2010 In Books

And once again a list of all the books that I read in the last year. Some people enjoy these, I hear. It’s sorted alphabetically by author, because I’ll be buggered if I can remember the order that I read them in.

The list would be a lot longer if cookbooks counted, but alas, I have decided that they don’t. I fear “place noodles in boiling salt water and cook until al dente” doesn’t count as enough of a narrative to constitute a novel. Wish I had read more. Sigh.

2010 was the year that saw my novel finished and also the year in which I wrote a very nice short story that I hope will get published soon. It was the year in which Jonas sold his first flash game and his first articles, and when I say this it is not with envy, but with pride (and a little envy). I made graphics for Jonas’s next game and did a lot of culinary experimentation. A good year, yes, but creatively speaking still a bit of a disappointment. I could and should have done so much more. I hope that’s all going to change next year. I’ll start with this blog. More updates, more reviews and the two final installments in the Twilight Experiment. 2011 will be a creative year. And in a few months it will also stop feeling weird to type that number.

Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie
Last Argument Of Kings – Joe Abercrombie
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed – Alan Alda
Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself – Alan Alda
Consider Phlebas – Iain Banks
The Player Of Games – Iain Banks
Use Of Weapons – Iain Banks
Two Hearts – Peter S. Beagle
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
The Death Of Bunny Munroe – Nick Cave
Last Chance To See – Mark Carwardine
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon
King Of The Murgos – David Eddings
Demon Lord Of Karanda – David Eddings
Sorceress Of Darshiva – David Eddings
The Seeress Of Kell – David Eddings
Belgarath the Sorcerer – David & Leigh Eddings
Polgara the Sorceress – David & Leigh Eddings
Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith
Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby
A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving
The Summer Tree – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Wandering Fire – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Darkest Road – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Shining – Stephen King
Under The Dome – Stephen King
Twilight  – Stephenie Meyer
New Moon – Stephenie Meyer
Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer
Breaking Dawn – Stephenie Meyer
Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pyjamas – Judy Parkinson
I Shall Wear Midnight – Terry Pratchett
The Wilt Alternative – Tom Sharpe
Wilt On High – Tom Sharpe
Wilt In Nowhere – Tom Sharpe
Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon

The Twilight Experiment: Day 7

Rejoice! I’ve decided to do three reviews about the last book of the Twilight series, not just two as with the others. It’s longer, it’s much worse than the other three, and it’s split into three parts anyway. All wonderful reasons for my decision.

This also gives me the chance to say something about the second book, New Moon, that had escaped my attention so far. I was sitting at my computer late one night, thinking about how Stephenie is really sort of (ret)conning the reader when it comes to her werewolves. I think I need to go into the plot a little. At some point in Eclipse, or it might be the end of New Moon, I’m really too lazy to look it up right now, Edward tells Bella that it’s her fault that all those strapping Quileute boys started turning into big cuddle-wolfsies. She replies that he is an idiot (which would be the first true observation that Bella has made or will make in the books) and tells him that Jacob thinks that the werewolves started to change because the vampires came back to Forks. Somewhen after the events in Twilight, I assume, since Jacob shows up at the end of that one and everything is still right as rain, no torn shorts in sight yet. That puts us somewhen in the beginning of New Moon, yes? Mhm… so the werewolves started to change back when Edward and his family had skipped town to get rid of Bells? Yes, you heard right. Jacob thinks that the presence of the Cullens caused him and his biceps-studded friends to change, but if I am not very much mistaken Edward had already left town for quite a while when Sam Uley turned, not to speak of all the others. Mhm… is that scuttling sound I hear faintly in the distance maybe Stephenie slinking off to hide under a rock somewhere? I think it might just be.

Where was I? Yes… Breaking Dawn. 699 pages, 700 if you count the words The End (atom paperback edition). A nice number and one that continues the trend of making the books a little longer with each instalment. It unfortunately also continues the trend of making the plot a little thinner each time we return to Forks, but that only makes my job easier, so why am I complaining?

Breaking Dawn starts off just a few weeks after the events in Eclipse. Bella is, sadly, still alive and set to marry the vampire of her heart in just a few days. She’s also driving a Mercedes Guardian (a semi-fictional car, for those of you who are wondering about that as well; apparently Stephenie is referring to the S600 Guard model). Now, I have a big problem with that first chapter. The reason? It’s a bit embarrassing, but here we go: I once tried to write a novel about a clumsy girl. It was about much more than that, of course, but I will still one day write that novel so I won’t tell about what exactly. The thing is that I tried real hard to make the physical aspects of being clumsy funny and it just didn’t work. This first chapter of Breaking Dawn, with all the wheel-screeching and brake-slamming and whimpering, reads a lot like that ill-fated novel of mine, only much worse. It takes a lot of work to make something be funny on  paper that should by rights be in a Buster Keaton movie.

Mhm… yes. After the car scene we move on briskly to the telling-Charlie-scene, which is a flashback and one of the few funny things in the book. Funniness aside, I still have to marvel at all the lovingly hand-crafted inconsistencies that go into every Charlie Swan scene in this book. If the man keeps to one mood for more than half a paragraph it’s a miracle, really. Maybe he’s got bipolar disorder, I hear that’ll do that to you. Or maybe Stephenie just thinks that angry parents are funny and doesn’t want to let the plot get in the way of a “good” joke. You pick.

Soon after, Bella is striding down the altar in a spectacularly ugly wedding dress. Yes, I know, it’s a taste thing. She hasn’t any – that’s the problem, I think. The wedding is done not much later, a surprisingly anti-climactic scene really, given that we’ve been… eh… waiting for this for three entire novels, but then Stephenie has soooooo much more in store for us. Before the post-nuptial fun can begin, however, Jacob shows up and almost kills Bella. What’s a wedding without a bit of good-natured bride-slaughter, eh?

Then the honeymoon, the bit that I’d been looking forward to. Not because I can’t wait for Bella and Edward to finally enter their very own happily-ever-after (frankly all I’m waiting for is for Bella for fall off a cliff), but because of the sex. Yep, you heard me right. Twilight has finally grown up and is now going down the well-trodden softcore-porn path to hell. Sex has been an issue, but never a feature of the novels before that fate-full honeymoon chapter. Edward is afraid that when it comes to eating someone he might have gotten the definition a little wrong. Bella is just horny and doesn’t care about anything except when she’s finally getting laid. Foolish human hormones, as Edward is so fond of saying. Now here’s a little problem: the Twilight vampires are, essentially, frozen in time. Nothing ever changes. Their hair doesn’t grow, their nails don’t lengthen, blood doesn’t run in their veins (instead of blood they have sparkly fairy-dust, I assume). Which raises some interesting questions when it comes to sex, especially if you’re a he-vampire, don’t you think? And don’t get me started about all those foolish human hormones that Edward is so fond of.

So, are we to assume that Edward has had a hard-on for the last hundred odd years or so? Just thinking out loud. What I was really getting at, though, the center-piece of the first part of Breaking Dawn, so to speak, is the morning after.

Bella wakes up after a night filled with hot vampire sex and is happy. Edward is not quite so happy, and soon we find out why. While he hasn’t eaten Bella (in the blood-sucking sense), he’s at least come close to doing so. A sort of post-coital snack, perhaps? He’s also gotten a little carried away (excitable boy, doesn’t know his own strength) and now Bella looks like a smurf only with more hurt and less smurfberries. I’ve just had a very long discussion with Jonas on why this honeymoon-domestic-violence scene makes me react this strongly. There are several reasons, not all of them rational. For one, Twilight is just so incredibly tame, at least so far. Bella and Edward never do more than kiss, and it is a noteworthy event when the fanged-one takes off his shirt in Bella’s presence the night before they get hitched. So this sudden transition from tame to date-rape seems slightly off. Then there’s the fact that afterwards Bella basically lights a metaphorical cigarette and whispers through the equally metaphorical smoke I like it rough honey, let’s do it again.

