Issue 2, Volume 18
I can recall exactly where I was when I discovered that Stephanie Meyer was finally releasing her long-awaited novel, Midnight Sun. On the couch in my family’s sunny sitting room on the outskirts of Brisbane, I laughed with chagrin and self-deprecation as I remembered the two or so years in which the Twilight Saga had ousted Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis from my personal literary hall of fame, and had consumed my every waking moment. I had devoured the 12 chapters of Midnight Sun that had been leaked in 2008 when I was 12 years old, full of second-hand angst and living in Bath, England. It was, and still is, a beautiful town that is full of obscenely wealthy ex-London bankers and their families, and that is littered with Roman artefacts and buildings that attract scores of tourists year upon year.
Bath was cold and wet enough for me to convince myself that I was living in the British equivalent of Forks, and that Edward Cullen and his family were just around the corner, watching my every move. Twilight mania was rife in my house – my Dad still fondly refers to those two years as the “Twiglet Age”, while my younger sister never fails to relish in telling me how cringe and obsessive I was. My bookshelf underwent a dramatic transformation, from the leather-bound tomes of Mum’s Dickens collection to a monochromatic kaleidoscope of the various, matte black vampire tales, the names of which were inscribed on their spines and covers in a red, bloody font. I even wrote about 150 pages of a vampire-inspired story which, luckily for me, died along with the decrepit laptop that I threw away when my family and I moved to Australia in 2011.
In hindsight, the Twilight saga ruined my appreciation for good writing. It wasn’t until I decided, on a whim, to re-read the first instalment in the series at the end of year 12 that I was truly able to appreciate just how jaw-droppingly bad the books are. Meyer’s injudicious use of semi-colons, meandering internal monologues, and characters with bizarrely religious motivations suddenly seemed so ridiculous to me, and my already dwindling interest in watching Breaking Dawn Pt 2 died more or less by the end of the first chapter.
So, what did I do on 5th August, when I saw that Midnight Sun had been released? Well, I spent $17.99 on the e-book, of course! The impending release of a book has never been this fascinating to me. While I have been locked away in a haze of cataclysmic, monotonous, COVID-induced boredom, this book has provided me with a droll sense of anticipation. 12-year-old me had a lot of unanswered questions, the majority of which are far too embarrassing to put out into the universe, let alone in a piece of writing to which my name is boldly attached.
But now the book is here. And it’s just as gloriously bad as I thought it would be. But in spite of this, I have been left with a newfound appreciation for Meyer’s Saga. In fact, I’m almost grateful, in a bizarre way, for the sense of nostalgia with which I have been left as a result of reading this exquisitely heinous piece of fiction.
The plot of the book largely follows the plot of Twilight. Essentially, it’s a retelling of the meeting of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, albeit through Edward’s 100-and-something year-old eyes. An age gap of 90 years or so between lovers is something that would typically be frowned upon in most societies; however, I guess because Edward is a vampire who believes in abstinence until marriage, that makes it ok! Nevertheless, the frequent references to Bella as a “child” throughout the book continue to give me the heebie-jeebies.
That the story is narrated from Edward’s point of view also gives us an insight into what it means to be a telepath. Characters’ thoughts are helpfully presented to us in italics, just in case you might have missed them in the book’s amorphic mass of poorly defined paragraphs. In case the dialogue between Edward and Bella had left us feeling any doubts as to Meyer’s lack of insight into teenage speech and vernacular, the internal chatter that she serves up to the reader should serve to extinguish any such doubts. The thoughts of Edward’s and Bella’s classmates read akin to phrases that have been translated from English, into German, and back into English through google translate. They are oddly formal and descriptive, and they take as an assumption that everyone has an internal monologue that resembles a dyadic conversation between oneself and one’s mind. Sure, I understand that these thoughts act as a narrative tool by which Meyer reveals (extremely overtly) the thoughts, feelings and ambitions of her peripheral characters. But man, I find them extremely grating and almost paternalistic in their composition.
