It does have a very nice cover

So, last night I was complaining about Twilight.

I reached a point in the novel (which, you ought to know, I am reading for science!), around page 300, where things started to be particularly tough going. I’m not sure why this is the part where it’s become such a chore to maybe finish reading it before Worldcon. Maybe it’s just the point where my irritation has overwhelmed my curiosity.

Anyway, it’s a peculiar thing about complaints, that somehow the more you complain about something the more other people get interested in what you’re complaining about. The reaction is “really? I want to experience that for myself!”

No, actually, you don’t have to. In fact, I will go into much more detail about it to save you the trouble.

The thing about this novel is that it has a very nice cover. Nice overall design, nice typesetting, nice colors. A young woman’s pale hands and wrists clasping a deep red apple against a black background. It brings to mind both Snow White and Eve, creates a hushed, mysterious mood that promises a modern day fairytale.

I knew it was about vampires. It came out in 2005 and I probably heard about it in ’06 or ’07. I have picked it up any number of times — because I like the cover, and have this thing about vampire fiction — and rejected it on the basis of the flip test.

(The flip test: flipping through a work randomly and reading passages here and there to get a feel for the writing style.)

I did not like the writing style, so I would always put it back. But then the subject matter and the lovely cover would get me to pick it up again. I don’t know how many times this happened. It means that I had a very strong sense of the novel being carp without having actually read it.

The thing about this book being about vampires (and werewolves, don’t forget the werewolves!) is that I don’t think it’s really about vampires. It’s sort of about the idea of vampires once or twice removed. The fact that Stephenie Meyer has said in interviews that she’s completely unfamiliar with other books about vampires, and with movies about vampires, and with television about vampires, bears this out. Her knowledge of vampires is purely from pop-culture osmosis.

This is something that interests me — that somebody who doesn’t even like vampire fiction could write a series of vampire novels that are, just possibly, the biggest thing in that sub-genre since Dracula. I would like to say that means it’s really new and different, a complete cliche-free breath of fresh air, but I would be lying. It is different from other vampire stories mostly by being resolutely non-horrific.

So, why is it so darn popular? I have no idea. But I’m curious. Curiosity is the only thing that’s kept me going for three hundred pages. It’s a little bit compelling, I suppose, in a way, but it’s also extremely irritating.

Now, when I flipped back to the beginning, I realized that Meyer has does something fairly clever. Even though nothing exciting has happened for three hundred pages, the book begins with a short preface, a teaser, that promises us that something exciting will eventually happen. “I’d never given much thought to how I would die,” the narrator begins. So far, so good.

Then she moves on, and the second paragraph kind of sets the stage for the rest of the book:

I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.

It has some intriguing tidbits — what is the long room? Who is the hunter? The first part is a little awkward, and seems to need additional commas or something to help us understand that it is actually the viewpoint character who is not breathing. But the thing that really throws me out of the narrative is the word “pleasantly.” He’s supposed to be scary, isn’t he? He’s the hunter, the narrator is going to die, isn’t she? But he’s looking “pleasantly” at her. Does she really mean that he looked at her calmly? Or does she mean that he’s deceptively pleasant-looking, in which case the construction of the sentence is all wrong? When you say a person “looked pleasantly” usual English idiom has it that a person looked pleasantly something. People don’t “look pleasantly” at each other.

Now, I realize that since this is a first person narrative, it is meant to be chatty, informal, and intimate. So it might be possible to claim that her use of not quite the right word in not quite the right way is simply idiosyncratic, simply the character’s voice, rather than the lazy writing it appears to be.

But here’s the thing: voice is used to convey character. And there is a character conveyed by this particular sentence: somebody who thinks she’s quite clever and literate, but really isn’t.

(Next time: Phoenix!)

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