Now, I know that some people are into that kind of thing, just like some people are into feet or latex or penguins, and there really is nothing wrong with it provided that all participants are okay with it, but in this case it seems… strange. And wrong. It also seems to suggest that anything more than kissing before you get married is a sin paramount even to premeditated murder, whereas a little post-nuptial wife-beating is totally cool. A (male) friend of ours once told me that this scene makes him angry because it seems to say that sexual violence is okay as long as you’re married and that it also seems to be saying some rather nasty things about males in general. So at least I’m not alone there. All in all, the whole vampire-human sex thing seems wrong. Wrong in how it clashes with the fuzzy safe-not-sexy logic of the rest of the series. Wrong in how Bella reacts to it. Maybe I’m being hypocritical.

The rest of the first part is relatively brief. Edward tries not to have sex with Bella and ultimately fails. Bella tries to have sex with Edward and… well, you guessed it. A mysterious old Native South American lady enters the scene and casually gives us the solution to all the problems that lie ahead, but no one listens to her because they are too busy (not) having sex. It’s interesting to see that Mysterious Natives are everywhere, though. I mean, it’s a good thing that they’re all so mysterious, otherwise Bella and Eddie would be in a right fix at the end of the book, but still…

In the end Bella discovers that she is pregnant and that opens up a whole new barrel of laughs. But that’s a story for the next part of the Twilight Experiment, in which we will deal not only with the question of whether or not it is a good idea for Bella to spread her genetic heritage, but also with the sheer agony of 200 pages being narrated by the only character that manages to be more obnoxious than Bella Swan: Jacob Black (cue dramatic music).

Brightly Woven

I am once again left awed and humbled by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Lions of Al-Rassan, which I read last year, left me very impressed, maybe to the point where I was a little afraid to read more of his work, afraid that Al-Rassan was the exception rather than the rule. I finished reading The Fionavar Tapestry last night and it really wasn’t as good… it was better.

The story seems unpromising at first, more the stuff of fan fiction and of fourth-grade essay-writing than of a fantasy epic: five university students from Toronto get transported to Fionavar, the first of the Weaver’s worlds. Loren Silvercloak, a mage, is the one who brings them from one world to the other. He says he has been tasked to bring these strangers to celebrate his King’s fiftieth year of rulership – and although that is not untrue, there is so much more for which Kimberley, Kevin, Jennifer, Dave and Paul are needed in Fionavar.

And that is as far as I want to go in terms of describing the plot. While I don’t have any qualms about spoiling the plot of a bad novel, I don’t want to say too much about something this excellent. Read it yourselves, I say.

A few things can be said, though, without delving too deeply into the plot. Kay is a master storyteller. Back when I wrote my review of The Lions of Al-Rassan I mostly emphasized how lovable the characters are, and the same goes for Fionavar. The only difference is that where Al-Rassan is very detailed and takes it slow, The Fionavar Tapestry soon plunges headlong into the story, a mad rush of settings and events and characters. The three books of the trilogy have, if you add everything up, just barely over a thousand pages. That doesn’t sound short, true, but the trilogy is in every sense a fantasy epic. I’m not saying that the books are too short, not at all, but the writing is incredibly compressed… and still very brilliant, page after page. While the first book, The Summer Tree, seems more like an introduction to Fionavar and its rich history and wealth of characters, the second and third books, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road respectively, deal more intimately with the five protagonists and their motivations. And Kay pulls off an amazing feat in that respect. The characters never fall back into cliché; even (or maybe especially) when you think that you got one of them figured out, he or she will usually do something that goes against all those worn-out storytelling conventions that make most other fantasy “epics” so unreadable.

There is one other thing that makes these books so special, though. Pessimism has become very hip today. Just look at Patrick Rothfuss or Joe Abercrombie or any other of the new fantasy superstars. Not so with Kay and The Fionavar Tapestry. If there is one thing that permeates the entire series it is how good its characters are. Not just well-written, but good to the core of their beings. They love the Light, as Kimberly would say. And she’s right. Just like in Sunshine or Battle for Terra, you just feel for the characters, love them and hope that nothing bad will befall them, because they believe in the good in everyone, and so by extension do you while reading about them.

These are three very special books. I don’t know if I will ever re-read them, because the first time around was a very intense experience and I often find it hard to submit myself to such experiences a second time. But I really, really advise you to give these books a chance. They are well worth it.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 6

Bella. Bella Swan. Bells.

A woman described as pretty, but not stunning (by herself, so we might consider that to be an unreliable narrator; let’s face it, we all think we look amazingly ugly and some of us aren’t right). She is also not very bright, tends towards depression, is accident-prone, will happily jump off a cliff to see some sparkly afterimage of the guy who dumped her a year ago, has no discernible will or ambition of her own, and has all the backbone of a jellyfish.

What’s not to like?

An interesting question, for in the world of Twilight those that want to date Bella Swan are so many they have to draw numbers. Edward, who’s by anyone’s standards a control freak, might have some incentive to love biddable, uncreative, needy Bella. Fine. But what of Jacob Black? Okay, so they do have one thing in common: they’re both idiots. But besides that? He’s a year younger than her and while I can hear some people asking “how old is Jonas again?” I’d like to point out that when you’re sixteen and she’s seventeen that is a difference. With some few, lucky exceptions boys do mature slower than girls. Sad but true. But that is not my main problem – after all Bella is obviously slightly retarded, so that evens the age difference out again, I suppose. And I also won’t take any offence at the fact that she’s a wet blanket. That doesn’t seem to bother anyone else in the book, so why should it bother Jake?

No, my real problem with the Jake/Bella romance is that he is a werewolf. Now, don’t cry speciesist. I don’t have a problem with a werewolf dating a human. Go for it, make lots of weird babies (but only after you’re married, this it Twilight after all).  No, my problem is that werewolves imprint.

In Stephenie Meyer’s world werewolves have one true soulmate. One, and only one, person that is right for them. This bond will manifest the moment mutt and maiden are in each other’s presence for the first time, regardless of the age or the current marital status of either participant. So far so good. When this is first mentioned the whole subject is treated as a rarity. Sam Uley imprinted on Emily Young and that was it. No more imprintings expected in the near future. So Jacob thinks: well, in that case, I’d better get back to bothering Bells. Fine. Then, suddenly, imprints start hitting left and right, just like meteors in a Roland Emmerich movie, only more gooey. Which made me wonder a little at the probabilities involved in maybe ten or eleven werewolves all finding their soulmates in the same tiny area within a very limited time frame. Well, love travels at the speed of plot, to paraphrase Joe Straczynski, so I won’t argue.

But, and here’s the catch, if you were in Jacob’s shoes (wait, werewolves don’t wear shoes)… if you were in Jacob’s torn shorts, wouldn’t you stop and wonder? Leah Clearwater becomes a werewolf too. The subject of her rejection by Sam when he imprinted on his Emily is thoroughly discussed in the novel. Shouldn’t Jake maybe, just maybe, wonder if there is an Emily to his Jake out there somewhere? No, of course not, it’s more fun this way, says Stephenie, swatting at Jake’s subconscious with a rolled-up newspaper.

So on it goes. Jake wants Bella. Edward wants Bella. Bella wants it all. And we want some peace and quiet. Which we won’t get, not until those last two pesky movies are out. So we might as well move on with the plot.