Continuing in the vein of paternalism, there’s something incredibly odd about a character who spends most of his spare time stalking a 17-year-old girl. I found this concept wickedly romantic when I was 12, perhaps because, as the child of hands-on and protective parents, I didn’t yet know how wonderful it feels to be in charge of your own freedom and destiny. To know that you can do what you want, when you want, and however you want (unless you’re harming anyone else – thanks Mills) is a delicious feeling, and it’s one that, sadly, not every woman is able to experience. Where I was once titillated (what a word) by the thought that Edward Cullen might scale the side of my house and sneak in through my bedroom window to watch me sleep, I am now repulsed by the glorification of such an invasion of privacy. Where I once swooned at the thought that Edward Cullen might always be watching me, to make sure that no harm or foul might befall me, I am now pretty creeped out by the thought of some random centenarian following me around because he doesn’t trust that I, as a frail woman, can look after myself as I traverse the most menial of daily tasks.
We see Edward excuse his behaviour because, as a vampire, human rules and laws don’t really hold any sense of gravitas for him. He reminds himself that he has committed murder in the past and, as such, his current course of behaviour pales in comparison. It makes perfect sense. It was almost better when I wasn’t privy to his behavioural justifications.
Edward is a creep. But he’s so much more than that. He’s also an incredibly frustrating narrator. I assume that Meyer, in an attempt to hold the attention of her readers who undoubtedly know the direction in which the plot is going, has added the frequent snippets into Edward’s pre-Bella life as a way to keep the book noice, different and unusual. I think it actually has the opposite effect. Edward’s frequent anecdotes, often jammed into the middle of sentences or paragraphs that cover entirely different topics, are clunky and distracting. I often found myself getting through a one-page flashback (sometimes with a tenuous connection to the point at hand), returning to the current time, and then having to read back to the beginning of the initial sentence so as to reorient myself.
I have to say, though, that I rather enjoyed the image that frequently popped into my head while reading Midnight Sun. This image was Stephanie Meyer, sat in front of a split laptop screen, copying 90% of the dialogue from a word document version of the Twilight manuscript and pasting it into a fresh new document. Novel writing at its finest.
My crowning moment in Midnight Sun has to be Edward’s internal monologue in Chapter 9, at which point the image of the pomegranate on the book’s cover is ham-fistedly incorporated into Meyer’s suite of metaphors. I have to say, I’m not entirely averse to analogising Edward with Hades and Bella with Persephone. At a high level, it makes sense. If this were a year 10 English assignment, I would likely acknowledge this attempt at intertextuality with a tick in red pen and maybe a “nice” scrawled in the illegible script of basically every high school English teacher who has ever lived. However, I just can’t deal with the manner in which Edward, the silver-tongued pensioner, compares Bella’s mushroom ravioli to Persephone’s pomegranate seeds. It is unintentionally hilarious. If it were a Facebook post, I would tag my housemates and comment a simple but loaded “lol”.
I realise that I have written quite a lot without saying all that much. It also seems kind of petty to rip into this book without acknowledging that, actually, I quite enjoyed reading it. Reading Midnight Sun took me back to a simpler time, one in which my greatest concerns were whether I would be allowed to go into town on the weekend with my friends, and whether my £10 note would stretch to cover the cost of a new paperback vampire book and a block of galaxy chocolate from Waterstones. The book has drenched me from head to toe in a welcome sense of nostalgia, one that transcends stage 4 restrictions and that allows me, in my mind’s eye, to return to the cool streets of Bath. Meyer’s note to her readers, which thanks them for their loyalty and expresses Meyer’s hopes that the dreams that they held when they first read her books have since been fulfilled, also nudged me to evaluate where I am in my life right now, and just how much I have changed since I first encountered Bella and Edward. I could probably write a book about it, if I were at all that way inclined. But I’m not. So perhaps it’s rather disingenuous of me to fling muck at someone who has taken the time to write a series of 4.5 commercially successful novels…
Lizzie John is a third year JD student.