Twilight: A Review aka The Danger of Cliques Book Clubs
Yes, a Twilight review, you heard me.
At the beginning of this year a few of my bravest friends and I decided to form a book club (this is my slightly overdramatic way of saying that we made a WhatsApp group chat) and embarked on the adventure of reading Stephenie Meyer’s literary masterpiece Twilight. This idea – like most bad ideas – was born under the pressure of end-of-semester stress in the dark, despair-filled halls of Ü35. Most of us had already read the book back when it first gained popularity and people were sporting “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” bracelets – I wish I was making this up. Accordingly, I found my experience of rereading Twilight to be not merely dominated by slightly entertained outrage, but also a strong sense of nostalgia. I personally did not want to reread this book to jump on the bandwagon of hating on anything that is considered mainstream or particularly popular with teenage girls and young women. I did it because I remember both how much I enjoyed Twilight as a teenager and that there were quite a few aspects of the story that, looking back, I consider to be quite horrible for impressionable young readers to be exposed to. Despite my focus thus being on whether Twilight was really as awful as it had come to be in my mind over the years, I was still hoping to get some sort of enjoyment out of the book. I do not want to hate books like Twilight, I genuinely want books that are aimed at young readers to not suck and I know that many of them do not. (Read Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, I’m begging you.) What really drove me to reread Twilight, however, was the fact that I am very bored and do not go outside enough, but that does just not sound nearly as clever and “woke”. The following is a mixture of some reflections on Twilight, random screencaps from the book club group chat and an array of bad jokes – essentially the nightmarish fever-dream version of a book review. You are welcome!
Relationship Dynamics aka Romance Isn’t Dead
Since Bella’s and Edward’s relationship is at the book’s core, exploring their relationship dynamics is essential to a proper understanding of the book. Whilst I did remember Edward to be cold and slightly controlling, I found it striking to what a high degree this was actually the case. Maybe I am being overly critical, but moments such as: “His unfriendliness intimidated me.” (Meyer 54), “I flinched back from the resentment in his voice.” (Meyer 54), “’As if you could outrun me,’ he laughed bitterly. […] ‘As if you could fight me off,’ he said gently.” (Meyer 231), “He was really giving me a choice – I was free to refuse, […]” (Meyer 173) (That should be a given omg!!!! I am yelling!!!!) and “’Let go!’ I insisted. He ignored me.” (Meyer 89), just made me feel slightly uncomfortable. (And by “slightly uncomfortable” I mean that it made me want to throw up.)
Another factor that is 1) crucial to the dynamics of their relationship and 2) makes me wonder why this book was ever even published, is the fact that whilst Edward may look like he is seventeen, he is actually around a hundred years old. Bella is not even eighteen yet. Why did not a single editor intervene at any point? Edward is clearly far more mature than Bella and the inherent imbalance, which looms over all of their interactions, is not a good basis for a healthy relationship. I find this particularly concerning considering that the target audience of Twilight is literally teenage girls. Not to shit on Stephenie Meyer, but writing a book aimed at young girls, which at the very least implies that dating a man far older than you is fine and even romantic as long as he is cool and still somewhat young-looking, seems a bit questionable. But then again, I don’t know what Mormons get up to. (Editor’s Note: Why limit yourself to shitting on Stephenie Meyer when you can shit on Mormons in general?)
In relation to this it is notable just how predatory Edward’s behaviour is at times – not because he is a vampire, but because he is over a hundred years old. One scene in particular exemplifies this, when Edward tells Bella that she does not seem like she is seventeen because of how mature and grown-up she is (Meyer 91). An old guy telling teenage girl that she is “mature” for her age? Cool! Nothing to see here, lads, keep moving! He also does other neat stuff, like referring to her as an “insignificant little girl” (Meyer 237) and calling Bella’s classmates – you know, the ones that are all her age? – children (Meyer 236), because people Bella’s age are literally children to him. There is also this fun little exchange: “[Edward:] ‘That’s probably best. Be careful, though, the child has no idea.’ I bridled a little at the word child. ‘Jacob is not that much younger than I am,’ I reminded him. He looked at me then, his anger abruptly fading. ‘Oh, I know,’ he assured me with a grin.” (Meyer 305). Imagine me gagging whilst reading this scene. (Editor’s Note: I was about to edit Meyer’s prose here, when I realized the quote had not ended yet.)
To his credit, Edward does warn Bella on multiple occasions that he is dangerous and not good for her and even tells her that if she is smart, she will avoid him (Meyer 76). Bella is apparently not particularly smart though because (spoiler alert!) she does not avoid him. Furthermore, it can also be argued that “because the Cullens have a good social standing and are cultured and rich, dating Edward promises personal growth, a supporting familial context and upward mobility for Bella.” (Pyrhönen 350) and that, even though Bella insist that she is not interested in the Cullens’ wealth and privileges, “the emotions Edward calls forth in her are inextricably linked with these prospects.” (Pyrhönen 350) Nonetheless, this possibility of personal growth and the other benefits that might come with dating Edward do not excuse the negative aspects of their relationship that I have explored above.