For a while there’s not much to tell. The whole Bella/Edward/Jacob/everyone else/Jacob’s-future-soulmate mess aside the book could be rather thin, really. Someone has been stealing clothes from Bella’s room. The Cullens wonder why that might be. (She never dresses to match the wallpaper, so why would anyone want those rags? They’re not even Gucci!) We already know. Or are at least able to make some educated guesses. It’s Victoria, our Jack-in-the-box villain from the first book. She that doesn’t die. Vicky’s building up a vampire army, capable of flattening most of the continental U.S. should she wish it to, and she needs Bella’s couture to point said army in the right direction. See? Everyone wants a piece of Bella. Or several pieces, not necessarily still connected, in Victoria’s case. Why a clever girl like our Vicky would want to kill Bella instead of, say, take over the world, is anyone’s best guess. I just find it odd that a character whose singular personal trait seems to be “Hard to Kill (+15)” would go so far out of her way to attract the attention of the Volturi and willingly walk into a f***ing huge battle. Well, vampire lifestyle questions… who am I to second-guess them?

Yes… I was getting somewhere with that. Ah… the clothes thief. Since we have already established that no-one in his or her right mind would steal Bella’s clothing for fashion purposes, the Cullens wonder for quite a while why anyone would be nicking her knickers in the first place, and all the while the reader is screaming “it’s Victoria!” But the Cullens do not hear the reader and Stephenie has to come up with a very questionable explanation as to why their pet clairvoyant, Alice, can’t see what’s happening. Which is funny, by the way, because the book has already established that Alice can’t see werewolves for some obtuse reason or other and werewolves feature heavily in the denouement. So instead of saying that Alice can only see intent and that the vampire army (led by Victoria who is very clear on wanting to shish-kebab Bella on her sparkly vampire teeth) hasn’t made up its mind yet so she won’t be able to see where they are going until they get there, why not just say that it has to do with the weremutts? To make matters worse the whole clothes-thief/we’re-so-thick sub-plot seems to amount to little more in the end than an anti-clever little ruse to drive the wordcount up a little higher.

Finally, after more nonsense than anyone can take, Bella and Jake and Edward end up on a mountaintop in a tent, because someone thought that hiding from the vampire army in the middle of nowhere on top of a freezing mountain might be a spiffing idea. I won’t say anything about the… ah… beautiful scene in which a nearly naked Jacob saves a shivering Bella from freezing to death. There are some things one should not talk about.

I will, however, say a few words about the following scene, in which Edward is suddenly very keen on having a chat with Bells about their “top ten nights”. Luckily sex is not involved, that will have to wait for the next book, but their engagement is. And vroom, off goes Jacob into the forest with a mighty howl. Because, you see, Edward knew that our favourite puppy was still listening and he orchestrated all this so that Jake would hear about Eddie’s and Bella’s’ upcoming nuptials. Mind you, I am not forcibly interpreting any of this, he actually says so. And what does Bella do? She doesn’t smack him in the face, for one, which is probably a good thing seeing as she broke her wrist the last time she tried to hit one of her supernatural friends. She’s not even angry at him. Or disappointed. No. Far from it. She blames herself. Aha… I see. Mhm… why?

Bella, for some reason known only to herself, thinks that Edward is somehow infallible. Not only infallible, that is entirely the wrong word for it, but immaculate. He and everything he does, thinks and decides is always and unquestionably right. So when he tells her that she can’t visit Jacob on the reservation he’s not being unreasonable and jealous… Bella herself is being stupid and selfish and should be ashamed of even considering the option. Bad Bella! Sit! When he leaves her in the second book without much of an excuse or explanation it’s somehow, beyond doubt, her fault and he’s just being nice cause he’s, like, letting her know before he blows this joint. Bad, bad Bella! Roll Over! When he orchestrates a situation in which Bella’s best friend/lover/dog-of-choice overhears something extremely hurtful… wait for it… it’s Bella’s fault. Bad girl! Play dead! I don’t know if Edward’s overbearing controlfreakiness or Bella’s I-need-someone-to-tell-me-when-to-breathe-attitude nauseates me more, but I would assume it’s a combination of both. Of course I know where this tale of masochism and overlordship is leading – straight into wife-beating-land – but that’s, again, a tale for the next episode.

Well… Bella has been inconsiderate and evil enough to hurt Jacob and he runs off. After a while Edward takes it upon himself to fetch the dog back (in an ironic turn of events, I should say) and then sparky himself goes off-page to give our two love-birds some privacy.

Yes, you heard right, privacy from the man who can read minds. No… wait… don’t think about it too much, it will only make your head ache. (Question: If Edward reads the mind of someone who has a headache… ah, never mind.)

So, privacy, yes. Not too long after that Bella is sticking her tongue down Jacob’s throat in an amazing display of truly fucked up morals. Afterwards she feels bad and just for once I have to say: go for it, Bells! Unfortunately Edward doesn’t take the opportunity to dump her once he gets the good news fresh from Jake’s Technicolor memory, but we can’t have everything. What we get instead is a four (!) page long explanation of why Bella is the best thing since sliced bread had an illegitimate love-child with the internet. The conversation isn’t made any better by Bella’s frequent assertions that, surely, she is the scum of the earth and needs to be exterminated. We agree, Edward does not, and they almost have sex right then and there. But, alas, they aren’t married yet and just before the very fabric of the universe can be torn asunder by their dastardly deed Victoria shows up to eat Bella. Literally, not dirty-sex-joke-metaphorically.

A battle ensues, which really is nothing special, except that Bella once again almost manages to get everyone except Victoria killed by doing something monumentally stupid. As I said: nothing noteworthy happens. (But isn’t it just Bella’s and Edward’s darn luck, eh? They trek all the way out to the middle of nowhere and who do they meet? Victoria. Tsk tsk tsk… some people should never play the lottery, I guess.)

And that’s about it for Eclipse. There’s a funny scene at the end, but only because is says somewhere in the Book of Mormon that every novel needs to have one of those somewhere. Also Bella faints again, and once more no one seems to really care or mind that she did. I suppose that they’re used to it by now. Or maybe they’re all happy to get a few moments of peace between the endless bouts of wimpiness. Or maybe Carlisle has long since realized that she’s suffering from a bad case of eighteenthcenturyfemaleliterarycharacterism which will eventually turn out to be fatal (it always does!) and they don’t have the heart to tell the reader. Or maybe Stephenie just wanted to get in a joke about Alice being able to predict the length of her fainting spell down to the second… Far-fetched? Maybe, but it’s always a possibility.

Well… that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with the final two parts of the Twilight Experiment as well as with a review of Twilight: Eclipse – now with more gratuitous werewolf nudity! over at Commentarium.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 5

It’s been a good long time since I read Eclipse. Well, okay, it’s been maybe three months since I read it, but thankfully the quality of the novel is such that the psychological scarring quickly fades. Literary junk-food, much like its culinary namesake, passes through the system rather quickly, if unpleasantly. On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be so happy about Eclipse’s perishable nature, because as I sit down to write this, the fifth part of the Twilight Experiment, I find that I’ll have to re-read most of the book if this review is to make any kind of sense. Urgh!

First page: Another one of Stephenie’s beloved Prefaces. (Which is a curious word to use, since it originally meant author’s foreword, even if the distinction between preface and prologue seems to have become a little blurred in recent years.) Anyway, the preface, in all its horrendous glory.

Black eyes, wild with their fierce craving for my death, watched for the moment when my protector’s attention would be diverted.

