I have previously reviewed the book Twilight on this site. Today I am sharing my thoughts about its sequel ‘New Moon’.
This is an edited version of a post I have published previously on my personal blog.
The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer is now a massive franchise. The four original books and a novella are all world wide best sellers which have spawned a series of films and spin off merchandise. Meyer’s characters are now part of our current cultural landscape for better or worse.
The books are aimed squarely at the teen market. I started reading them because, as a librarian in a primary school I was coming across a fair number of young girls who had told me they had ‘read’ the books. Having now read some of them myself, and knowing the children in question as I do, I find this unlikely in the extreme. It is fair to say though, that they have probably seen the films.
I am not sure how I feel about this.
I have always been of the belief that children should not be censored in their reading material too much. There are always extremes I would make an exception for, hard core pornography and horror novels are probably best avoided. But as for everything else, I have always been of the opinion that children will self censor. They skip over bits they don’t understand, infer different things from books than adults do, because their life experience is not wide enough for them to decode all cultural nuances, and they put things down when they are bored with them.
On the other hand, books like New Moon make me seethe, and sometimes wish that I were more draconian in my censoring habits, because no book I’ve read in the past five years has made me long to throw it in the dustbin more.
My only comfort is that I hope that the teen/children this is aimed at, are not reading deeply enough to pick up everything in the book that made me want to hurl it at the wall.
Bella Swan is a mortal teenager, who falls in love with an immortal (teenage) vampire called Edward Cullen. Their relationship, as you would imagine, is somewhat tricky. Bella spends the entirety of the first book (Twilight), swooning, pouting, throbbing and nearly being eaten to disastrous effect.
In the second novel, ‘New Moon’, Bella’s swooning and throbbing is curtailed by Edward’s stiff upper lipped approach to the doomed nature of vampire/human relationships, as he decides that she will be better off without him, and leaves town, in the manner of brooding, non communicative heroes everywhere. It is the classic trope of the man knowing better than the woman, what is ‘good’ for them. Cue teeth grinding from the reader.
Bella then specialises in pining, mild catalepsy and moaning for several hundred pages. She also hooks up with Jacob, a young man who she decides is her best friend, knowing full well that he loves her and that she doesn’t love him back in the same way, despite the fact that it clefts his heart in twain etc, etc. Bella uses Jacob, manipulating his feelings for her throughout the book, and although she occasionally has a qualm about what she is doing, she manfully quashes it, and carries on breaking his heart into pieces on page after page. Hardly an admirable trait in a heroine, or indeed anyone.
There are some mild cases of peril in the book to make it not just about Bella mooning about and using everyone for her own ends no matter how disastrously that works out, and a crappy ending which clearly semaphores the fact that there is another book to come (Eclipse).
That is all.
I found the first book frustrating because of Bella’s almost totally passive nature. This book drove me even more bonkers.
If anything Bella is even more passive than before. The only thing that could be more useless in terms of a character is possibly a yard brush wearing a hat.
Basically Bella moans for over six hundred pages, except for that one time where she is spurred into action because she has to save Edward. Otherwise she is as proactive as a door mat and about as appealing to me.
Bella waits for everyone to make life better for her, fix her, complete her, tell her what to do, and then moans like a son of a bitch when they do, and the answers aren’t what she wants to hear, or when they don’t and she is left on her own. To Bella, being left on her own is akin to Superman facing kryptonite. Bella cannot be left alone, because she has no personality whatsoever unless it is defined by other people around her giving her shape. She is like a whining amoeba.
She consistently puts herself and her own feelings first, regardless of how this makes the people she is supposed to love feel, and then moans when they take it badly. Because she cannot be alone, she has a total meltdown if she is somehow left to her own devices for more than five pages, and makes the most stupidly dangerous and wilfully selfish decisions about how to spend her time, which consistently go badly, and inevitably end up messing things up for everyone around her.
She has her own wing in the local hospital, with her name inscribed on a plaque.
I know that the character of Bella wasn’t written so that she could be a role model for teenage girls everywhere, but, due to the success of the books it seems that her character has clearly struck a chord with women and girls somewhere along the line.
I find this troubling, mainly because of the terrible messages the book gives out.
It basically illustrates that it is impossible to be yourself, or know yourself if you are alone. Therefore you must be defined by others and what they want and expect of you. You either conform to their expectations or you run away from them. It is important that you have a consistent knee jerk reaction to whatever is put in front of you, and show no critical reasoning whatsoever.
You must always put yourself first, no matter what else is going on in your life or who else needs you (unless they are the man of your dreams). The only person that is more important than you is your lover, and that is because your lover is the person who makes you truly you. Everyone else is a pawn that you can manipulate using your emotional wiles, even while you purport to love them.