Another relevant factor when it comes to the relationship dynamics in Twilight is that, whilst Bella is a very self-deprecating character to begin with, her negative feelings about herself seem to amplify when she is around Edward. When in his company, Bella constantly uses phrases such as: “stupidly” (Meyer 37), “feeling like a moron” (Meyer 37), “awkwardly” (Meyer 37), “like an idiot” (Meyer 38), or “he was obviously wondering if I was mentally competent” (Meyer 38), when referring to herself. And, as indicated by the page numbers, all of these examples were taken from one single conversation between Bella and Edward. Edward scarcely intervenes and often even agrees when she voices these feelings out loud: “I frowned. ‘I’m an idiot.’ ‘You are an idiot,’ he agreed with a laugh.” (Meyer 240). Looks like romance isn’t dead after all, lads.
Stuff That Wasn’t Necessarily Bad, Just Very Weird
This article clearly lacks any real structure, so I am just going to call the next section “stuff that wasn’t necessarily bad, just very weird”. One such “not necessarily bad, just very weird” thing is Bella being incredibly overdramatic about the least dramatic situations imaginable. Her immediate response to moving to a new city is: “I would be the new girl from the big city, a curiosity, a freak.” (Meyer 9) Similarly, her reaction to starting at a new school can be summed up by this: “He wished me good luck at school. I thanked him, knowing his hope was wasted. Good luck tended to avoid me.” (Meyer 10)
None of this is inherently “bad” or even unrealistic, since teenagers do sometimes tend to be rather angsty and overdramatic, so this might actually help with making Bella more relatable to the book’s target audience.
Bella’s tendency to completely blow things out of proportion only starts to get a bit odd when it comes up in relation to her pale complexion, as it frequently does. This statement may sound completely nonsensical at first but stay with me here. Bella is genuinely deeply worried that she is going to face discrimination because of her pale skin (yes, this is an actual thing): “But physically, I’d never fit in anywhere. I should be tan, sporty, blond – a volleyball player, or a cheerleader, perhaps – all the things that go with living in the valley of the sun.” (Meyer 9), “They were two girls, one a porcelain-colored blonde, the other also pale, with light brown hair. At least my skin wouldn’t be a standout here.” (Meyer 13), “Every one of them was chalky pale, the palest of all of the students living in this sunless town. Paler than me, the albino.” (Meyer 16). Now, Bella’s obsession with pale skin might sound rather bizarre at first, but what we can all learn from this is that people with pale skin are a marginalised group and that we all need to stand up to this – very often carelessly overlooked – form of discrimination. (Imagine me rolling my eyes whilst writing this to further enhance the sarcastic undertone of this statement.)
Another thing in Twilight that falls into the category of “not necessarily bad, just very weird”, is the writing style. If I had to give a short summary of Meyer’s writing style, it would probably be something along the lines of “overall alright, very simplistic, but with a random peppering of big, complex words, which is supposed to sound clever, but ends up feeling forced, and a very strange choice of adjectives at times”. However, the same thing could also be said about any essay I have ever handed in, so no judgement here. I also feel like I should mention that I have found an academic essay on Twilight, which seems to strongly disagree with my perception of Meyer’s writing, as demonstrated by claims such as: “Vivid descriptions that appeal to readers’ senses abound in Meyer’s Twilight. Woven through the narrative, this sensory language complements the dialogue and plot. Readers can almost feel the drizzle of a dreary Forks day, hear the tenor of Edward’s musical voice, or smell the rusty scent of the biology classroom on blood-typing day. Such descriptions make this text more vivid, enabling readers to paint sensory pictures of the events unfolding before them.” (Letcher and Bull 114) Whilst I personally did not find the descriptions in Twilight in to be so vivid that “sensory pictures of the events” were unfolding before me – and I am glad they were not, it is not a book that I would want to experience quite so intensely – this might at least partially be due to the fact that I had a very negative attitude towards the content of the book. My dislike of the book may very well have had an impact on my overall reading experience, since I did not want to fully immerse myself in the world created by this novel. I do, however, want to be somewhat fair with this review, hence the mention of other people’s enthusiastic praise on Meyer’s writing and world-building. But ultimately my opinion is of course still the only valid opinion, so feel free to ignore this bit. In order to do my sudden desire to be “fair” when talking about books justice, I would like to let Meyer’s writing speak for itself. The following is a small compilation of some of my favourite examples of the high-quality and “vivid” writing in Twilight, which I have lovingly assembled:
– “‘Ew.’ Snow. There went my good day.” (Meyer 33)
– “I tried to make my smile alluring, wondering if I was laying it on too thick. He smiled back though, looking allured.” (Meyer 106)
– “My homework was done – the product of a slow social life.” (Meyer 123)
– “I jumped up, foolishly edgy […]” (Meyer 129) See, I’m not exactly sure what this is supposed to mean, but I too would describe myself as “foolishly edgy”.