A real beauty, that one. Even if we ignore Stephenie’s feeble attempt to make us wonder if it’s really Edward of the Sparkle that’s defending Bella here. Even if we suspend disbelief and stop wondering why anyone would ever put his sparkly skin on the line to protect Bella Swan of all the people in the world. Even then we have to marvel at wild with their fierce craving. It’s almost as good as his intense concentration betrayed no hint of doubt just a little further up on the same page. Because concentration usually is, like, relaxed. Right?

First chapter: In a sense we are blessed, for the two real bummers in the first half of Eclipse are served to us on a platter right on the first two pages. After we have struggled out of the pit of filth that is the prolo preface, barely clinging on to life, sanity and literary taste buds, we are assailed by the first chapter. Assailed by Jacob’s letter, to be more precise.

Now, to be fair, I know the boy is dense. Granted: brighter cookies have been sighted in the Quileute jar of crumbly, chunky, chocolate-filled werewolves. (Yuck!)  But would you, or anyone of slightly higher intelligence than a dead hamster, write a note to a friend/lover/strange thing, re-think what you want to write seven times and then send your entire creative effort, including the still quite legible crossed-out bits? Really? Or are we supposed to believe that the Quileute reservation is undergoing some sort of tragic, cataclysmic paper shortage? Or maybe, just maybe, Stephenie liked them all and couldn’t quite decide which one to keep in the book. And the decision is hard, really. One could go for tacky: it just makes it worse when I think about you. Or maybe a more stern tone is called for with: you made a choice here, okay? Or, finally, there’s the timeless let’s-steal-a-line-that-I-heard-somewhere-approach: which part of “mortal enemies” did you not understand? Real classy Stephenie. That jokey, throwaway line in there somehow manages to rob the entire note of what little credibility it might have held before. Assuming we believed the Quileute paper shortage excuse in the first place, that is.

Moving on, quicker now, for the first half of the book proceeds to slowly drown in a slimy quagmire of stalling, needless jealousy and literary name dropping. Yes, Mrs. Meyer, we’re very proud that you have managed to read Wuthering Heights, all 260 pages of it, please stop mentioning it all the time.

I (re)read, skimming the pages in parts – if you cut straight to the dialogue the pain lessens, I find. The middle bits are anyway bound to be either about Jacob’s biceps or about Edward’s, well, sparkly bits. Then, just eight pages in, my skimming grinds to a halt. I’m nitpicking and I know it, but I remember this bit from my first go at Ecplise. (And besides, without nitpicking, would there be joy in this world?) Bella speaks of Charlie’s surly attitude. Now, you remember Charlie, don’t you? He’s one of Stephenie’s charming one-personality-trait side characters. In his case that trait is non-verbose, which he has leveled up to an impressive +17. Now, I know Stephenie loves her adjectives, so maybe she just needed one in that sentence and this one was the first that came to mind. If that is the case, we’re lucky: it could also have been broccoliesque. If she actually meant surly, as in “inclined to anger or bad feelings with overtones of menace”, one has to wonder why it is placed in front of the most wordy conversation Bella has with her dad in the entirety of the four books. A conversation in which he laughs, lifts her house arrest and says that Edward might (might, mind you) not be the Antichrist. Well… just thinking out loud.

Fourteen pages in. Edward comes by to visit. I now notice what’s been wrong with the book so far. Why it didn’t really feel like a Twilight novel. No page-long descriptions of male anatomy. Yep, that’s it. But trust Bella to set right what was amiss.

I saved the eyes for last, knowing that when I looked into them I was likely to lose my train of thought.

I see. Might I point out that a) that is probably a good thing and that b) instead of train, a more fitting term might be draisine. Yes. Anyway.

Back to the quagmire. I had a conversation with a friend recently. Said friend, someone whose literary judgement and taste I trust to a certain degree, had just confessed to seeing the third Twilight movie. I took this in my stride – he has also read the books, he knew what he was in for. So, I ask him, how was it?

And he says, quite simply: short. Not in minutes, but in plot. I’ll be seeing same-said movie next Tuesday, then I’ll be able to confirm what he said, but for now I’m taking him by his word. The third book, Eclipse, is a good fifty pages longer than the previous one, New Moon. “So what?” I hear you say. Sequels tend to get longer in a lot of cases, just look at Harry Potter. Yes, I say in response, partly that may be because getting a 100.000+ words novel published is a nightmare (as I am currently discovering). So beginner novels may tend to be shorter because of that. Or because the plot thickens, broadens and thus requires more pages to be told. All possible reasons for books’ tendency to get longer as a series progresses.

But, and here’s the catch, most series actually have more story. Not so with Eclipse. I am not joking when I say that the actual plot of the book could easily and without any loss of quality (hah) be compressed into, say, 10 chapters. Eclipse has 27 chapters, 28 if you count the epilogue. (Shouldn’t that be epiface or something, btw?)

Bella gets ungrounded. Vampires want to kill her (again). Edward asks her to marry him. She refuses. He asks again. She says yes, but will you fuck me first? He says no. She says okay, but after, yes? Vampires come to kill her. Instead the Cullens and the werecuddles kill them. The End.

There, ten sentences, ten chapters. Easy as pie and far less dreary. So what’s the filler? It’s an endless, incredibly boring tug-of-war between Jacob and Edward. Bella’s the rope, just in case you’re wondering. And again I wish I was kidding. A good two-thirds of the book get eaten by this. Bella sneaks away to La Push and the Cullens stop her. Bella sneaks away to La Push and the Cullens don’t stop her, but she gets an earful from Edward later. Bella punches Jacob because he kissed her and breaks her hand, making us all wish that she had tried to headbutt him instead. Bella pleads with Edward to let her see the mutt and he says no, taking a page from the Big Book of Chauvinist Dominance and Oppression. And on it goes. It’s painful. The Long, Hurt Look count in this book is in the far thousands and that’s not even counting the Angry, Hurt Looks and the Short, Hurt Looks. In the end we all wish that either Jacob, Bella or Edward had been killed in infancy by a piano falling out of the sky. Preferably all three of them actually – it happens more often than you would think. Just ask Joe Abercrombie.

I’m almost done. Only Benito is left.

You, Stephenie, have got one single Hispanic character in your whole damn mostly-Causcasian-white-with-a-sprinkle-of-token-spiritual-natives-thrown-in-for-flavour 629-page book and you name him Benito?

Benito?

I rest my case.

Thus ends part five of the Twilight Experiment. Expect more soon when I explain why exactly Bella should dump Edward quicker than you can say Jacob’s biceps.

The Twilight Experiment: Interlude

Sunday. I have nothing to read. Correction: I have stuff to read, some of it is even quite intelligent, but I don’t have Eclipse. And since I fear that starting another book at this point might endanger the experiment as a whole, I shall resist Iain Banks and Guy Gavriel Kay and Jasper Fforde (I didn’t say that all of it was intelligent).

Still bored, though. So what better way to pass the time until the bookstores open on Monday than to watch Twilight on YouTube?

Okay, yes, I see your point. But I’m not going to do that. Or that. Sorry.

Where was I? Yes. I had seen Twilight: New Moon in the cinema and my experiences can be summed up with “all that glitters is not gold” – sometimes it’s a vampire. The movie looked great in terms of production values, and some of the actors appear to be theoretically capable of acting, but all in all it was a large pile of horse dung.

On the other hand, I can say that now that I have read New Moon, the movie seems to be a marvel of consistency. So I wonder, what will the adaptation of Twilight be like? Can Kristen Steward be any less appealing? Vampires glitter and they are not gold… so what are they?

