It is with some reluctance that I write this post about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. Reluctant because I’m all to aware that my review of the book must compare with thousands of similar entries, and reluctant because I’d rather not admit my response to the novel. But respond I must.
And so I finished reading Twilight wondering whether it might be possible to enjoy a book and at the same time not like it. My reasons for enjoying it are as simple as they are popular: a fantasy of being rescued, of being loved, and of feeling special. The reasons I did not like it were often times in direct opposition to the reasons I enjoyed it: I felt betrayed by a narrator who simultaneously claimed to want equality with her vampire partner while reveling in her dependence on him; I felt cheated that the apparently quirks of the “unique” narrator were nothing more then well entrenched stereotypes about passive women: poor coordination, fear of blood, fear of needles, poor driving, overwhelmed by emotion, and erratic and unpredictable mood swings. The supposedly mitigating factor of Bella’s apparent agency in wanting to be a vampire, too, is paltry indeed when considered as a decision undertaken with the only goal of securing – forever! – the lover/partner she unequivocally feels is too good for her.
I do find room for qualified praise on this last point: the novel’s consideration of insecurity in (teenage) relationships. Both Edward and Bella grapple with why they are the chosen love object, and both believe that the other doesn’t really “see themselves properly.” Except rather than using these scenes of self-doubt as a place to insist on reevaluations of what defines self-worth, the narrative concludes that it is only in the eyes and assurance of a lover that self-esteem and worth might ever be believed.
In terms of narrative style, the novel’s insistence on describing scenes as if in a movie annoyed me. A novel is not a screenplay. A novel does not require – nor does this reader want! – heavy handed (re: scripted) descriptions of Bella changing in and out of clothes, drying/brushing/flipping her hair. Character is not revealed, or complicated, by decisions to wear sweat pants.
So yes, I enjoyed Twilight as a pornographic fantasy of rescue from helplessness. I did not, however, like it as a novel. Like erotic literature of other, less public though no less popular kinds, it suffers from poor character development, problematic politics and explicitly filmic narration.