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Book Review: New Moon

November 21, 2009

With the movie just released this weekend, I thought I should finally post my thoughts on the Twilight sequel.

Now you might reasonably be asking yourself why I was reading it when I had so failed to enjoy Twilight in the first place. Well, as I had mentioned before, I actually found that I really enjoyed the film adaptation, and for better or worse, it’s my habit to read books before I see the film whenever possible. Beyond that…I don’t know. I guess I’m a masochist.

It’s a little touch-and-go at the beginning, but ultimately I have to admit that Meyer seems to have improved as a writer between volumes 1 and 2. There are still some genuinely cringe-worthy passages, but whereas the first book was comprised almost entirely of these passages, this one had stretches of prose that actually felt competent and, more importantly, confident. Then a clunker would drop and ruin the flow.

I’m not sure if this is better or not. At least with the first book you just kind of expected it. This one put just enough space between to get you to drop your guard before sucker-punching you. Mileage may vary.

In getting into specifics, I’ve realized I have a choice. I could easily snark my way through this book, but that hardly feels like it would be productive, or even cathartic. And, as I said, I think I have to give credit where due that this is, actually, an improvement over Twilight when all things are considered.

What I’m going to do with this review, instead, is pretend that I have been given this manuscript and asked to give my notes on it. So I’ll write as though I’m speaking directly to the author and suggesting ways to improve the book before it goes out to the public.

In reality, of course, nobody did ask for my notes. They’re irrelevant by three years and several hundred million dollars. But it’s instructive for me, and my writing, to identify why these books fail to transcend the pre-pubescent and post-menopausal demographics that make up the core readership. To identify why these books — books based on a concept that, hypothetically at least, could yield classics of the fantasy genre — will not, ultimately, find themselves in the company of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or Harry Potter.

So, here we go. My notes on The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Hi Stephenie,

Thanks for sharing the new installment of what it looks like you’re calling the “Twilight Saga.” I think it improves on the original in terms of keeping the story moving forward. While there were some repetitive scenes, it had much more of a flow and better pacing than I found in the first Twilight book.

My overarching issue with this new story is, ultimately, the same as the last one, and it’s the issue, unfortunately: I don’t buy the relationship between Bella and Edward.

Bella is constantly harping on the fact that she doesn’t understand why someone as perfect and wonderful as Edward is with someone as undeserving as she, and frankly I don’t understand it either. What does Edward see in Bella? What makes her so special out of all the other girls he’s seen come and go over the last near-century that he’s been a vampire? It was never explained to my personal satisfaction in Twilight — we know that the smell of her blood is intoxicating to him, and she alone is immune to his mind-reading capabilities, but neither seems like a particularly healthy or even compelling reason to get into a long-term relationship with her, particularly when he is trying to resist the temptation to suck her dry.

By very nearly the same token, I honestly have no real concept of what’s so great about Edward anyway. You say that Edward is physically perfect, and that’s all well and good…but that’s also not the basis of “true love,” is it? She has a deep emotional attachment to him, such that when he leaves she basically dies inside, becomes a zombie just going through the motions of her day-to-day life, and only comes back to life when Jacob comes into it (which we’ll get to shortly). Not only do I not see why she has this extreme reaction, but it concerns me that the story doesn’t really make any indication that this is not a healthy or sensible response to breaking up with a boy. You have an audience of girls near or under Bella’s age, and I personally think it would be irresponsible to encourage them to think that the only reason they have for living is if the boy they like, likes them back.

I think there’s a way to make this work, though. You caught some flack for the sparkling vampires but the justification (clarified in the film adaptation) was not bad — like an anglerfish luring its prey with its shiny light, so too everything about your vampires draws in their unwitting human quarry, so that they usually just give up without a fight. Since vampires are inherently supernatural creatures, I would suggest that you extend this to explain Bella’s overpowering desire for Edward. Like the sparkling skin and the enticing scent that he exudes from her perspective, he would also have an essentially hypnotic effect on her. But instead of feeding on her, he starts a relationship with her — a first, presumably, in vampire culture. He would have no way of knowing how long-term exposure to this hypnotic effect would affect her.

Likewise, when he leaves, he would believe that he was helping her when, in fact, he would be dooming her to an unbearable yearning — again, part of the mechanism used to draw prey to a vampire, gone awry when the vampire refuses to feed and end the spiritual cat-and-mouse game. He believes he is doing the right thing when in fact what he’s done is far crueler than turning her.

This doesn’t actually change the plot fundamentally in any sense, but what it does is turn it into a supernatural force against which she is powerless, rather than a teenage girl’s emotional overreaction to her first break-up. Additionally, you could utilize either her relationship with Jacob or her drowning episode as an opportunity to break this literal spell, at which point she can make her choice regarding who she wants to be with. She can still choose Edward, but she should choose him because she wants him, not because she needs him, if that makes any sense.

