Science fiction and fantasy
by Stephenie Meyer
Should Bella become a vampire she'll have to make a big break with her family and move away from her father, Charlie. Stephenie Meyer makes vampirism a pretty clear metaphor for sex, but there's also no shirking of the topic in real terms. There's an amusing chapter when Charlie tries to give Bella The Talk. There's also a fearsome amount of discussion about feelings, and who hurts who, and who is getting kissed, as the three young people dash around trying to be together and the supernaturally-endowed men try to make the best impression on Bella. It's all done against a backdrop of looming final exams and high school graduation, and difficult decisions about the future path of their lives.
In spite of this turmoil, the story takes a fairly slow pace to begin with. Considering how little actually happens in the first half of the novel it's remarkably readable. There's a lot of talk and bluster, and a growing tension, but it's not until later on that the plot moves on from hot air. I can't help but admire the way the author takes so little action and makes it seem like such a big deal, because the story remains interesting. Of course the impact of Bella's adventures is more profound when you care about the characters, and here I felt more ambivalent. Bella puts Edward on such a pedestal as her idea of the perfect man, to a nauseating extent. She remains naive, over-dramatic, and wet, and she always seems to be beating herself up for one reason or another. There's a hint of backbone when she expresses a desire to be stronger than she is, and she's willing to change herself radically to achieve that. But when she listens to the campsite legends of the Quileute spirit warriors and fixates on the one character who achieves heroism by cutting herself, we can tell she hasn't changed a bit. Deep down Bella is still to emo to survive. At the same time Edward, with his proper behaviour and his nineteenth-century insistence on virtue and no sex before marriage, is as alive as glass. Flaws are what make a character interesting, but Edward is too smooth and shiny to have any, and as a result he's too safe and boring.
Not so Jacob, with his boyish enthusiasm for everything and his direct, almost arrogant manner. He's much more openly passionate, and it's very easy to root for him as an underdog (sorry). He has the heat and vitality of life, contrasting starkly with Edward's cold reserve, and as characters they are as different as night and day. There are plenty of other characters who have some substance amongst Bella's family and friends, but it's curious that the one she fixates on the most is so undemonstrative.
Bella is reading Wuthering Heights, and throughout the novel she compares herself and others with characters in it. It seems like yet another excuse for her to dwell on her own guilt about being selfish, and to subject herself to endless misguided self-analysis. She is likeable, and her thoughtfulness gives her depth, but sometimes in the story I wanted her to get a grip on her over-sensitivity and just stop whining.
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Vampires come to Seattle and the Cullens must work with their natural enemies to counter the threat.
Review © Ros Jackson
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