Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Review.. Twilight

Stephenie fans! What makes her so special to you? – “…Seriously, her writing is just so awesome. The books are like drugs!...”

Does anyone else find it disturbing that an official fan site openly compares literaure to drugs?

I had not heard about Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series till 2008, when I read an article in Time Magazine (,9171,1734838-2,00.html ). I am an avid Harry Potter reader and J. K Rowling admirer, so the title of the article caught my notice. Having read through the article I was still not much interested, though my then teenage daughter had her fantasy caught.

She borrowed the book from a friend and raced through it, immediately developing her love hate relationship with it. I was intrigued by her ravings and her determination to lay her hands on the rest of the books. I read the first 100 or so pages of Twilight, and simply could not read through the rest I was so revolted.

All of Stephenie Meyers books became sensational in their fan following. Movies were made. The media was alight with senseless stories of screaming fans wanting to be bitten by Robert Pattinson who starred as the lead vampire in the stories. I felt vaguely disturbed when I heard that mothers of teenagers, women in their 30s and 40s and even 50s were reportedly “getting hooked on to” the books. There was  something very wrong about the scenario, but I did not take more than a passing notice of all this.
When I started writing for these pages, and was asked to review books, I decided to go back and read the series. I thought I would give it another chance, since the popularity does not seem to have waned. I read Twilight and this writing will refer to only this book, as I do not want to read the whole series.

Let me begin by referring to a book that has already dealt with this phenomenon of young women going berserk about unrealistic novels.
It is part of received wisdom that Northanger Abbey is a satire on Gothic tales of horror. … M. H. Abrams, in A Glossary of Literary Terms (1999 ed.) under 'Gothic Novel' remarks that Jane Austen 'made good humoured fun of the more decorous instances of the Gothic vogue in Northanger Abbey'. (Read more:
Published nearly two hundred years ago,  Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen is the story of Catherine Morland, and ordinary young girl of 17, who has had neither wisdom, nor the benefit of formal education. She has built up an idea of the world through her vast reading of the many Gothic Novels that were popular during Jane Austen’s time. She has had a strict moral upbringing, and a very practical minded mother, who has so many children that she has not been much able to attend to each of them individually. Left to formulate her own view of the world, Catherine has formed the habit of relating all she sees to the unnatural Gothic world between the covers of her favourite novels. She is too unassuming to hold forth her own opinions, or even to formulate them independently. It is a clever story of a girl who learns to form her own opinions from observation, who learns through the embarrassment of experience that life is not lived within the pages of the popular romantic novels she is so fond of. She even learns to reach conclusions of her own, make her own decisions and become her own woman. Edward Tilney (supposed to be Jane Austen’s voice in the novel), who becomes her husband, makes the distinction between reading a novel and believing it literally, and in reading it and extracting such truths from it as enriches one’s life. He makes Catherine aware of the difference of reading blindly, and reading with discernment.
Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...Image via Wikipedia

Jane Austen was in her early twenties when she wrote Northanger Abbey. She later reworked on it before her death, and it was published posthumously. Jane Austen was mostly home schooled or schooled by family members, and spent a year at a formal school. She grew up in an age where women’s rights were still a novel idea and possibly read Mary Wollstonecraft’s works on feminine liberation and equality. Though she never refers to them in he works, her own notions, and that of her characters reflect an understanding of, and impatience with the female destiny in her day. She died when she was 41, and packed her life with wisdom, wit, intelligence and a contribution to literature, that is relevant and deserves attention even today. (Read More:

