Let it never be said that I dismiss things without first giving them a fair go. I watched How I Met Your Mother for three seasons before deciding it was a poorer man's Friends. Despite a lot of criticism, I went and saw Baz Luhrmann's Australia, and actually enjoyed it. I even gave Ugly Betty a go when it first came on. But there is one franchise that even I have refused to touch, and that's the gargantuan Twilight one.
Spanning four books (five, if you count the new one) and three movies (so far), Twilight has become so popular it's become uncool to like it. Well, brace yourself, dear reader, for I'm about to give it a go.
I stole my sister's copy of the book from her room, and just looking at the cover it's not a good start. She has the film tie-in edition, with Robert Pattinson on the cover. Any franchise that made this untalented hack popular must clearly be evil. Ahem, sorry. So, I get to the acknowledgements and I skim through it, and see Meyer thanks her husband, Pancho. Seriously? Pancho? I've got this image of a seedy Mexican guy, and I'm intrigued whether this character will appear in the book. Probably not, or else the book might be interesting - no! Bad Free Man! I'm supposed to be keeping an open mind here!
Further down the acknowledgements, Meyer thanks her editor for making the book "better than it started out." Given the extremely varied reviews I've heard, I wonder how bad the original manuscript must have been.
On the next page we have a contents page, and boy does this annoy me. Why on earth do we need a contents page in a NOVEL?! Harry Potter doesn't have any. None of my Douglas Adams, John Marsden, Matthew Reilly or Michael Crichton books have them. Heck, the Goosebumps books didn't have contents pages! What sane person picks up a book, looks at the contents and thinks, "Hmm, chapter 18, The Hunt, that sounds exciting, let's start on page 328"? In fact, the only novel in my room that features a contents page is Andy Griffith's The Day My Bum Went Psycho, but that probably says more about me than anything.
So, we start with a preface, and the narrator is talking about how they're about to be killed by the hunter. I turn the page, and we're at chapter one. Great. Another story that starts at the most dramatic moment possible, then the rest is told in flashback. I am so sick of this cliche. I've seen it in Battlestar Galactica, V, Flashforward, Star Trek, Lost (obviously), Supernatural, Batman Begins Iron Man and the video game Uncharted 2 to name a few. It's irritating and insulting (less so with Lost, since the flashbacks are a key part of the narrative) because it means executives think we'll only watch/read/play something if there's a really dramatic beginning. Look, Meyer, we have your book. You don't need to start with a dumb flashforward, we're not going to put it down. To be fair, the book was published back in 2005, when it wasn't as much of a cliche as it is now. I'll let this one slide for now, Meyer.
So. Chapter 1. 'First Sight'. Christ this is exhausting. This is the actual opening paragraph:
"My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka."Immediately I'm bored. You see the problem with this paragraph? It's just so... bland. Imagine if I wrote this:
"My mother drove me to the shops with the radio on. It was hot in Brisbane. The sky was blue. I was wearing my favourite green T-shirt; it was a gesture of defiance. My phone was in my pocket."
The only difference is that Meyer is a lot wordier than me, and that's not a good thing. Shakespeare once said, "Brevity is the soul of wit", and this basically means DON'T WASTE MY TIME WITH WORDY EXPOSITION! Here's my paragraph again, re-written:
"Once again, Mum had selected the worst possible radio station. There were only so many times I could hear the hits of the eighties, nineties and now before I killed someone. It was bad enough that it was a scorching day in Brisbane, let alone that I was perfectly okay to catch the bus to the shops. But no, mum insisted on driving me."
You see how much more vibrant the text is when it's not just simple exposition? There's humour, personality, backstory. And I get across essentially the same thing in roughly the same amount of words.
Gah. This is painful. Next paragraph is, if possible, even worse:
"In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old. It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead."
Where do I begin? To begin with, is it really necessary that we're given the exact geographic location? A town name is fine, a state okay, but the PENINSULA? Then we're told that it rains a lot in Forks. Twice. First, we're told it's cloudy a lot, then we're told it rains a lot. Just one of these would have been enough, you know. What was I just saying about not wasting my time with wordy exposition? Oh, and let's not forget, our yet-unnamed narrator tells us that it rains "on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America." MORE wordy exposition? Meyer, you're an American author, the book was first published in the States, I'm pretty sure "United States" or just "America" would have been sufficient for your readers. You don't see me calling Australia "The Commonwealth of Australia" in my stories.
Next our narrator begins to whine about her father. Wow. A girl with daddy issues. Meyer, I take back all my criticism, you are the most original and revolutionary writer since Dickens. Apparently, our narrator recently put her foot down and forced her dad to holiday with her in California. Straight away this makes me dislike the protagonist. Why? Well, it paints an image of our hero being a whiny, spoiled teenage girl, who is not relatable at all. Except to other whiny, spoiled, teenage girls I suppose.
I can't go on, we're only 154 words in and I can already feel a vein pulsing on my temple. To summarise: Twilight has lost me on its very first page, thanks to redundant and wordy exposition, unlikable characters and cliched plot-lines/literary devices. Once again, I'd like to stress we're only 154 words in. Unbelievable.
© 2010 by The Free Man