Monday, November 22, 2010

Twilight 3: Total 'Eclipse' Of The Will To Live

[And continuing the series... originally from my Facebook, 19 February this year.]

I have never hated a book as much as I hated reading Eclipse.

Yes, dear friends, I came awfully close to throwing in the towel on this one yesterday afternoon - more than halfway through the book, with the best part of 300 pages to go. But I pushed through, bloodied but unbowed, to offer the following thoughts on the third volume of the Twilight saga.

It struck me after posting my review of New Moon that I perhaps hadn't conveyed quite how dull I found that book. Compared to the sheer awfulness of the first book, being merely bored by, rather than actively loathing, the second, may have inflated my impression of that book, and the impression I gave in my review. Eclipse, however, offers something unique, being both actively crap like Twilight, and relentlessly tedious, like New Moon.

As such, there's not a whole lot to be said about this book. If there was a flaw or annoying tendency in either of the first two, it's here again in Eclipse. (With the exception of the obvious symbolism of New Moon. Apparently that only worked when Edward was away, or perhaps Meyer just forgot to punch it in this time.) And while New Moon was considerably longer than Twilight, Eclipse is longer again - rounding off at 630 pages. I've read books twice as long as that which felt shorter, because I didn't spend the entire time wishing I were dead.

Okay, but enough intro. Here are a few points to be made in addition to those offered on the first two.

1. The Unbearable Dullness Of Reading

Eclipse is, as I just noted, a long book. Not, however, for the reasons that books are usually long - that they tell an intricate story or have a large cast of interconnected characters or that they effectively create an entire, well-drawn, world. I have no idea why Stephenie Meyer felt the need to make this book so long (although I suspect that it may be related to the Harry Potter phenomenon, in which each book in a series is longer than the one before it), but it certainly doesn't need to be this long. There's just chapter after chapter for most of the book in which nothing happens - that the same three characters (Bella, Edward, Jacob) sit around having the same conversation over and again. Edward loves Bella. Jacob loves Bella. Jacob and Edward hate each other - both for the aforementioned reason, and because one is a werewolf and the other a vampire. Next chapter, more of the same. Throw in a few chapters of completely random backstory for secondary characters, and a sub-plot that we'll get to in a moment, and you've got yourself Eclipse.

All of this, of course, told in Meyer's patented wooden prose. She's dropped her fondness for adjectives, but those at least enlivened proceedings a little, as I could try to imagine what the schizophrenic conversations sounded like. I've read instruction manuals with more interesting prose than Eclipse.

There is also scene after scene in which Bella feels unworthy of Edward, and he reassures her that he does, in fact, love her more than anybody has ever loved anybody else ever before. The more I think about their relationship, the more I think it may be - completely unintentionally - the least healthy ever described in a novel. I mean, okay, it's not Humbert & Delores, but even beyond the massive power difference, the way that neither of them ever quite accepts that the other does, in fact, love them, is disturbing in the extreme. Think about it - would you, honestly, want to be with someone whom you could never really believe wanted to be with you? A bit of humility in relationships is of course a good thing, but a constant feeling that the other person is lowering themselves to be with you? That's actually not a good thing.

Another reason for the dullness, of course, is Edward. Again, this is not just because we only see him through the eyes of a besotted girl, but because of who he is. I want to be very clear here - Edward is not perfect in Bella's eyes, but in Stephenie Meyer's. Edward's only flaw is that he loves Bella too much. He loves her so much that he'd prefer her to be happy with someone else (Jacob) than unhappy with him. He'll be upset, of course, and jealous, because it would be less-than-perfect were he not to care, but he'd still accept it. Such a love may be wonderful to experience, but it becomes tedious to read about, since you know that, in any & all situations, Edward is going to react perfectly. Authors need to be able to be slightly callous about their characters, but it seems to me as if Stephenie Meyer created not characters for her book, but friends for herself.