– “It had been a while since I’d had a girl’s night out, and the estrogen rush was invigorating.” (Meyer 132) Bella, love, are you actually okay?
– “‘Its’s twilight,’ Edward murmured […]” (Meyer 204) *cue end credits*
– Edward’s reaction to Bella wearing a long, khaki-coloured skirt and a dark blue blouse: “You are utterly indecent – no one should look so tempting, it’s not fair.” (Meyer 279). Now, I get that Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon… but what the fuck? (I’m evidently very articulate and my writing is far superior to Meyer’s.)
I would also like to give a special shout-out to that one scene where Bella talks about writing an essay on “whether Shakespeare’s treatment of the female characters is misogynistic” (Meyer 124). Not only is there a certain irony to be found in this scene, it also raises the question as to whether Meyer is even aware of her own treatment of her female characters. This has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of her writing – or lack thereof –, I’m merely bringing this up because of how petty and childish I am.
Every Time Bella Is Clumsy, Featuring Yet Another Compilation of Quotes Because I Have Given up on This Article (and many other things in my life)
A clumsy female character is a fairly common trope in romance novels, since it can be employed to make the heroine appear more relatable and endearing. (I have no source for this, but you can trust me, I know a lot of stuff.) There is nothing inherently wrong with this trope. However, – and hear me out on this – Stephenie Meyer takes this trope and really “amps it the fuck up”, as the teens like to say. Not only is Bella’s clumsiness brought up, whether it be explicitly or implicitly, so frequently that I gave up on counting after the 20th time, it is also on multiple occasions equated to physical disability. I wish I was over-exaggerating. Here are a few examples of Bella being ~adorably clumsy~, because I want everyone to suffer as much as I did when I was reading this:
– “Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress.” (Meyer 46)
– “[…] I fell down a lot. Sometimes I took people with me.” (Meyer 64)
– “‘I fall down a lot when I run,’ I admitted.” (Meyer 167)
– “I am absolutely ordinary – well, except for bad things like all the near-death experiences and being so clumsy that I’m almost disabled.” (Meyer 184) How quirky and relatable!
Meyer’s approach to expressing Bella’s clumsiness mirrors what she does with far too many tropes commonly found in Young Adult books, be it an insecure female protagonist or a slightly more dominant romantic interest: she takes them and then amplifies them to an extent where they become ridiculous at best and unhealthy and harmful at worst.
An Uncomfortably Honest and Personal Conclusion
If I had to pick one positive thing about Twilight, it would have to be the fact that it really showed me that self-deprecation is an awful quality in a person. After having to listen to Bella complain about how stupid and unworthy she is for the 57th time (so probably not very far into the book), I made it a resolution to work on the way I think about myself. Constantly putting yourself down is not “being honest with yourself” and it definitely is not “relatable” (the effect I assume Stephenie Meyer was aiming for), it is unhealthy and something that is easily internalized. So, thank you Twilight for making me realize that I need to be kinder to myself, I guess? Bella is an awful and self-loathing main character and the less anyone’s thoughts mirror hers, the better. Nonetheless, I can still acknowledge that Twilight, despite its many flaws, makes for an entertaining read and I am definitely able to understand its appeal. There is drama, romance, angst, Bella’s sarcasm was honestly kind of funny at times and the book is written in a style that is very accessible. Whilst a book being “problematic” does not mean that no one should read it, I do think that it is important that readers are able to approach books which promote toxic ideas in a way that is reflective and critical. My 13-year-old self did not read Twilight with a reflective and critical mindset and a lot of other young readers – not all – probably did not either. We read about a guy being possessive and controlling and thought: “Oh, I guess that’s romantic?” Considering the fact that, according to a random article on vampires and Marxism that I found on JSTOR, many undergraduates are more familiar with vampire stories, such as Twilight, than with the implications of class struggle (Morrissette 637), the at times questionable moral principles promoted by Twilight should not be ignored. In conclusion, looking back at books that you liked when you were young and realising that they were pretty awful is not a great feeling, but it also shows that you have grown as a person (figuratively and literally).
Also, if you are interested in reading a book that is actually good, check out this snazzy review of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: cool article by a cool person
(Why yes, I *am* taking this way too seriously and I do *not* have a life!)
Letcher, Mark, and Kelly Byrne Bull. “Off the Shelves: Analyzing Style and Intertextuality in Twilight.” The English Journal, vol. 98, no. 3, 2009, pp. 113–116.
Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. Atom: 2017.
Morrissette, Jason J. “Marxferatu: The Vampire Metaphor as a Tool for Teaching Marx’s Critique of Capitalism.” PS: Political Science and Politics, vol. 46, no. 3, 2013, pp. 637–642.
Pyrhönen, Heta. “Love under Threat: The Emotional Valences of the Twilight Saga.” Writing Emotions: Theoretical Concepts and Selected Case Studies in Literature, edited by Ingeborg Jandl et al., Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2017, pp. 347–362.
Lena was listening to the Twilight soundtrack whilst writing this article.