Armed with a cup of tea and some cookies I sit down in front of my computer and type “twilight movie” into the YouTube search thingummy. The top result is in good quality and seems to be subtitled in Norwegian, which no doubt would increase the entertainment value of what I’m about to do, but I somehow manage to resist. The next one looks better, so there I go.

Twilight, just like the other three books, is written from a first-person perspective. Usually that’s Bella, and when it isn’t it’s Jacob, which is possibly worse. While they have ignored the first-person style of the book in the adaptation of New Moon, Twilight is in parts narrated by Bella. This wouldn’t be a problem if someone hadn’t told Kristen Stewart to do the voiceovers in her “depressed” voice. Because that’s the only modus operandi that Bella knows. Or maybe that’s just what Kristen Stewart sounds like all the time. What do I know? One way or the other the result is so drab that the opening sequence of Twilight is enough to put you to sleep, despite the nice music.

Yeah, you heard me right: Nice music. As with New Moon, there is one thing that I can’t really fault this movie for, and that’s production values. The images are nice and crisp, the sets look good (too good you might say, but I’ll get to that in a minute), and the score by the shamelessly talented Carter Burwell is quite nice. That doesn’t save it, of course. You can make a movie that has a sterling story but mediocre visuals and it can still be good, but sadly that trick doesn’t work the other way round.

Back to the story. Bella has arrived in Forks. She is wearing a pretty trousers/vest/shirt combination in blue and brown which makes her look like she belongs. Yeah, sounds weird, doesn’t it? Looked weird, too. I didn’t notice at first; my only thought was that something looks strange about the image. But then I realized that she is dressed to match her room. I believe that’s called out-of-control-costume-design. Someone should be shot for that.

Next up: Jacob Black. The filmmakers have pulled a reverse Harry Potter on us and included our favourite werewolf in more scenes, in anticipation of the bigger part that his character will play in the other movies. Unfortunately I hate his guts, so I’m not happy about it. (It would have been nice to see some more Dobby, though.) So Jacob comes, delivers some exceedingly wooden dialogue, and leaves. And Bella goes to school.

Here we meet the Cullens. If one thing is clear from the very first moment that we see them, it is that Bella is destined to be part of this family, because they clearly shop at the same oufitters interior designers. Yes, you guessed right, they are dressed to match the school cafeteria. Which presents some problems in a school environment. Do they change clothes between classes? What to they do on day trips? Questions, questions, so few answers.

But at least the arrival of the Cullens takes some of the focus away from Bella’s new friends, who seem to be trying to rival Jacob in the disciplines of wooden acting and supreme idiocy. To make up for the lack of likability the producers have cast a black and an Asian dude, which is not a problem, technically speaking, but I can hear a tiny voice in the back of my head that whispers: they only did it to get a bigger target audience. Also the black dude is hardly in the movie and the Asian dude is… eh… strange.

Moving on. Biology: the first, tragic meeting where Edward will learn that Bella is the one. Robert Pattinson is supposed to look sick and appalled once he gets a whiff of Eau De Bella, but instead he just looks sick throughout the entire scene. Must be his face. I grudgingly have to admit that Mr. Pattinson is probably a good actor, but I still wonder why the hell they thought it would be a good idea to cast someone as the Adonis-like Edward Cullen who looks like he was run over by a steamroller when he was two and then again when he was five. Well… they also thought the rest of the male Cullens were attractive, so maybe they’ve got taste issues.

Twilight deviates from the story of the book in several instances, and the results are mixed at best. Jacob pops up four times instead of two, and that is definitely a Bad Thing. We also get to see a bit more of Victoria and her buddies, which I think was included a) to introduce the characters earlier and b) to make the movie more violent and thus more appealing to the male demographic (if I’ve ever seen a lost cause then this would be it). Since the book functions (for a given value of “function”) without them showing up every five minutes, I think those extra scenes are just wasted screen time. Just think of all those wasted minutes that we could have spent watching Bella mope a bit more. Victoria and the others also seem to be big fans of parkour.

More things were changed or added. The scene in the greenhouse, which starts out pleasantly enough and devolves into incoherent babble, is all new. We get so see Bella’s mother, a character that is not featured in the book at all except at the end. More wasted screen time and the actress annoys the fuck out of me. But again I can hear a studio executive whisper in my ear:

The audience is stupid, how will they know that that’s her mum at the end?

Gee, exec dude, I don’t know… maybe because Bella says so?

Well, Verena, as you can see Edward is visible in the background of that shot, that will mean that the brains of all the female audience members will be on the blink again and you know that no straight guy will ever go see this movie of his own volition, so they can’t clear the matter up later.

Oh, I’m sorry, exec dude. I guess you’re right.

Right. Sorry. There are two more scenes that were drastically altered from what happens in the book, and I think I need to point those out for reasons of weird. The bookstore scene, which is already plenty strange in the novel, gets another coating of bad in the movie. In the novel Bella doesn’t even get to the bookstore, because she can’t find one and instead decides to wander off into the more disreputable areas of town because that sounded like such a great idea when Stephenie suggested it. And then she almost gets raped, Edward shows and rescues her and we all live happily ever after. In the movie she googles a bookstore, which is run by a very mysterious Native American person, because only mysterious Native American people may sell books about mysterious Native American legends, goes there, almost gets raped on the way back, Edward shows, etc etc, and then she googles the entire vampire thing at home anyway after she’s bought a book on the matter. Maybe she can’t read and needs to find pretty pictures to understand.

Finally, there’s the meadow scene, which is one of the few scenes that I halfway enjoyed in the book. Okay… that’s stretching it. But what happens in the movie is that the scriptwriter realizes that she has already spent too much time on Victoria and Bella’s mum and that bloody greenhouse and now needs to wrap several badly-needed character moments between Bella and Edward into one very strange scene. And I don’t really see why Bella needs to see right now what Eddie looks like in the sunlight, it’s not like he suddenly turned pretty or something. At least in the book he sort of makes fun of the whole sparkly issue.

And the running. The running. Argh! It just doesn’t work. It’s like that dreadful motorcycle sequence in X-Men. It’s atrocious beyond description. It’s… really bad green screen. Stuff like that only works in slow motion or not at all, filmmakers should have learned that by now. It’s all the more horrible since the overall effects used in Twilight are well-done. Good production values, remember?

Okay… moving on. Bella visits Edward’s family, a scene which just for once has seriously good acting by Robert Pattinson in it. I guess, statistically speaking, they have to get it right at least some of the time. The filmmakers are very considerate, however: they think of all those poor people who might, theoretically, only tune into the movie in this scene and thus think that it might actually be good. To prevent permanent misunderstandings, Edward and Bella go to his room and play Crouching Tiger, Hidden Vampire. For any of you who haven’t seen the movie and think that I have just made a really dirty sex joke: I wish. What happens in reality is that Edward and Bella re-enact that tree jumping scene from the above-mentioned movie with shocking accuracy. It doesn’t in any way contribute to me taking this movie seriously, just in case any of you were wondering.

Next up is a bit of pointless drivel between Charlie and Bella, more Victoria, a music montage (music good, montage bad) and… the baseball scene. Now, this is difficult for me to say, especially seeing that the baseball scene in the book was one of the more painful literary experiences of my life, but this scene is actually fun. It doesn’t have much dialogue and even less Edward, which both help, I guess, and so does the score by Burwell. It’s two minutes of movie. Two minutes of a movie that otherwise feels like it’s several days long and you’re watching it while sitting on a bed of rusty nails, and maybe the contrast makes the scene feel better than it is, but it really impressed me. It also forms the beginning of the end, which is a good thing, because the appearance of James and his subsequent vow to have Bella over for dinner cause the plot to get tighter. The end is nigh, and it’s a good feeling. Soon the pain will be over.