There’s not much I can say regarding Jacob and the werewolves, as I think this was handled very well. It takes Bella a while to figure out what’s going on but, as with Twilight, I actually kind of appreciated this. I can’t stand it when a book’s characters seem to have read the summary on the back cover and make leaps of logic that we know as readers are correct but that they as characters would be unlikely to make. I think it went on a little too long in Twilight but here it was just right. I especially liked Bella’s reaction to realizing that she was in the midst of vampires and werewolves. (“What kind of place IS this?!”) Very true-to-life and funny — who wouldn’t react that way?

My one note is that I never really felt that Jacob had a chance. She was so busy obsessing over Edward that, the few times she considered just up and “settling” for Jacob, I didn’t buy it. I didn’t think even for a second that she might choose to “settle” and — since that’s how she was thinking of it — I also didn’t think for a second that she deserved Jacob if that was going to be her attitude. You wrote a solid character in Jacob — he’s sweet, selfless, loyal, and as a result Bella’s incredibly dismissive and downright condescending attitude toward him casts her in a terrible light as our heroine.

You tried to make up for it by having her refer to him repeatedly in glowing romantic terms — calling him “my own personal sun” and the like. I found this odd in the sense that Bella was referring to him this way long before she started to actively consider him a romantic possibility, which makes her seem to lack introspection and, to be blunt, makes her seem unbelievably dense. (It’s similar to the issue of how many times Edward told her in Twilight that he was dangerous and how many times she simply failed to comprehend what he was saying.)

I’m not sure what there is to do about this, other than make her seem at least a little more interested in Jacob for Jacob, and not for closest-boy-at-hand-when-Edward’s-not. When Jacob doesn’t wind up with her at the end of this installment, all I can think of is “good for him,” and I don’t think that’s what you’re going for.

Now, regarding the Edward situation. New Moon suffers, I feel, from the same weird imbalance that hit Twilight, in that it’s a 500-page book that suddenly takes a sharp left turn in the last 100 pages. We’ve spent 400 pages watching her burgeoning relationship with Jacob and hearing about the fact that Victoria — James’ mate from Twilight — is stalking her, out for revenge. Then, abruptly, a simple case of miscommunication leads to Edward believing Bella is dead and he decides he’s going to kill himself — which in this story involves provoking the ancient ruling vampire clan, the Volturi.

Before going on, by the way, I need to mention an inconsistency that struck me: in the story, Bella is immune to Edward’s vampire powers. She is also immune to the powers of those members of the Volturi who test her. Aro is able to know the memories of anyone he touches — except Bella — and Jane is able to inflict intense pain on anyone she looks at — except Bella.

Why, then, is Bella not immune to Rosalie and Alice’s powers of perception? Alice has seen Bella becoming a vampire in the ambiguous future, and it’s Rosalie’s vision of Bella’s cliffdiving adventure, misinterpreted as a suicide attempt, that drives Edward to make his rash decision. Shouldn’t both girls have a blind spot where Bella is concerned just as all the other vampires do?

Maybe you have a reason for this that you intend to explain in one of the later volumes, but for now, it seems arbitrary and convenient regarding who can and can’t use their powers on Bella.

Now, one other note I have is regarding Edward’s spirituality. I think it needs to be more prominent, because it explains a lot. Why doesn’t Edward want to turn her? Because he believes he’s condemning her to Hell (although how they’d end up there when they’re essentially indestructible is unclear). Likewise, why — if he believes his existence is so wretched — he hasn’t killed himself before. He’s afraid of what awaits him after.

The moment in the Volturi city where she stops him from revealing himself, and he believes the Volturi have killed him and he is now in Heaven with Bella — this is a great payoff, and it’s great to have Bella point out that some part of him obviously DOESN’T think he’s condemned, since his first reaction was calm contentment rather than surprise. The problem is that it’s a payoff to an insufficient set-up, and I really would have liked to hear a bit more of the ethical dilemmas of a “vegetarian” vampire. Too much of this would be wearisome, of course, but I think that you could stand to have a little more than at present.

Of course, this also comes back around to the issue that I don’t for the life of me understand what Edward sees in Bella, what would make him so distraught that he would rather risk Hell than simply move on with his immortal existence and eventually find someone new. I don’t think the solution to this is his (frequent) protestations of how awesometastic she is, what we need is for us to see her that way without having to be told we should. And this is, ultimately, the hard part, as I think it would require a fundamental rethinking of the character in order to make her someone that we would like, and thereby understand why perfect Edward could also like her.

The last thing is, as with Twilight, the lack of a satisfying climax. There’s a nice intensity leading up to her stopping Edward — will she get there in time to stop him from revealing himself in the sunlight and provoking the Volturi?

However, the first problem I have with this is that I’m not entirely convinced this would provoke the Volturi. After all, do non-vampires in the Twilight universe know that vampires sparkle? Or do they assume, based on popular culture, that vampires disintegrate in the sunlight?

If the latter (and that would be my assumption based on Bella thinking that in Twilight), then why would Edward going all Mr. Sparkle “provoke the Volturi” at all? So a bunch of humans see him shimmering like diamonds in the sunlight. It seems to me a bit of a leap for them to associate that with vampires, and associate this sparkly vampire with the Volturi, who are hidden away anyway so I don’t even understand what they’re so concerned about. (And if only vampires can kill vampires, then why do the Volturi even care if every human around them knows about them?)