If you are a girl, the only fulfilment you’re going to find in life is by finding the right man for you (preferably one that feels like marble, has eyes like liquid amber, and who hasn’t drawn breath for 90 years – oh, and who really wants to devour you), otherwise you will be empty inside, or worse, have a giant hole punched through your inner self, which can only be healed by the constant presence of someone else.
The presence of your love makes you unfit to go about your normal daily life, because you turn into a drivelling idiot when they’re around. The absence of your love makes you unfit to go about daily life because you turn into an empty, meaningless shell without them.
If you are a girl, love is a constant torment. You are either tormented because the person you want wants you back, but you can’t always have him in the way you want, and so even in his presence you will always be reminded of what is missing, or he is simply not there physically or emotionally.
Love is depicted for both parties as an impossible hunger which can never be satisfied. You are always wanting more of something, like sex, which you can’t have (not in this book anyway, and not without dire consequences whatever happens), or their physical proximity to be closer (don’t sit next to me, sit on top of me, blah blah blah), or their emotional support, which they don’t necessarily give you in the right way, so even when you’re with the person you love, it’s never quite enough. Bella and Edward spend a great deal of the limited time they have together bickering and arguing and denying and suppressing.
Even when you are with your lover, and for a nano second or two things are o.k., you must be hyper aware, and constantly worrying about the fact that they will have to go soon, either temporarily or permanently. You must also worry about your future with them, or without them, or what happens if they die, or you die.
Rinse and repeat.
Love is also a constant torment because once you have it it becomes the thing that defines and shapes your life and personality, and if it is removed for any reason, it rips a hole in your solar plexus that makes it impossible for you to live/breathe/exist in any normal way, and you become a shadow of your former self, and all you can think about is what you lost and how you haven’t got it any more, and what’s the point?
Bella spends large parts of this novel, fainting, falling over, curling into a ball and panicking because she cannot breathe without Edward to hand. She is literally rendered physically incapable of managing without Edward.
Very inconvenient set up, that.
Love is, to extend the metaphor hugely, a vampire that eats you up and leaves you as one of the undead. Whether you have it, or you don’t have it, it still messes you up, and basically the only solution to love is death.
Sex will kill you. FACT. It might kill you in the best way, but it will kill you. Oh yeah.
The other big message the book has to share with us, apart from the fact that females are vacuous, pointless vessels and that love sucks, but you have to have it, is that death is awesome.
Bella is the negation of life. She runs away from her life and into the arms of death on almost every page of the book, whether she is getting a paper cut that means vampires can’t resist trying to eat her, or throwing herself off of a cliff into the teeth of an oncoming storm, or asking Edward to make her a vampire, or turning into a virtual zombie because she can’t have Edward’s love. Everything she does is about her obsession with death. She rejects everything healthy and normal and runs towards everything that means her life will be over.
She even says in the book that basically she is doomed, so she might as well embrace it, and not run from it, because running from death or tragedy only propels her faster into the path of more tragedy and the inevitable death that awaits her.
For Bella, life is death, life without Edward is death, and life with Edward is death.
This is supposed to be romantic. There’s mention in the book several times of Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights, both of which are death obsessed romances. Meyer is clearly trying to put Bella and Edward’s relationship into the pantheon of the morbid lovers of literature.
This tells us that Meyer is saying that the only good lover is a dead one. And if one dead lover is fabulous, then one dead lover and another one with a death wish must be super fabulous.
To me, at my ripe old age, this is ludicrous, and makes me want to hurl the book across the room.
I wouldn’t mind so much if Edward or Bella weren’t so much like caricatures, who are just vehicles for this ponderous, negative rubbish. I wouldn’t mind so much if Bella had a spine and didn’t just lie around waiting for things to happen to her and for other people to make her better/well/whole/alive again, or even dead. I wouldn’t mind so much if you got the feeling that Edward or Bella had had a life before they got to this point, but they haven’t, or not one the author is willing to tell us about.
Bella is a nothing. She has no interests, no outside life, no story to tell outside of what happens to her either because Edward is there, or because Edward isn’t there. This makes it hard to believe that she loves him the way she constantly says she does, because what has she got to compare it to?
Who believes that Bella is experiencing ‘true love’ when she is so clueless that she can’t even walk through a forest without nearly killing herself, barely knows how to function on a day to day basis, has hardly any friends to speak of, has never been further than Albuquerque until she’s forced to go to Italy to save Edward, and spends her days doing calculus on a rain soaked island in the Pacific? How can she possibly understand what true love is like?
You always get the feeling (or at least I do), that this is nothing more than an adolescent crush, and if Edward ever does give in to her constant whining to make her into a vampire, it will be the worst thing that ever happened to both of them.