Just twenty-odd minutes remain. The book offers a lot of unnecessary complications at this point, plus a speech by Alice which I presume they wanted to save for the third movie, and the screenwriter has made the right choice and cut all of that out. We are left with a vague sense of relief and Bella’s simple and utterly stupid decision to go off and face James alone. But at least in the movie Edward isn’t, like, ten steps away from her, and this makes her decision a little more coherent. Just a little, mind you, because she could still tell Alice, who can sort of see the future. (That might have come in handy.)

Bella goes to meet James. Almost gets killed. Edward to the rescue in the last possible second. She’s already bitten. Carlisle tells Eddie to suck the venom out if he really doesn’t want Bells to be a vamp (perfectly understandable, seeing that he’d have to put up with her for eternity in that case). Then the movie loses me again. Edward sucks out the venom, has trouble stopping, almost kills Bella… and Carlisle just sits there, right next to him, and lets him continue slurping. One would think that it wouldn’t be too much trouble to reach out and pull Eddie away, right? Or maybe Carlisle wants to get rid of Bella just as much as I do, always a possibility worth considering. But let’s say that’s not th case, so why doesn’t he do anything?

Nevermind. Try as Carlisle might, Bella survives the scene, which is really a shame, because that will mean more movies. She wakes up in the hospital and mum is there. Luckily we know who she is, so there is no confusion about that, but we do wonder why anyone still lets Edward anywhere close to Bella, given the story they have thought up to explain all her wounds. Either they believe him, in which case he’s responsible for a whole truckload of shit happening to their precious Bella, or they don’t, in which case he likely as not pushed her down the stairs himself. Nothing makes sense, unless you believe that they all want to get rid of her too.

Not an unreasonable assumption, if you ask me.

Final scene and the next-to-last paragraph of this XXL review. The prom. Bella and Edward look very cool in their interior-design-compatible outfits, but just for once I can’t really complain, because that seems to be the point of a themed prom. Our two lovebirds retreat to a pavilion to do some serious dancing, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning if the other three couples already occupying that space didn’t leave immediately after Bella and Edward get there. Either the director didn’t want to waste time on a slightly longer buildup to the romantic dénouement, or Bells has really bad B.O. issues. You decide.

And that’s it, really. Is this a bad movie? Yes. Is it worse than Twilight: New Moon? No, I don’t think so. This one may have more drastic ups and downs in terms of writing as well as special effects, but at least it only has four scenes with Taylor Lautner, and he even keeps his shirt on in all of them. That has to count for something, right? Also, I registered Bella’s mope factor at 8 on a scale from 1 to 10 as opposed to the 34,7 that the sequel manages to field. The movie may be further from the original book that Twilight: New Moon, and not all the alterations make as much sense (in New Moon they positively elevate the movie to a new level of coherency) but all in all, if faced with the choice of having to re-watch either Twilight or Twilight: New Moon, I would put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger. Or maybe I would watch Twilight… yeah, I probably would. Gun still sounds tempting though.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 4

Four days. Four days and I am still alive. Still breathing. Battered, though.

My verbal apologies for what I am doing to myself have gotten even better-rehearsed. When we have visitors they don’t even make it through the door before I have told them that I’m doing this for science, for fame, for knowledge. For the love of little apples. How I will get millions of hits on my blog (still waiting, btw.). How the fans finally won’t have any arguments anymore. How I will sleep more soundly, having finally solved the last big puzzle of humanity.

Needless to say, it is a lonely life.

Okay. The morning of Day Four dawns. We haven’t got much in the way of plans, which is a perfect excuse for me to slouch off to the bathtub and read.

Someone very wise once said that spaceships travel at the speed of plot. I guess you have to add that he also was the creator of a sci-fi television show in order for that to make sense, so yeah: he also created a sci-fi television-show. My point is that Bella’s thoughts travel at the speed of what is convenient.

Here’s the thing. In the first book Bella’s pretty fast on the uptake when it comes to the whole vampire thing. Edward’s fast, strong, attractive and he skips school when the sun’s out. What’s missing from the picture is that he doesn’t happen to be the quarterback for the Forks High football team. Enough to make Bella’s devious little mind tick. So she gets suspicious, asks the local mysterious native gullible teen for some inside info on native legends. Bam! The Cullens don’t like to go on the reservation. And they’re cold. A lot. Bam again! They have to be vampires. Easy as pie.

Book two: Jacob Black has these friends. They hang out a lot. Slavishly follow their leader, almost like dogs. The wolf is the sacred animal of the local tribe, as a matter of fact they even have legends about being descended from them. (Sons of bitches, all of them. Let me tell you: cleverly disguised racial slurs lie underneath it all!) Suddenly there’s huge wolves in the woods and Jacob doesn’t want to talk to her anymore (finally an intelligent reaction). And then Jacob comes along and tells her that something pretty strange has happened to him, but he can’t tell her, because there’s some weird shit going down in his head. And Bella is like: “Oh… I guess he doesn’t like me anymore, just like all the other sane people. I mean, he couldn’t possibly be a werewolf, they’re, like, mythical.”

I see.

The only logical explanation is that Bella has the power of Selective Disbelief +3. No, wait, there’s another one: possibly this woman, Stephenie, appeared to her in a dream and said that werewolves don’t exist. Edward’s sparkly shoelaces were with her and since Bella was very ecstatic to see them she believed Stephenie. Yeah, that has to be it. It’s the shoelaces’ fault.

Anyway. Aside from Bella’s highly selective… uhm… mind, the story takes its utterly predictable course. She falls in love with Jacob. Slowly, dragging it out for as long as possible, because otherwise this book would have been 57 pages long instead of the joy-filled 497 that it ended up having. And even then she doesn’t even say it, or think it with that sorry little excuse of a brain that she has, because that wouldn’t make the third book be any fun. Hah! Excuse my brittle and mirthless laugh. So she kinda falls into liking with him. Or something. Loke, I think might be a good term. Because although she is all about how much like a brother he is to her, she also goes on about his russet skin and delectable smell and beautiful eyes. And his biceps, mustn’t forget the biceps. I know that Stephenie Myers has at least one brother and if this is how she thinks of him then yuck. But before Bella can commit mental incest, Alice shows up because Bells finally managed to near-kill herself convincingly enough for it to look really real.

I guess Alice was hoping too.

Alice is disappointed, however. Bella is still very much alive and kicking (unlike the logic centers of my brain) and so they have hot lesbian sex. Okay… not so much. Ninjas come in and kill them both. No. Zombies come… I give up. (Just trying to include more potential target audiences.)

What actually happens it that Alice arrives and points out quite rightly that Bella must be some sort of ultra-dense supernatural magnet. I’ll let you decide what she means by “dense”. Then Rosalie, Edward’s adopted sister (the intelligent one in the family, since she can’t stand Bella) snitches about Bella-baby’s apparent demise to Edward and he decides to off himself. But first he calls, just to make sure that he’s got an actual reason for the vampire-assisted-death that he is about to experience. Jacob picks up the phone, because he happens to be standing in the right place at the right time, and off goes Eddie to Italy to ask the Volturi, some sort of vampire aristocracy, to kill him. To make it more convenient for the reader this contingency plan of his has been mentioned earlier in the book, so no one is confused, not even Bella.

