There are historical events that force us to question our very existence: 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, the Fukushima incident, and Twilight. What made that book series a global phenomenon was more enigmatic to me than what or who actually caused the September 11 attacks. So I decided to decipher the biggest mystery of the past decade, by reading the book. (The 9/11 Commission Report was too intimidating, and I thought maybe I’d get some hints about what women like. These are minor issues, of course.)
Fortunately, there are plenty of audio recordings on YouTube, thanks to 3 million die-hard fans. I didn’t need to spend my money, or truth to be told, get caught buying—or reading—the book. Taipei is a small city.
The book certainly is engaging. The high school set-up is familiar to all of us, including the feeling of isolation in a new community. Each chapter contains a surprise (that mysterious boy is a vampire, for example) that is also reassuring (he never kills fellow classmates). The non-threatening world view is more apparent in the lack of daily adolescent survival wars: attention, grades, sexuality (or lack thereof), family. The most symbolic—or unforgivable—example is this: The protagonist is a black sheep who never gets bullied.
This is a world that is easy to immerse ourselves into because few things distract us from identifying with the main characters. (There is even one for me: the guy who eyes her but is destined to be friend-boxed forever. I know how you feel, buddy.) Yet that safeness is achieved by the lack of an important element in its universe: a real person.
The protagonist, from whose viewpoint the entire world is constructed, seems to be observing everything but one thing: herself, as reflected by her friends and family (vampires don’t reflect anything—one ageless rule this book kept intact). In our teenage years, our ego-inflated fragile self-consciousness was what consumed our lives more than anything. But whether we like it or not, that was what kept us in reality away from the mirage in our heads. Without knowing who she really is, the protagonist of Twilight is “an empty shell for the target audience to project themselves onto and empathise with,” as the movie review site Dark Horizon says.
A Japanese writer once said a book’s worth can be measured by how much you have changed after reading it. That’s not likely to happen with Twilight, for either its readers or characters. The protagonist might physically advance (sex, childbirth, conversion to vampire follow up in sequels), but she will be mentally trapped forever in her teenage days, like her fellow vampires who can still tolerate being high school students after living for 200 years.
A good book amuses us, which is a hurdle Twilight no doubt passes. It might even qualify as an entertainment classic, judging by the size of readership. But it is not a great book, at least for me, because it fails to do one task all great books achieve: show us who we really are.
P.S. What about the “What women think” part? Here you are: the essence of becoming the guy lusted by young girls according to Twilight. I have made the list easier to achieve, by waiving the requirement of being a kosher vampire.
- Be immaculately beautiful
- Understand every single detail about her and be around her 24/7
- Be passionate and caring for her but be detached from everybody else
- Wear designer clothes sans logos (= really, really expensive ones)
P.P.S. I recommend reading the entire review of Twilight: New Moon on Dark Horizons. I bet it is far more engaging than the movie itself.
While the parallels to "Romeo and Juliet" are laboured on thick, more fitting a comparison is "Moby Dick". What else is Edward if not a pale white force of nature, and Bella the protagonist so utterly consumed by her obsession to him much to the detriment of everyone around her.