Thursday, August 21, 2008

Twilight (Spoliers Ahead!)

After re-reading Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hollows last month, I took a break and browsed through some professional books. The call of fiction is stronger so I borrowed a friend's copy of Twilight. I have heard friends gushing about the book. Some colleagues asked if our library has a copy. Just last night, I've finished reading it and I'm contemplating whether recommending the book as part of the library's growing Fiction collection would benefit our Young Adult readers (mostly boys).

The conceit (or theme) is seductively intriguing.

Carlisle Cullen and his coven of vampires has, for decades, mingled and lived among humans with a good amount of success. What with the Volvo, Mercedes and Four Wheeler Jeep that his "children" drive to school, Carlisle Cullen did not spend three centuries sleeping in a coffin by day and sucking human blood by night. He is cultured, educated and a practicing medical doctor in the rainy and sleepy town of Forks, Washington. His family includes Esme, who is the known and recognized wife of Carlisle, Rosalie, Alice, Emmet, Jasper and Edward, the "adopted" kids of the Cullens.

For a while, the Cullens lived as normal as any humans in Forks, but with an observed distance from the rest of the community. Their wealth, beauty and mysterious aura were reasons enough for the common folks to shy away from them. One day, Bella Swan arrived from Phoenix, Arizona and muddled the secured routine of the Cullens as well as their life style. Edward, the youngest of the Cullens, was the most affected. The two fell in love and the rest, as they say, lived happily until the last chapter of the novel.

The author, Stephenie Meyer, has written two sequels of Edward's vampiric saga, New Moon and Breaking Dawn (there are two more actually, but the titles escape me as of writing). Words from the grapevine on the sequel render mixed reviews. I'm not surprised. Twilight is juicy and chewy, but that's all there is to it. It did not nourish nor fill me up. Clearly, at least to me, it is no comfort food.

The romance between Edward, a vampire, and Bella, a human, is scintillating but I doubt if this would be enough to keep readers loyal to the story. Though written from the point of view of Bella, the female protagonist, readers are introduced to vampire lore and legend through her experiences and interactions with them. Meyer used these vampire stories from folk lore and myth to establish a context and suspend disbelief. There lies the strength of Meyer's Twilight.

Put away the garland of garlic cloves, crucifix and coffins. Meyer's vampires struggle to fight their demons to achieve a degree of humanity and sanity too.

Sadly, very little of this internal and external conflict emerged in the lives of the characters. Too much romance was invested on Bella and Edward. Though, their pairing proves to be spunky and fun as their dialogues are peppered with humor and dramatic irony. Still, Meyer’s dialogues and conversations of the two heroes were far from Rowling's wit or Zusak's poetic prose.

Withholding these layers of emotional and psychological unfolding of the characters must be intentional so that, readers would have a lot to look forward to in the next two novels. If only for this, then I’m in it for the ride. Carlisle is enigmatic and Alice is a character to be reckoned with. I’m also expecting to know and understand Edward’s motivation for turning down Bella’s challenge to make her one of them. She gets a chance at immortality but her vampire lover denies her of it. I want to see her grow or transform in the succeeding sequels.

So it seems that Twilight is not the main meal. It is but an appetizer. But questions in my mind remain. How did she take care of her characters? What human depth and profundity could Meyer offer her excited readers?

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