Of course Bella saves him, meets the Volturi and goes back with Edward and Alice to Forks, where she has a lot of explaining to do. Not least of all why she believed Edward’s asinine story about not loving her in the first place and why she continues to believe it for quite a while after they are back. Yes, you heard me right. Doing what only Bella can do, she wilfully misconstrues every. single. thing. Edward says to her after their reunion. If it weren’t so exasperating it would be quite funny, I believe. Funny in a sad, Stephenie-needs-a-higher-word-count way, granted – but funny.

I can see now why the scriptwriter of Twilight: New Moon did what she did. Only way to save the story, really. Because when Bella realizes that she has been seeing visions of Edward in situations of extreme danger because she subconsciously believed that he still loved her, all realism finally goes out of the window. Preposterous, really. The idea of Bella having a conscience, let alone a subconscious… yeah… almost funny, isn’t it?

So the story ends. Bella has finally worked out that Edward still is her very own cuddly vampire and all is sunshine and happiness. There are still questions, true, like for example why no one is cross with Rosalie for almost getting her brother killed. Or why Bella’s father doesn’t put a bullet through Edward’s attractive head. Or why Bella keeps on living without writing “remember to breathe” on her palm. Questions upon questions. Maybe Eclipse will hold the answers to them, although I doubt it. It’s probably all about shoelaces.

For now my brain is safe. I’m too lazy to go out and shop and I haven’t bought Eclipse yet. Maybe a day off will give me some time to recuperate. At least that’s what I think. Best laid plans… never happen.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 3

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

Day Three. The headache has passed. It is my birthday. To celebrate I buy a copy of New Moon. I’m really tempted to skip the second book, seeing as I know the movie and all, but then again, in for a penny

The second book seems to have the least appeal of all of them. That’s saying something, I know, and you may wonder why I think so. The reason, plain and simple, is that although the first book is dreary and bland and has really, really atrocious descriptions (from the thought processes in Bella’s warped little mind to Edward’s attractive shoelaces to, well, everything), it has one redeeming feature. In the rare moments when the two protagonists are in a good mood, something which never lasts for long in this universe of the perpetually depressed, the dialogue can actually be funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but let’s be honest: I’m grasping at straws here. 434 pages. There has to be some good in there. And if I were to be forced at gunpoint to name the best bit about Twilight I’d pick the dialogue. And, to return to the original thought, since I knew that the second book was all about Edward taking off and leaving Bella with the one character that is more ridiculous than herself, Jacob Black, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading about it. Bella was bad enough in the first book, when the love of her dreary little life hadn’t run off to… dunno… be all depressed and emo on a different continent. (The further away from Bella the better, I guess.)

And then there was the thing with Bella going all suicidal on us, over and over again, and never succeeding. If you hate a character with a vengeance this can be very frustrating. A bit like seeing The Care Bears Movie and knowing that all the little blighters will pull through. And boy didn’t I guess what the book had in store for me here…

But, knowing my sacred duty, I sat down and opened up New Moon. (Note the incredibly subtle thing Stephenie is doing with the titles. It’s, like, a progression, dudes. At least it will keep us safe from a sequel. Sunrise doesn’t sound too good. Not if you’re a vampire it doesn’t.)

So. New Moon. Bella is turning eighteen, which is a Problem (note the capital “P”), ’cause Edward is seventeen, you see? Actually… no. Because he’s also 105. And because I’m four years older than my husband and, lo and behold, the world hasn’t ended. If she’s eighteen and he’s seventeen she’s anyway about ten years ahead of him in terms of mental development. No, wait, we’re talking about Bella here, strike that last statement please. And because movies, books and the world in general anyway always tell us that it’s perfectly alright for the guy to be old enough to be his girlfriend’s dad. And just for once I’m going to put my feminist foot down and say that age really doesn’t matter, regardless of who is older than whom. And Bella is a ninny anyway. I rest my case.

*deep breath*

Bella is turning eighteen. The Cullens are throwing a little semi-surprise party for her, which wouldn’t be a problem for anyone who isn’t Bella. Since we are dealing with Bella however, we have to read countless sentences about how unfair it is that people are trying to give her presents, how perfect Edward’s shoelaces are and that everyone hates her anyway. For once Bella is right. Not having a party would have been the way to go, because she comes close to slitting her jugular open on a piece of wrapping paper within five seconds of entering the room and Edward’s brother Jasper tries to have her for elevenses.

I put the book down, massage my temples, and remind myself why I am doing this. Only 46 pages into the book it’s going to get worse. A lot worse. If I thought Bella was insufferable before I haven’t read about her after Edward Goody-two-shoes Cullen has pulled a houdini on her because he’s afraid that his family might have her for dinner.

No one can mope like a Bella. Even the book is disgusted with her after a few pages and jumps four months ahead in something that might have been a clever little piece of formatting in any other book. Here it just annoys me. And if I thought I had hit the bottom I was very, very wrong.

Curtains. Lights. Enter Jacob Black and his biceps.

There’s a rule in Hollywood or in Authorland… in stories, actually … that dude no. 1 will be the dude at the end of any given story unless he turns out to be a serial killer or a homosexual. Now, from the descriptions of the Twilight vampires the homosexual thing might be open to debate, and Edward has certainly offed a few people in his time, but this is not this kind of story, is it? So introducing the *dramatic music cue* rival is pretty pointless. Especially if he is a dick.

Jacob Black is sixteen going on four. He likes motorcycles, steroids and remarks with enough thinly veiled sexual innuendo to kill an elephant. He’s also a werewolf, but he doesn’t know that yet.

Why Bella would, after having so much trouble with dating a seventeen year old vampire, consider dating a sixteen year old moron is anyone’s best guess.

At first she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him anyway, until… well, until the thing with the motorcycles. Bella wants two motorcycles fixed and Jacob knows about technology, and since Bella is nothing if not exploitative she once again zeroes in on Jacob like a vulture on a fallen baby gazelle. Now, where was I?

The motorcycles. Yeeeeeees. Mhm…

You see. I’ve seen the movie. That’s bad enough. There Bella jumps head first into danger and sees Edward’s face and hears his voice and comes to the (perfectly logical) conclusion that she needs to risk her life over and over again for these brief, precious glimpses. Cause anyone would think that, right? And the maddening thing is that she doesn’t even succeed in offing herself. Bella Swan, dead after one and a half books and 566 pages. What a pleasant thought. Doesn’t happen though, so don’t get your hopes up.

But here’s the thing: The woman who wrote the movie script was a genius. She should be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature (they’re not worth much, anyway). Because what happens in the book is this:

Bella gets into the exact same dangerous situation she gets into in the movie. Sees Edward. Gets a double dose of mope. And goes on with her life as if nothing had happened. And then pages upon pages of mope later she thinks to herself: “You know, Bella-honey, today I really fancy riding a motorbike. I don’t know why, it’s dangerous and I don’t even like the things, but it certainly seems like a spiffing idea all of a sudden. This woman, Stephenie, appeared to me in a dream and said I really should. And I haven’t exploited that stupid Indian kid in such a long time. I think I’m going to buy myself two motorbikes. Yes, two sounds good for me alone.”

And I wish I was kidding.

So she gets the motorcycles, dilapidated enough to get them for free (the bikes, not Bella) and goes off to pester Jacob. Jacob is such an incredible mechanical genius that he manages to fix the bikes up in under a week, cause he knows, like, everything about anything, and in the light of such superior knowledge and bulging biceps Bella begins to fall in love with him. Idiot he may be, but I can still feel pity for him.

