically or otherwise. But perhaps the more important question is will I pick up the next book in the series? After all, the point of a series is to keep people reading and get them to buy more books. At this point, I’m willing to say yes. I’ve bought the second book from Fictionwise. Now to see if I tear through that as quickly as I did the first. There is the promise of a werewolf in the next book, after all, and I can always hope that Bella gets a little more interesting. If not, I might just keep reading to see what happens with Edward.
After all, I could fall in love with him just as easily as Bella has. But hopefully I’m a little more interesting that she is.