Twilight: A Chapter Review

A rant, nothing more or less. Not my usual style and not one of my most eloquent pieces but it's as good a place as any to start, there will be stuff of better quality forthcoming...
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I read a chapter of Twilight. A whole chapter
I didn’t explode. I didn’t suddenly and inexplicably turn into a vampire. Or a girl.
And – horror of horrors – I’m not even physically sick, or dangerously angry.

Certainly it’s annoying that something like this can spend 52 weeks on top of some bestseller list somewhere – you can tell I’ve done my research – whilst far better ones languish unappreciated. This is not a good book. I feel safe concluding that having read one chapter because there are some things good books do and this doesn’t do any of them. I’m not a proofreader so I’m trying not to go through every paragraph of the thing and point out what’s wrong with it. But as much as I said I’m not dangerously angry, I’m still angry enough.

I actually read more than a chapter: there was a dedication and a “Preface” before Chapter One (“First Sight” – my god, the brilliance!) and I read those too. Which was probably a mistake.

"For my big sister, Emily,
without whose enthusiasm this story might still be unfinished."

Thanks, Emily.


Then there was a quote from Genesis. I haven't read enough of the book to know whether it has any significance or bearing on anything (although I have, objectively and definitively, read more than enough of the book.) At last – I was practically drooling by this point – the story starts with a Preface, which is its first mistake.

I don't want to harp on this because the copy I read is badly formatted PDF and maybe it's different in the book – I mean, what? I bought this book, legitimately, for whatever grossly unreasonable price it is – although I do know what that price is because I definitely bought this book. Only bad people do otherwise.

But back to the point at hand, a preface is written in the author's voice; it's about where the inspiration for the book came from and acknowledges those who gave a helping hand. The opening line of this Preface is “I’d never given much thought to how I would die”, the last is “The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.”

I’m reasonably sure that’s not the author’s voice, unless the manuscript was in fact sent to the publisher by a woman about to be killed by an inexplicably happy hunter, in which case everything I’m writing is horribly, grossly insensitive. However, let’s operate on the assumption that Ms Meyer is not in fact now dead but merely doesn’t know what a real preface is. Conclusion: the first word in the book is used incorrectly. Excellent.
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There are certain things that you’re meant to do when writing that get drilled into you so hard it almost makes you sick to hear them again. Specifically, I’m thinking of show don’t tell. Putting aside the obvious impossibility of it – they’re words, not pictures! – it’s sound advice and the kind you couldn’t possibly get to the point of writing a novel without having heard about seventy-five million times more than you could ever need to.

Or could you?

It was impossible, being in this house, not to realize that Charlie had never gotten over my mom. It made me uncomfortable. I didn't want to be too early to school, but I couldn't stay in the house anymore.

Those lines almost definitely make no sense to you unless you’re deluded enough to have put up with the book yourself – in which case you should probably leave before I warm to the task. But it doesn’t really matter, the problem here is elementary. If it’s actually impossible not to realise [boring-family-background-stuff] when in the house there must be something that makes it like that: a shrine to the ex-wife, maybe, or a pile of clothes that have to be thrown out because they’ve been irreparably stained by salty, grieving, haven’t-got-over-your-mom tears. So why can’t we hear about that, instead of being calmly informed that this is the case before moving on to the morning’s existential dilemma of when to go to school? And even there is a flaw: why couldn’t she stay in the house? Was she afraid of the shrine? Were the tear-stained clothes piled up so high that the house’s structural integrity was threatened? There must be something. The whole chapter is characterised by general laziness and straightforward delivery of information instead of presentation of a world.

It’s conceivable that Meyer didn’t want to waste time on something that insignificant – assuming it is insignificant, I honestly have no idea what happens in the rest of the book. In that case giving flat facts here might be fine, even clever or powerful, as part of a straightforward style which gets to the point and doesn’t dwell on the irrelevant more than is needed.

It was beautiful, of course; I couldn't deny that. Everything was green: the trees, their trunks covered with moss, their branches hanging with a canopy of it, the ground covered with ferns. Even the air filtered down greenly through the leaves.
It was too green - an alien planet.

Then again, maybe not. This extract occurs before she enters the thoroughly-undescribed house. Our protagonist – her name is Bella, as she never tires of “correcting” people who call her Isabella because that is clearly an unforgivable mistake – is staring out the window of the car. A bare-bones, nothing-unnecessary style might not even mention what was outside – it’ll come up later, when she’s frolicking with werewolves or whatever the hell happens after I stopped reading. But that isn’t Meyer’s style, she gives us a digression into a pretty description of… green things.
At least she probably thinks it’s pretty but her prose is tired and her sentences don’t even really make sense. Is a canopy of moss a thing? Less ambiguous – “air filtered down greenly” ? Firstly using a colour as an adverb doesn’t make a lot of sense, but more importantly… That’s not how air works. Air doesn’t have a colour no matter how pretty you think it sounds.
Then again, it is a fantasy novel so maybe I’m being unreasonable. Maybe in this world air is green and moss can form a canopy. In fact – “an alien planet.” It all makes sense now! The other explanation is that the author was too frightened by the hunter sauntering towards her, intent on bloody murder, to check her work against the basic everyday facts of the world.

But truly, the last extract shows us Meyer falling into a simple trap. She writes emotions straight down without any attempt at prose – “I loved it”, “I didn’t relate well to people my age” – or explaining with anecdote. Then she makes up by horribly overwriting passages which are about nothing. The result is inexplicable. “Too green” ? What does that mean? Is she allergic to green? Were you going to tell us that? Is that even possible?