That’s as far as I get that day. With Bella beginning to be drawn in by the irresistible gravitational force of Jacob’s abs and no end to the mope in sight (yes, women are good at multitasking, they can mope and fall in love at the same time), I have to give up or be destroyed. One can only take so much stupid in one day.

Tomorrow: Join me for the next installment of the Twilight Experiment, in which we learn that Bella has the power of Selective Disbelief +3.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 2

It’s early in the morning and I’m going shopping. Cat food. We’re out and Cat needs to eat. I’ve got Twilight with me, the book that I think will be my steady companion for the next few days, if not weeks. The rules of the experiment are clear. I only read when I’m out and about, to maximize exposure. Goad the haters, if you will. Destiny is about to take a crap on my plans, but I don’t know that yet.

I’ve got a headache. I don’t think that it is caused by my reading material, especially seeing as I’ve only read for about two minutes at this point, but I can’t be sure. What I am sure about is that I am feeling uncomfortable. I’m walking down Leipziger Straße, a medium-sized shopping street near our place. In the afternoon the streets will be packed with shoppers, but right now it’s relatively quiet, which allows me to read as I walk. Later in the day something like this would be rendered impossible by the necessity of dodging people. I am used to reading as I walk; it doesn’t take much concentration to do both, and I hardly ever run into lampposts. But try as I might, I cannot pull off the trick of holding the book in such a way that no one can see the cover. You remember, the German cover looks the same as the English one, so I’m easily spotted. I remember having read about cloth book jackets aimed at grown-ups who want to read the Harry Potter books without being seen, and resolve to get or make such a device.

The book drones on. Bella is currently busy misconstructing everything in her path. Ah… Bella, what a girl.

Bella Swan: idiot, danger to herself, grump par excellence. Also, and I quote the Wikipedia here:

“Bella is described in the novels as being very pale with brown hair, chocolate-brown eyes, and a heart-shaped face. Beyond this, a detailed description of her appearance is never given in the series”

Aha. I’m on page 57 now and I know that Bella is 5 foot 4, slender but not athletic, that her lips are slightly disproportionate… I could go on for quite a bit. Who writes this shit? Just for once I don’t mean Twilight, but the Wikipedia article. What do these people want when they speak of detailed physical descriptions? Measurements in millimeters?

And Edward is very attractive. Very. Attractive. That’s about as far as Stephenie has gotten, no mention of his shoelaces though. (And I know it’s unfair to make fun of Mrs. Meyer for being called Stephenie, but… really… Stephenie? Next it will be Nychole or Makynzi. When will the mothers of this world learn that they’re not doing their children any favours?)

I get back home. My headache has swollen to inhuman proportions, just like Bella’s stupidity, and I am beginning to suspect that the book is to blame after all. In a desperate effort to save my life I down two paracetamol tablets, lie down on the couch… and continue reading. I never said that Bella had a monopoly on the idiot thing.

Thanks to my extended sicktime I read the entire book in one day. That is, the entire book minus the thirty-odd pages that I got done on the day before. My brain doesn’t ooze out of my ears, so the physical side effects aren’t as bad as I feared.

But my mind… my mind is hurting from deep down in the logic centers.

Bella Swan. Bella. Swan. You see… Bella is sullen, antisocial and clumsy. These are, I swear to God, her dominant character traits. Her only character traits, actually. A real charmer, our Bella. And the two worst things about her are that a) she’ll always, no matter what the situation may be, assume the worst about her fellow human beings and their opinion of her and b) that the woman shouldn’t have lived past her first year given how clumsy she is.

Hypothetical situation: Bella comes home to Phoenix after a long stay in Forks. Her mum is overjoyed, throws her a surprise party, refurnishes her room and gifts her a car. This doesn’t happen in any of the books, but I swear that if it did, Bella would come to the conclusion that her mother didn’t like her anymore. Why? Go figure. But this girl spends about half the book alternately moping or crying over the latest, absolutely imagined insult. And yes, I know, we’ve all been teenagers at some point, and stuff like that can happen in real life, but not that much. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Mrs. Meyers is only trying to push the word count, but I get the bad feeling that she actually thinks teenage girls behave like this. If that were true then it would be a miracle that the human race hasn’t collectively committed suicide yet.

As to the clumsiness charge: yes, you heard right, Bella should have died of dropping a piano on herself at the age of fourteen months and three days. The world would be a happier place if she had.  But she didn’t, and so we get Twilight. And a scene where she hits herself in the face with a badminton racket. Herself. Face. Badminton racket. For those of you who are just asking themselves what my problem is: please, pretty please, go to the garage, or the attic or wherever your family keeps sporting equipment, and get a badminton racket. Everyone has one of those lying about somewhere. Softball will do at a pinch; ask the neighbours if you must. Hold it in your hand… and try to hit yourself in the face with it. You’ll see that it is a lot harder than you think. Bella must be some kind of contortionist genius. For someone who seems to take unearthly delight in minutely planing and describing every movement needed by Edward to scratch his perfectly attractive bum, Stephenie Meyer could have put a little more thought into that one. And I’ve had enough phys ed classes in my life to know that there are a lot more creative, not to mention likely, ways to do yourself harm.

But it’s not only sports. Bella also breaks into a sweat when she is faced with walking off the beaten track, literally this time. A short, five-minute hike through the forest and the girl is all bruises and cuts. Which makes the idea that she faints if she sees so much as a single drop of her own blood even more ridiculous. There are some sights that even the excessively squeamish will get used to after the two-hundredth time. But I suppose it’s just so funny to have a protagonist that is afraid of blood and falls in love with a vampire. Hahaha.

I won’t go for the feminist angle here because… I just don’t care. Bella is weak and stupid and deserves to die, but I would feel the same about a male character like that. And I don’t care that this is an often-propagated stereotype that gets overapplied to the fairer sex. Don’t. Care. Just saying that. In case you’re wondering.

It’s late now. Past midnight, and I’m getting closer to the end. Bella has finally gotten all the myriad misunderstandings that were keeping her from her favourite hematophile out of the way. Everything is peachy except that she also is being chased by a tracker named James. A tracker, as we learn, is a vampire that specializes in finding people and won’t give up until he has found, killed and eaten them. And Bella’s got a dinner invitation from him. She’s the main course. Edward Cullen doesn’t want to tell us why his family of seven strapping vampires won’t stand watch over Bella’s house until the creep shows so that they can kill him; I suspect his reasons can be summed up as: because the author said so. And because Mrs. Meyer said so we get the extra bitter-sweet parting scene and Bella gets whisked away to Phoenix, because getting her away from her (vulnerable) father and closer to her (vulnerable) mum makes, like, sense. In Phoenix, Bella lays on the sullen extra thick because her favourite Cullen isn’t there, and because that’s not embarrassing enough she also gets it into her head (let’s be fair here, yes, I know, she actually gets tricked) that James has her mum and the only way for Bella to save dear old mum is to go to James alone for a hostage exchange. All because James has been such a reliable and trustworthy fellow all along. Bella is full of great ideas…

… can anyone explain to me why she doesn’t tell anyone? I mean Alice can, like, see the future, maybe she can help

Oh, I get it. It’s because the author said so. Sorry. My bad.

The rest is easily told. Bella almost gets killed. Edward comes to her rescue at the last possible moment (probably waiting in the wings until James has his teeth in her, for maximum dramatic effect) and everyone lives happily ever after. Everyone except me, because I know now that I will have to read the other three books as well.

Call me a glutton for punishment. Call me a woman of science. Call me an idiot. But, to quote Babylon 5: Never start a fight, but always finish it. Stephenie Meyer started it. I will finish it. And besides I really, really want to know how that whole demon-baby thing will work out.