A keeper? Depends on how I think of it. Probably not.
I’ll be honest. I started reading Twilight expecting to hate it. And there are many things to dislike – but it’s all in your point of view – and, on the other hand, some parts that are really well done. So this is going to be a three part review; what Meyer does well, why this is an awful book, and why this is really a pretty good book.
Part 1: Meyer’s strong points
Meyer is excellent at putting us into the mind of an insecure teenage girl forced into yet another difficult situation. When we first meet Bella Swan, she’s leaving the bustling Phoenix, Arizona desert for small-town, soggy, Forks, Washington. It’s not that Bella has lots of friends and happy memories of Phoenix – but it’s all she knows, and she’s leaving as yet another dutiful try at taking care of her mother (Mom, or rather Renee, has just remarried, and Bella’s in the way). Bella’s uneasy first few days in Forks, getting reacquainted with her father and meeting her new high school classmates, are cheerless but very lifelike.
And then, halfway through the book, Meyer does one of the best staged infodumps I can remember. The whole world knows by now that Twilight is a story with vampires; pretty much the whole world knows that Meyer’s vampires don’t exactly follow the standard pattern. And when you change the rules on a well-known fantasy creature like this, you need to tell the reader the details about your vampires. But how? Several pages of what amounts to class notes from Monsters 101 won’t do. Even worse, most of the time, is to have one character make a speech to someone explaining it all.
Unless you do it the way Meyer does. Young lovers are thrilled to talk endlessly about themselves and one another – so it works perfectly to have Bella question Edward for pages and pages, while he gives her the Intro to Vampirism lecture. Yes, it does get boring – onlookers don’t find young lovers nearly as interesting as they find themselves – but it felt realistic.
Finally, when Twilight turned into a suspense story about two-thirds of the way through, it became genuinely exciting and enthralling. It helped that Edward wasn’t around for that part of the story.
Oh, and the cover design is gorgeous, and goes beautifully with the cover designs for the other books in the series.
Part 2: Why Twilight is an awful romance
And this will be brief, because so many people have already said the same things. Bella’N’Edward do not have a healthy romantic relationship. She’s seventeen; he’s 107. True, he seems to be emotionally stalled, but he’s still a dirty old man. And he bosses her around and makes fun of her in a way that makes it clear he sees her as tiresomely childish.
Beyond that, what he desperately wants to do is kill her. And everyone in his adoptive “family” would love to kill her, moral scruples and strenuous self-control or not. Bella knows this, and she doesn’t care.
So what does tie them together? Bluntly, sex. They both want to get into each others’ pants, though Edward is determined to resist. But I don’t see anything else to keep them on speaking terms once the first thrill wears off. Meanwhile, Bella is hurling herself into a classically abusive trap.
Part 3: Why Twilight is a great horror story
If you step back a little, refusing to see everything the way Bella does, Twilight becomes a well-told, thoroughly creepy piece of classic horror – scarier than the original Dracula, because in Twilight the monsters are winning.
And Meyer does give us all the clues. She points out in various places that the vampires are abnormally attractive to their prey (explaining why all the girls in Forks drool over Edward and company). She explains that the Cullens – the vampire “family” – have various individual talents that help them to manipulate humans. (Notice how much trouble Bella has talking to Edward, and especially disagreeing with him, unless she looks away from him. And that’s when his “brother” Jasper isn’t using mood control on her.)
Basically, this is a takeoff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers: it’s the story of a small town invaded by monsters who can keep the authorities, like Bella’s dad Police Chief Swan, from getting suspicious. The vampires are free to seduce anyone they choose without interference.
After all, what’s Bella getting out of all this? A physically repulsive boyfriend – never mind the sparkles, I cringed every time we were reminded that Edward is as cold and hard as an ice cube. And, once she gets him to vampirize her, an eternity of high school – implying that being a vampire involves some serious mental and emotional stunting. If I could function round the clock and expected to survive for centuries, I’d find a lot more interesting things to keep busy with than repeating senior year English class over and over. And over.
Twilight: One of the most terrifying horror novels of the past fifty years.