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Time to fast-forward, because the chapter is called “First Sight” and it would be slightly unjust not to mention that actual sighting. The one-being-sighted is of course Edward Cullen – SPOILER, he’s a vampire. Edward and his vampire buddies are “devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful” which is basically unsurprising given he’s not human. Although we don’t know that yet, because it’s definitely not on the back cover. Edward is the most beautiful and “doesn’t date” because none of the girls are good-looking enough.

As luck would have it – or could it be a cynical, lazy authorial plot device? – Edward is sitting next to the only empty seat in Bella’s biology class.

I kept my eyes down as I went to sit by him, bewildered by the antagonistic stare he'd given me. I didn't look up as I set my book on the table and took my seat, but I saw his posture change from the corner of my eye. He was leaning away from me, sitting on the extreme edge of his chair and averting his face like he smelled something bad.
...
I could see his hand on his left leg was clenched into a fist, tendons standing out under his pale skin. This, too, he never relaxed. He had the long sleeves of his white shirt pushed up to his elbows, and his forearm was surprisingly hard and muscular beneath his light skin. He wasn't nearly as slight as he'd looked next to his burly brother. The class seemed to drag on longer than the others. Was it because the day was finally coming to a close, or because I was waiting for his tight fist to loosen? It never did; he continued to sit so still it looked like he wasn't breathing.

Apparently vampires have zero capacity for hiding their emotions, which is probably a relief because there are four books about this guy and I know from one chapter that Meyer can’t write characters with subtlety to save her life. Better for them just to be outright ridiculous and unbelievable, because hey, it’s fantasy!
It’s not made entirely clear why she would be waiting for his fist to loosen. It’s a hand, with fingers, presumably like any other because if it wasn’t she would have told us, outright and clumsily. So here we have a rude, socially-retarded vampire who is inexplicably a central character. Probably because he’s buff? I don’t know, I really don’t.

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Edward Cullen stood at the desk in front of me. I recognized again that tousled bronze hair. He didn't appear to notice the sound of my entrance. I stood pressed against the back wall, waiting for the receptionist to be free.
He was arguing with her in a low, attractive voice. I quickly picked up the gist of the argument. He was trying to trade from sixth-hour Biology to another time - any other time.
I just couldn't believe that this was about me. It had to be something else, something that happened before I entered the Biology room. The look on his face must have been about another aggravation entirely. It was impossible that this stranger could take such a sudden, intense dislike to me.
he turned slowly to glare at me - his face was absurdly handsome - with piercing, hate-filled eyes. For an instant, I felt a thrill of genuine fear, raising the hair on my arms. The look only lasted a second, but it chilled me more than the freezing wind.

This extract assembles everything that’s wrong with the first chapter in one easy-to-mock package. “A low, attractive voice” doesn’t really tell us much about his voice except that goddamn he’s hot and he’s going to be the love interest, but we already knew. He was introduced halfway through the chapter and from that point on Meyer’s like a giggling teenager who sort of wants to keep a secret but keeps dropping blatantly obvious hints. We get it. He’s a prick and a social retard but he and Bella are meant to be. Don’t tell anyone.

Maybe it’s only the extracts I’ve chosen – I’m certainly not reading the whole chapter again – but there’s a lot of “couldn’t” and “impossible” tossed about without any real justification, ever. Why couldn’t she believe it? Why is it impossible for young Edward to hate her? Bella doesn’t seem to have any idea, I don’t have any idea from reading it – Meyer just throws it at us and moves on with her garbled, nonsensical prose.
Even when we’re being told – shown? – how much he hates her, we’re just gently reminded how “absurdly handsome” he is. “Piercing, hate-filled eyes” is one of her better turns of phrase – although you could save a hyphen, the word is “hateful” – but it’s hotly followed by “genuine fear” – you know, as opposed to the fake fear you get when an average guy gives you a hateful stare.
“It chilled me more than the freezing wind.” The wind has been mentioned before; I showed mercy and left out of the extract the totally pointless description of how it makes her hair swirl and the papers rustle. But wow, this guy can make you cold just with his eyes. Is he even human?

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Having said all that, I didn’t actually vomit whilst reading it – although I’m not game to venture into the later chapters – and all the sentences were in fact sentences which is nice. But the fact that I’ve been able to write this much criticising one chapter without feeling like I’m being unreasonable tells a tale.

I have nothing against fantasy. I suppose I don’t really have anything against teenage love stories. The combination is already a problem, and Meyer’s specific premise is bordering on ridiculous. A vampire and a girl fall in love, whatever shall they do? Also, a werewolf. Apparently the idea came to her in a dream in 2003. My most recurrent dream is of moving a close-to-infinite number of tiny wooden cubes from one pile to another, one at a time. If I wrote a book every time I had that dream, I probably would have been deported or thrown off Uluru or handed over to a homicidal sauntering hunter. If any other person had had this dream they would have laughed to themselves and never mentioned it to anyone for fear of ostracism. Dreams are good for an entertaining story to make conversation. They are not good for writing four novels, especially when those novels are populated with one-dimensional characters drawn in maddeningly insipid prose.

And by the way, that’s not how you spell Stephanie.
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Comments

  1. "That’s not how air works"... but maybe it COULD be?

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  2. Well perhaps... after all, it is fantasy and everybody knows that gives you licence to be stupid.

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  3. Amusing. I acquiesce with every criticism and point you've made here. Also chortled a few times at your comments.

    Should you ever write a novel about moving infinite wooden cubes, I will be sure to read it. If your writing here is any indication of your prowess, I can honestly say that I would enjoy it more than any novel about sparkly, quasi-vegetarian vampires.

    Ah, Meyer. The one we all turn to in debates over ridiculous purple prose - 'at least it's not as bad as Meyer'.

    Speaking of (hilariously) ridiculous purple prose:
    http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/sticks.htm

    ReplyDelete

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