Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (unabridged audio books read by Ilyana Kadushin)

Curiosity gets me every time. I often feel compelled to try to understand the appeal of popular literary and cinematic phenomena. I've read and seen many things I was not actually interested in, just for that reason.

Many of them proved to be major disappointments, such as Forrest Gump, The Da Vinci Code, and The Dark Knight. But some have led me to a long-lasting appreciation of their respective merits, like The Crying Game and the Harry Potter novels.

Despite its apparently huge success, I had never even heard of the Twilight saga until the fourth one, Breaking Dawn, was being published, but with all the unavoidable hype surrounding the release of the film adaptations, I decided I needed to see what the big deal was. I started with the first one, Twilight, read on unabridged audiobook by Ilyana Kadushin (You've Been Warned) — and I was completely drawn in.

In case you don't know, Twilight begins the story of Bella Swan, who leaves her soon-to-be-remarried mother to move in with her father, the chief of police of Forks, Washington. Bella is a clumsy teenager who is inevitably drawn to the pale and mysterious Edward Cullen, one of a "family" of vampires who abstain from human blood. (Their patriarch, Carlisle, is even a doctor devoted to saving lives.)

Author Stephenie Meyer draws the complicated relationship between Bella and Edward with affectionate detail as they navigate the multiple conflicts inherent in a vampire–human romance. And don't think for a moment that Twilight isn't a romance — fans of the brutal variety of bloodsucker should stay away. But I was completely absorbed by Meyer's easy prose and Bella's engaging narration enough to go straight on to the next book.

New Moon begins with the Cullens' moving away from Forks to avoid putting Bella in more danger after a birthday celebration for her goes horribly awry. But Bella can't stand being away from Edward. She gets pretty whiny and mopey here, and I almost stopped listening, but reader Kadushin fully embodies the feeling in the text to the point that I began to feel genuine sympathy for Bella, so I stuck it out.

Bella even begins to do reckless things simply in order to hear Edward's advising voice in her head. This includes buying a couple of motorcycles, something her father would be extremely against. So, she hides them at the home of her childhood friend, Jacob Black. Anyone who has seen the trailer to the New Moon film will know that werewolves are a part of this story, but none show up for ten chapters. So, as with vampire aficionados, lycanthrope lovers may be bored.

In the meantime, Meyer fills the space with the deepening friendship between Bella and the two-years-younger Jacob as he slowly falls in love with her. This will lead to the triangular conflict so often discussed by fans of the series as Bella sees the benefits and drawbacks of each individual, and they both fight to stay uppermost in her mind.

References to Romeo and Juliet abound, both subtle and trite (the first book was reportedly styled upon Pride and Prejudice), and New Moon is generally a weaker offering than Twilight, but it presents information and relationship development that is built upon later in the series, and it is still an absorbing, if not particularly well-written, read.

I only got about four chapters into the third book, Eclipse, before putting it down in favor of other books, but it does attempt to draw me back into its thrall occasionally. Luckily, it's not a complex story, so it is easy to exit and reenter with little loss of comprehension. But at this point, I feel I know enough about the draw of the series through Twilight and New Moon to not have to see it to its conclusion.

At least not right now....

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