I do wish to point out that Stephenie Meyer gets really excellent covers. Unfortunately, they are instantly recognizable from across a room. Or a subway car. I wanted to carry a sign saying, "Only reading this to make fun of it," but I would have worried about being accosted by the many actual fans doubtless present. Maybe "My other book is an in-depth exploration of the psychology of human error." Actually, I'm not sure how much a distinction that is.
I had previously read summaries and deconstructions of the book, and had not expected to like it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is reasonably well-written. There's even some genuinely beautiful writing, mostly when Meyer gets into landscapes. I would happily read a whole book, character-free, in which she contrasts the pacific northwest and the Arizona desert. This is, of course, not that book.
This one, however, does start with a rather cool literary conceit, which is that Bella, in the midst of her whining, describes moving to Forks in terms normally used for, well, becoming a vampire. She is "saying goodbye to the sun forever." It makes her skin look sallow and unhealthy. Forks is "literally my personal hell on earth." There is, in fact, a whole parallel with (better) stories about people with one angelic and one demonic parent, or similar. Charlie is bound to Forks, and Renee actually left him over it. I mean, this town is actually the reason for their divorce, and Bella refused to do visitations there, and Charlie wouldn't leave to keep his family together. There's a whole different urban fantasy romance failing in the back story.
Several people have described Twilight as dreamlike or surreal. It doesn't feel that way to me. Poorly thought out, at times, but not deliberately dreamlike. I am therefore judging it as an actual story in which details and plot elements are meant to be taken as stated.
My biases, let me show you them
I read Luminosity first. In my head, these are the canonical versions of Bella and Edward and the rules for sparkly vampires. I can't help making the comparison, and am not particularly going to try. Luminosity, for those who haven't read it, is part of the relatively small subgenre of rationalist fanfic, along with Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Additional recommendations would be very welcome, since Luminosity is complete and MoR has been stalled for months, and there are some moods where I just want to read about characters nitpicking their own worldbuilding details. In accordance with rationalist fanfic commenting standards, characters from different versions are referred to as rational!Bella and irrational!Bella, etc.
Oh god the characters
I like Bella better than I expected to. She is whiny and entitled and overdramatic. She has no sense of self-preservation and a martyr complex a mile wide. She is also seventeen. I don't like to think about what I was like at seventeen, but given that I had a crush on Star Trek: The Next Generation's Q, I clearly didn't have much judgment about dating powerful jerks. Happily no one at my school found me attractive, so I wasn't tempted to do anything stupid. After some dithering, I have firmly joined Team Bella Gets to Grow Up. Actually, given that her favorite color is brown, I'm partial to Team Bella Gets to Grow Up and Become a Steampunk Adventuress. I suspect that in a few years--preferably years spent at Smith or Mount Holyoke--she will become a perfectly reasonable adult.
About Bella's much-discussed clumsiness, I have a theory. It's not just that Bella can, as Edward so nicely puts it, trip while walking across a level floor. It's that it fits into a larger pattern of the way her family talks about relationships. She stayed with Renee, until Phil showed up, because Renee was too flaky to survive by herself. Charlie can't cook; therefore she takes over kitchen duties. In general, the narrative is: we need to live together because I am too helpless to get along on my own. And Bella immediately latches onto Edward's excuse for spending time with her: he may be dangerous, but she's too accident-prone to be left without protection. In her head, this is the only reason why families might stay together. I also note that, at a crucial point during the climax, she manages to run across town without falling down--I don't think her clumsiness is entirely psychosomatic, but I do think she's been "talked into it," at least in part, by her family.
So rational!Bella and irrational!Bella are not so far apart--there are points when they're indistinguishable. Rational!Edward and irrational!Edward, on the other hand... He spends the first 150 pages being a complete jerk, alternately ignoring Bella and belittling her while she talks about how perfect (i.e., hot) he is. He gives some explanations for this behavior later--actively trying to drive her away--but once they're dating he simply gets controlling. He forces her into a car (because he doesn't trust her to drive). He yells at her for preparing to fight a gang of would-be attackers (actually pretty logical, given her running skills). He brings her to prom without asking her or warning her, because he wants her to have a "normal life" and that fits his schema. The prom is actually quite symbolic--she doesn't have to worry about her dancing skills, because he's leading to the degree of simply picking her up and whirling her around. You can't fall over if your feet aren't touching the floor. You also can't try to improve your dancing.
Prior to reading this, I had wondered how Edward could have a full book's head start and still leave room for Team Jacob fans. I no longer wonder.
There is a point in the last chapter where irrational!Bella is suddenly and wonderfully replaced by rational!Bella. She tells Edward that she wants to be a vampire so that they can be equals. So that she can be more than Lois Lane to his Superman, and they can rescue each other. She points out, as rational!Bella does, that she is mortal and accident prone, that she will age and die or just die without this, that she knows the risks and is willing to handle them. And irrational!Edward simply shoots her down.
Oh god the romance
I had assumed that Luminosity was drawing on canon when it made vampires subject to magical forever mating bonds. However, there's no mention of this in Twilight. Maybe it comes up later? Or maybe it's Alicorn's explanation for the way Edward is drawn to a woman 80 years his senior. Or maybe it's a way, oddly, of putting Bella and Edward on a more equal footing. There's a very cool scene in Luminosity where rational!Bella talks about supernatural romance, and the power that heroines have when the otherwise powerful male can't ever fall out of love with them--can only get what he wants by becoming the sort of person she'll fall in love with. Irrational!Bella, though, talks about Edward in the same terms he uses. She is deeply and "irrevocably" in love with him, almost from the start. He has all the power, with no exceptions and no balance.
I will also add that the clinginess level in this book is alarming. Both Bella and Edward are utterly miserable when separated for, say, a few hours. Neither of them thinks there's anything problematic about this. It's no wonder that their conversation consists of questions about favorite colors and gemstones.
I did, incidentally, discover in the course of my complaints that S and I did not, in fact, know either of these things about each other. That's 14 and a half years without thinking that "favorite color" was necessary information. I'm glad I now know, but I think the timing is about right. Given that Bella and Edward do have similar taste in books and music, I find their lack of exciting conversation disturbing.
I think that my live-blogging notes from the read will go in a separate post.