Twilight, on the other hand seems to be a celebration of unthinking romance, with emphasison unthinking. The author, Stephenie Meyer, with a degree from Brigham Young University, and all the independence, freedom, choices, and equality enjoyed by women in the 21st century, Wirtes a book that in a standard Australian school would get pulled up on each page because of grammatical errors and poor writing skills. She creates a heroine who though “independent” and self sufficient enough to take over and run her mother’s household and life, and her father’s household when she lives with either of them, falls apart when the stunningly handsome, impossibly strong and, may I say, completely weird Edward does not come to school one day. Bella, an impossibly awkward girl, who cannot even drive in a straight line, unless she is very careful, looks down upon her hapless parents, who are cardboard cut outs of real humans, thinks of all her schoolmates as small town non- wonders, is inexplicably bedazzled by an impossibly beautiful face. Virtually at first sight. Once she does admit her feelings for Edward, she thinks of him as a “god”, and wonders about what he would have been as a “young god”. In the end I was left wondering whether anyone in the book, and even Stephenie Meyer really understands what love is all about. There seems to be no depth to the feeling that love brings. In the story “love conquers all”, but the form of love that is described seems more like an addict’s dependence on drugs.

Yes, the word “impossibly” occurs  many times in the previous paragraph. The characters are truly impossible.

Let us look at the characteristics that make Edward a hero: He is inhumanly strong, incredibly handsome, with  a sculpted body, has a “mellifluous” voice, can move like lightning, has a grace that is naturally lacking in all the other true 17 year olds around him. He has all these qualities because he is a vampire and lusting after Bella’s blood. He falls in love with her because he is attracted to the smell of her blood. He likens his need for her as that of an alcoholic to cognac, or a drug addict to heroin. Of course let us not forget that he is 118 years old, and presumably has had a couple of lifetimes experiences. Bella finds it attractive that he lusts after her blood and is constantly aching to drink her blood and kill her.

Once Edward and Bella declare their love for each other, they stay together ALL the time. When she sleeps, he sits in a corner and watches her. The only time they separate is when Bella needs her “Human minutes”  (read bathroom and shower breaks). They kiss and canoodle continuously, but do not have sex for reasons that are only hinted at, and when Bella, in a surprisingly coy manner asks about it, she is told in no uncertain terms that it was not on the cards. Is this an implicit message of no sex before marriage stemming from Ms Meyer’s religious background? But wait, Ms Meyer does not want to send any messages. She just writes for herself. “I never write messages. I always write things that entertain me, and one of the things that I find really enjoyable to explore is the idea of love.”

(Read more:,9171,1834663,00.html#ixzz1GcJhGbuO)

. “I didn't write these books specifically for the young-adult audience. I wrote them for me. I don't know why they span the ages so well, but I find it comforting that a lot of thirtysomethings with kids, like myself, respond to them as well--so I know that it's not just that I'm a 15-year-old on the inside!” Really? Real life15 year olds in the 21st century behave like Bella with their real life boyfriends? Wow! If Stephenie is to be believed, so do the thirty somethings! Do they really like to be petted and cosseted and taken care of continuously and do they really want to be entwined around their new found loves 24 hours a day? Sorry, except for when they need to wash!

I wonder that millions of readers and (gasp!) their mothers have been reading these books and swooning over it. The small sample of readers I have spoken to, seem either to hate it, and spent a long time just getting angry over the book, or to love it: a book shop owner, recommended it saying, “it is like those age old romances like Jane Austen and all, nothing really happens, but there is this underlying tension, so there is no, you know, .. all of that…” No, Madam Bookshop Owner. It is not like Jane Austen. And no, I do not agree that “Nothing happens” in Jane Austen’s books. Though I know that is not what you were saying.

I plead with all of those who have read and gone maniacal about the Twilight saga, book and films, to turn back and read those novels written by women in a bygone era. Please read the books that have survived the centuries and are now groaned over as school texts. Perhaps a good place to start will be “Northanger Abbey”: the story of the girl who had to learn the hard way that life was not a Gothic Novel, and that she had a mind and a soul. The story in which a girl had to grow up  and know herself before she could be happy in the love of another.

Books of Stephenie Meyer: The Twilight Saga: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, all of which have been made into films which have proved immensely popular.


And lastly The Host.

The Most Well Known Books of Jane Austen:
Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Love and Friendship.

Post Script: My daughter has not read Breaking Dawn, and only half of Eclipse. She has outgrown her love of the books, and has moved on to other literature, with no prompting from me at all. I recommend people to make intelligent choices for themselves, and if their choice leads them to the Twilight series, even after they have read and assimilated other books and literature, then so be it. 
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