So while the writing for this section is probably the strongest in either book, I don’t understand the point of the exercise or why it would have the results we’re meant to believe it would. Similarly, the subsequent audience with the Volturi high council or whatever they call themselves feels like a mere introduction of the characters — which would be fine, if it were near the beginning of the book. But it’s nearly at the end, after the most exciting part, and I wanted to see either a confrontation/action, or the words “THE END” to wrap things up. I’m sure the Volturi will be important later but for now the entire thing just feels like it’s overstaying its welcome.

Overall I think this needs another draft and a serious consideration of the structure before it goes to print. But there’s a lot of strong ideas here and if they can be developed more, I do think they’re worth pursuing.

I hope some of these notes have been of use to you. Thanks again for sharing.


Okay, so a little bit of snark found its way in there. I’m usually pretty good about keeping that out of the notes I give but, you know, if Meyer ever reads this and has a problem with it she can wipe her tears away with a fistful of Benjamins, so I don’t think I’m being too hard on the lass.

At some point I’m sure I’ll check out the film adaptation, but I doubt it will be in theatres.

From → reviews, story, writing

  1. Excellent analysis.
    I really like your broad vision on things because you not only tackle the artistic side of the work but also the social impact on impressionable teens (which some may dismiss but I think you are spot on since like it or not twilight has become a juggernaut)
    I find that thoughtful from you and very commendable for reasons you may find below.

    I agree. The fixation for Bella is not justified anywhere.
    I can understand Edward having feelings for Bella because she is attracted to him without artificial cohersion (but Bella’s immunity still has no explanation). And yes, their relationship feels like the unjustified obsession of first love.
    By adding a twist to the story and taking a clue from “Undying devotion” one way to explain Edward’s feelings could be that he initially “needed” Bella , for himself to go back to human form or something (maybe he wants a normal life again), but over time he falls in love with her (As Jeremy does for Mary in “Undying devotion”) and the relationship takes form.
    As stated in the “Twilight” the relationship comes out of the blue and seems more like an unhealthy addiction instead of a nurturing connection.

    I find the saga entertaining but not memorable. I never have the feeling of fear for these vampires or for Bella’s safety. Or the suspense and tension I felt as a kid with say “Fright Night” (Now Chris Sarandon was a seductive, powerful, creepy vampire for you).
    And “Fright Night” was a cheesy ,campy movie.
    I understand the point here is the love story not hardcore “horror” but is about vampires and werewolves, for crying out loud.
    And will love to see more humor on them (It will help out to have a comedic character in it to throw you off balance). Laughter and fear are sometimes powerful together.
    When I saw “Twilight” I thought I was seeing an different version of “Buffy the vampire slayer”, without the funny bits.
    I am mixing my impressions on the book and the movie, because frankly neither moves me emotionally. (Which according to you should be good because that means I am NOT pre-pubescent or post-menopausal, which could be worrisome for a guy in his early-30’s. LOL).

    “My one note is that I never really felt that Jacob had a chance” is tied to “Jacob — he’s sweet, selfless, loyal”.
    Is it a surprise that Jacob does not have a chance? Well since when do good boys (sweet, loyal, careful) have a chance with seemingly bad boys (seductive, adventurous, and somewhat dangerous) in the eyes of women that want out of the routine and want to play with fire.
    And this is another dangerous message of the story for teens: The false impression that you need either danger or drama in your life in order to feel alive. (The reason some wives leave home for the “bad boy”).
    This is not a sexiest comment, the other side of the coin is that it has been said that all men are dogs (ask Bill Clinton, David Letterman, Elliot Spitzer, …,etc). But that is another can of worms.

    My point is that I fell the story reinforces that stereotype that Jacob “the good boy” is “boring” and may confuse teen girls that “dangerous” boys are the way to go. This I find unhealthy specially because the wanna be perceived as “Edwards” of the real world not necessarily have good intentions and at the end of the day they may suck them girls dry and left them for dead (either physically ,emotionally or both).
    And this may lead to girls get into abusive relationships trying to reform and find the “good” on those “risky business” dudes.
    You may ask why I take an interest on this teen saga, well for once is hard not to talk about the pink elephant in the room(this thing is everywhere), but most important I have female family members hitting adolescence and find my duty to stress this points. Not that I think I might succeed (we humans mostly learn by making mistakes, that is way I am practicing my “I told you so”) but helping them improve the learning curve.
    And personally I believe your notes should be forwarded to Mrs Meyer.
    No doubt there will be more installments to come.

  2. The reason she is immune to certain powers and not others is explained in the last book “Breaking Dawn.”

    The film adaption of the second isn’t as good as the first. While I was surprised at how much I enjoyed “Twilight,” “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” was a bit of a let down (probably because I was anticipating it a bit more). It felt lifeless,stilted boring and was way too long at two hours and ten minutes.

    Very good analysis of the book. I’ll be sure to share this out via twitter/facebook.

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