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.