2. Wish Fulfillment

The height of all this Everybody Loves Bella tediousness is a completely implausible scene towards the novel's end. A temporary truce between vampires and werewolves exists, and so we have a night in which Bella & her two men are in tent together. Despite the fact that one of them is a vampire with superpowers and the other is a werewolf with heightened perception (& is actually in a sleeping bag with Bella to keep her warm, while her ice-cold vampire boyfriend looks on jealously), the two somehow don't notice that Bella is awake for the entirety of a long conversation they have. (I guess they're lucky that nobody attacked them that night, since they would've missed it completely...)

This conversation, which I think is simply a case of Meyer not thinking things through, was the inevitable 'Let's Both Talk About Bella While She's Asleep, Saying How Much We Love Her, And Grudgingly Admit That The Other Does Too' scene. You've seen this sort of things in numerous movies or whatever, but it's usually played for laughs/revelation of important information - that someone is able to hear a conversation that the participants assume they cannot. Here, it functions entirely as Wish Fulfillment - the needy girl's fantasy of overhearing two boys talk about how much they love her. Meyer clearly wanted the scene there - it's vital from a certain angle - but it seems to have never occured to her how odd it was to have Bella be able to hear it all without either allegedly super-powerful boy realise this.

From where I was sitting, though, the whole scene just made me wish a bolt of lightening would hit the tent. The wish-fulfillment angle is just so blatant that it makes you cringe.

3. Elementary, My Dear Sherlock

By far the most jarring scene in all of English-language fiction occurs in Eclipse. It really gave me some sort of mental whiplash. It's not uncommon for authors to give readers more information than the characters have, although this made much more difficult if your book is narrated by a character. First-person narration doesn't really go with feeding the readers things the characters don't know.

So, the main non-Everyone Loves Bella plot of Eclipse is about a group of new vampires terrorising nearby Seattle, killing dozens of humans. They are able to avoid detection by Edward's family because Alice, the family psychic, can't read their minds for some reason. Completely unrelatedly, a vampire whose mind Alice can't read breaks into Bella's home one day when she's not there. I made the fundamental mistake of assuming that these two incidents, close in geography and identical in symptom, were related somehow. Not just because they were in the same book, but because they seemed to bear a striking similarity through Alice's inability to track them.

Imagine my surprise, then, when suddenly, halfway through Eclipse, Bella - of all people - suddenly figures this out. "Wait, what?", I thought, "Surely we all already knew this?" And then, Bella tells hyper-intelligent Alice, who is shocked, having never considered the possibility. A chapter later, hyper-intelligent Edward is also astounded at the thought that these two identical things may be, in fact, related. This sequence of events is one of the stupidest things to have ever been written. I can't think of another example where something which the reader has accepted as a basic rule of the story is cause for such surprise amongst the story's characters. The nearest analogy I could think of would be if, halfway through a Holmes book, Dr Watson suddenly said, "Hey, Holmes, I think these two murders with identical circumstances, committed close to one another, might be connected!" And Sherlock Holmes then suddenly realised that Watson was correct, and that his assumption that these two things were completely unrelated was wrong.

That never happened, of course, because Arthur Conan Doyle was not an idiot. Stephenie Meyer is.

3. Round-Up

There's more holes I could pick, idiocies I could highlight (the Acknowledgments page(s) is again a delight - 'the rock gods of Muse' get thanked again, and she also tells her fans that they're 'the most attractive, intelligent, exciting, and dedicated fans in the whole world. I wish I could give you each a big hug and a Porsche 911 Turbo'), but frankly, it's not worth it. Eclipse is an awful, awful book. It manages to be both actively crap and mind-numbingly boring at once. I hated it so much it energised me. I had to wake up early in the morning to fit in all the hatred I felt for it.

Please, please, please, do not read this book. Do not let your friends or family members read it Not even in jest, or to see what all the fuss is about. Reading Eclipse made my life less worthwhile.

That said, I have a copy of Breaking Dawn on my bookshelf. At this point, to be honest, I'm not sure I can face reading it. (If I do, it won't be for a while, at least.) I've no idea how many people read these little reviews of mine, but let me know in comments if you want me to push on with Breaking Dawn. Otherwise, I'll just let it slide. I've next to no curiosity about what happens in that book - I'm sure Wikipedia can fill me in to the extent that I care. If there's enough interest expressed for me to round off the series, then I will. (With grave misgivings that my friends hate me, though...)

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