The Beautiful Unliving

Stephanie Meyer has the distinction of being one of the few authors including PG Wodehouse and Harper Lee, whose work I will never grow tired of reading. The author of The Host and the monumentally famous vampire saga, Twilight, has a way with words and a gift for story telling that simply leaves you begging for more, whether it’s the first time you read her books or the fifth.


The Twilight saga is a set of four books, beginning with and ending with Breaking Dawn. It tells the story of “Bella Swan”, a teenager who moves from sunny Phoenix to Forks, a small town in the Olympic Peninsula of the United States where it rains 24/7. She is all set for a dull, monotonous existence, until she meets the Cullens. The Cullens are a family of seven, all stunningly beautiful, and as she soon discovers, all vampires. She falls in love with the youngest son, Edward, and the thread of the entire story begins there, weaving around Bella and Edward’s intense love story and entwining around the lives of the other characters.


The books are populated with a treasure trove of wonderfully etched characters, each with their own specially crafted history, each vital to the plot in their own way. There are three groups of characters in the books. One is the humans, including Bella, her father, the chief of police of Forks, her friends at school and her mother who lives in Phoenix with her new husband, Phil. The vampires consist of the entire Cullen family, their allies, a ruling family of sorts named the “Volturi” and eventually Bella herself. Then there are the werewolves, always portrayed in myths as arch nemeses of vampires, represented here by Bella’s best friend, Jacob and his peers in his Native American tribe, known as the “Quileutes.”


The protagonist of the saga is Bella Swan and so, the books have been written largely from her point of view. Meyer transcends the experience of a teenager experiencing her first love by infusing Bella with a kind of maturity that stops the realization of true love from turning into a farce. Bella is portrayed as a girl with her head firmly on her shoulders, kind, loving, loyal and extremely clumsy. The telling of her story is by turns funny, poignant, warm and sometimes positively heartbreaking. The circumstances in which Bella and Edward are forced to live, the obstacles they face, the fierce love they share, are all depicted with such emotion, such feeling, that they leave you completely mesmerized.


In the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, Bella’s voice is alternated with that of her best friend, Jacob, who is a werewolf. Jacob is deeply in love with Bella. When Edward leaves Bella in the second book, fearing for her safety, Jacob is the one who pulls her together, making Bella fall in love with him, in the process though she doesn’t realize it. Jacob’s voice provides a valuable look at the way the other people around Bella see her. He can read the minds of the rest of his wolf pack, and as he grows to understand Edward and his family, he begins to see her like them.


Then there’s Edward. Edward is a vampire, over a hundred years old and deeply in love with Bella. He goes as far as to say that Bella is his life, and when he hears that Bella is dead, he tries to kill himself since he cannot live without her. Edward provides a deeper look at vampire tradition as circumstances involve other vampires that he must protect Bella against. He is firmly against the idea of Bella turning into a vampire, but eventually gives in. He considers her his soul mate, his other half, and everyone can tell that he will be incomplete without her.


Meyer does not shy away from pain either. Bella’s narration of her conversion into a vampire, is gut-wrenching, vivid enough that one can feel the pain oneself. Her depiction of emotional pain is on another level altogether. One sympathizes with Edward when he thinks of a world without Bella; it breaks the heart, when one reads about Jacob, his unrequited love and his utter despair when he has to give up the only girl he has ever loved and then when he is forced to watch her die. Bella’s agony at Edward’s disappearance, her sadness at the impending separation from her family and her friends brought a lump to one’s throat.


The books have some spectacular locations, including, a beautiful, isolated meadow, where Bella sees Edward shining in the light for the first time and where she finds out about the werewolves. The confrontation between the “Volturi” and the “Cullens” takes place in the same meadow in winter, but the descriptions of both lines of warriors are much more impressive than the meadow in that case. The town of “Forks” and the “Quileute” reservation near the beach are intimate, small and very wonderfully depicted, suiting the tone and the plot of the book perfectly. There is an even balance of dark and light imagery, adding to the suspense and surrealism.


The character and the plot develop very well, there is no superfluous or unnecessary part, though Jasper and Emmett, Edward’s elder brothers, could have been given more of a role; nevertheless, they manage to carve out a niche for themselves. The werewolf pack is very endearing, being described as a group of young boys, all dedicated to each other. The pace of the books is steady, never lagging or going too fast; where description is needed, it is adequately given.


Vampires have been a very thriving genre, producing countless movies and TV series like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and a series of novels, called the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I’d say this is a worthy addition to that long list, one, in fact, that may raise the bar for future creators in this genre.


Neena Abhyankar

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