When the media first started comparing Stephenie Meyer to J. K. Rowling, my hackles rose. Insofar as I could tell, both the mood and execution of their respective series seemed entirely different, a suspicion which was confirmed when, last month, I finally finished Twilight, the first book of Meyer’s quartet. Drifting through the life of Bella Swann is, in its own way, peaceful: the writing flows smoothly from page to page, a continuous, soothing rhythm comparable to soft music. The pace is good, and the characters are, by and large, believable. Given that I’m no longer wracked by teenage angst, however, I wasn’t nearly so invested in the ups and downs of Bella’s relationship as I once might’ve been. Consequently, I found the in-depth description of Edward’s every pose and expression frustrating, a troublesome sour note which, by itself, caused me to stop reading for two weeks at the halfway point. It’s not that Meyer writes clunkily – far from it. It’s simply that, as an adult, my attention is fixated less on the physicaility of fraught exchanges and more on their content.
From friends and reviews, I knew that Jacob Black was supposed to become a competing love interest later on, and a werewolf to boot. Invariably, this knowledge changed my expectations for the character: I was looking for someone to rival Edward by displaying a different kind of magnetism, helped along by the ancient were/vamp battle mojo. I was, therefore, extremely disappointed with the reality. Had Bella Swann gone to Forks and never met Edward Cullen, I felt, it was unlikely that she would’ve looked twice at Jacob. Which, of course, would be a different story; but the point of Edward and Bella is one of destiny – that regardless of the circumstances under which they met, the pair would fall in love. From Twilight, the same cannot be said of Jacob Black, and although this isn’t a plot hindrance in the first book, I suspect it may become so later on.
As a heroine, Bella is markedly different from those around her, both in her perceptions and actuality. Her internal monolouge describes her as feeling older, quieter, awkward, more distant than her teenage friends, contrasted with a childlike naivety when it comes to all things Edward. In actuality, Bella is, inded, different, but not in the way she imagines. Forks fits her like a glove, such that, despite her protestations, it’s hard to imagine her ever living boisterously in Phoenix under the hot sun, pale and quiet as she is. Indeed, presented with her physical appearance, preference for classical music and love of Jane Austen, one instinctively places Bella in an English locale: somewhere soft, green and glowing from frequent rain. It’s a measure of Meyer’s ability that she pulls off this deception with ease, allowing Bella’s self-perception to shield us from just how much she does, in fact, belong. This skillful tension permeates the narrative, and is arguably Twilight’s real heart – not romantically, but in terms of craftsmanship. It’s why the book works, and the reason it holds together: a solid sense of place.
The ending, however, troubled me, not only because it departed from that environment, but because Edward’s decision to save Bella undermined the entire narrative. In order to allow for even the barest physical interaction, Edward’s danger and ferocity are systematically blunted throughout the book, until it becomes difficult to believe they ever really existed. Similarly, his inner struggle to resist feeding on Bella has, by the end, vanished, such that the climactic moment of choice – to keep her human – poses neither threat nor tension. Over and over again, we have been told that Edward is dangerous to Bella without actually witnessing it; which suggests, ultimately, that he isn’t. Compare this to the turmoil of vampire Angel’s TV relationship with Buffy Summers. Admittedly, Buffy is significantly stronger than Bella, such that Angel can physically attack her without killing her outright; nonetheless, it’s impossible to doubt his dark side. The same cannot be said of Edward Cullen.
Ultimately, I enjoyed Twilight. At its best, Meyer’s style is captivating, while the story flows steadily from outset to conclusion. Despite this, however, I don’t want to finish the saga. What made Twilight successful was its grounding in Forks, and the extent to which that environment was built, bones-up, to reflect Bella Swann. Outside those parameters and with Edward’s danger dissipated, the story can only be continued by making it more complicated, introducing new elements and moving the protagonists to new locations. At best, this style of serialising can make each successive volume a new first, with each story standing slightly apart from the others, unique despite a linear chronology. At worst, it devolves into the kind of add-on storytelling all too common in Hollywood sequals – notably Pirates of the Carribbean – in which a stand-alone first instalment is undermined by the introduction of a larger, unfamiliar world. The Twilight Saga will, I suspect, fall somewhere between these two points: Meyer has left enough undone to merit further exploration, but following through will invariably take the story away from what made it work in the first place, prolonging the initial catharsis by setting the characters on a largely circuitous route.
In fairness, I should read the rest of the series before passing final judgement; maybe Bella and Edward will pull the story through. Either way, Meyer isn’t the new Rowling, but that doesn’t stop her from being a skilled author in her own right, and certainly one worth keeping a careful eye on.