If you read my introductory column, “Why You Should Care What I Think About Books”, you will know that I was a tweenage Twilight fiend. I managed to get hold of the books just before the fad hit, at the point where most people in my school had not yet read it and thought I was a huge weirdo for foregoing playing with my friends to read them, hungrily, throughout break times and all my waking hours after school. My friends mocked me (as they should) for professing that I was “in love” with a book character. Naturally my penchant for brooding dark-haired idiots which would haunt my teenage, and I must admit much of my adult, life planted me firmly in team Edward. So obsessed with this pale, mysterious, emotionally unavailable vampire, I skipped the majority of New Moon on first reading to escape the dullness of Jacob’s earnestness. Naturally, when Midnight Sun was first teased, the prospect of hearing the inner workings of this man (vampire) who I adored was exciting. Over a decade later, however, and many tall, brooding, dark-haired idiots later, I entered the mind of Edward knowing that I would not like what I heard, and I was right. Midnight Sun cemented the lesson I should have learnt by now as a 25-year-old woman who unfortunately still fancies men: you like the silent brooding ones because you can pretend they’re deep and interesting, the problem is when they eventually do talk, they very rarely are.
By providing Edward with a voice, Stephenie Meyer has broken all mystery. Edward is no longer a sexy, deep, (borderline abusive) alluring secret, he’s a whiny teenage boy with a sports car obsession, a love of the “cool girl” trope and a habit of boundary-crossing. This latter problem is especially prominent throughout Midnight Sun, an entire 800 pages that attempt to rationalise the actions of an abuser or, more accurately, to justify one woman’s decision to position an abuser as the romantic obsession of teenage girls. Scattered throughout the many pages of Midnight Sun are Meyer’s attempts to show how Edward believed that he gained consent from Bella without ever actually getting it. He thinks often that if she told him to go, he would listen, despite the fact that he can never actually bring himself to go, even when his staying risks her life and the lives of everyone around her. Meyer even goes so far as to make Bella enthusiastically repeat Edward’s name in her sleep, to preserve Edward’s goodness despite his decision to break into her house and watch her without her knowing. The case of consent is further muddied by the many times Edwards purposefully “dazzles” Bella in order to make her more susceptible to his persuasion. And here, ultimately, lies the main problem with the Twilight series more generally, and Midnight Sun specifically: it is impossible to both preserve the classical tropes of vampire behaviour and make those vampires good guys. It is impossible to add to the lineage of Vampyres of folk-lore to Dracula of Bram Stoker and make these creatures good boyfriends. Vampires are magically irresistible and render their prey unwilling to run away. Vampires are therefore creatures for which the concept of consent from a human is void and impossible as their very superhuman existence overrides any self-preserving instincts, enabling victims to walk willingly into the open mouths of their predators (apart from the occasional especially pious victim). Edward repeatedly states that if Bella said no, he’d walk away, knowing that she never would because no human ever would. Edward could literally nearly kill Bella (which he does frequently) and she would still be besotted (which she still is).
Vampires like Edward have historically been used as allegorical place holders for abusive and immoral men who tempt young and rebellious girls into sin. In our collective consciousness, vampires equal sexual and moral ruin and the temptation of satan over god, evil over good. I do believe that it is possible to flip these allegorical tropes, especially in the hands of queer and feminist literature, but in doing so one needs to disarm the vampire of these qualities of dazzling, irresistibility and constant desire to kill their beloved, and turn them into societal perceptions rather than innate traits. Meyer, however, keeps the dazzling and the stalking and thirst for human blood and just gives her Vampire a difficult non-human diet and a weird obsession with souls and virginity. Meyer herself seems to be confused about who the good guys are in this book, and whether Vampires are inherently sinful aberrations, or whether they can be redeemed by living like the Cullens. Edward is obsessed with keeping Bella human and believes that he doesn’t have a soul due to the godlessness of vampires, yet later on, he explains that it doesn’t seem so unbelievable to assume that the same “creator” who made humans couldn’t have made vampires, just as they created all predator/prey pairings. We all know that Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon and that the Twilight series is hetero-Christian propaganda, with anti-sex and pro-life messages, yet even she seems not to know who is righteous and who is not. Is Bella the godless woman ready to fall into ruin AND risk losing her soul simply to bone Edward, making Edward the good guy? Are the Cullens the good guys and everyone else bad? Is Bella good and the world bad and Edward is her protector from is even though he wants to eat her? Of course, fiction is the playground for discussions of moral ambiguity, but Midnight Sun doesn’t quite do it. What could have been an inspection into the intricacies of faith, creation and the soul, just comes across as confused. In fact, Midnight Sun is riddled with confusion, from character and story inconsistencies to the fact that a lot of it simply does not make sense, because the whole of Twilight makes no sense, and I think Stephenie knows it, which is why she used an entire 800 pages trying to fill plot holes and attempt to claw it back.
One thing that does not make sense, of course, is Edward’s love for Bella despite being over 100 years old and Bella being a literal teenager, and not even a particularly “mature” one either. “Not like the other girls” tropes about not needing makeup and comments about her being more like a mother to her own mother aside, there isn’t much that sets Bella aside from other girls her age. This isn’t an insult to Bella, she is simply a 17-year-old girl who thinks, looks, and acts mostly like any other 17-year-old girl. Edward seems to think that Bella is entirely unlike any other human, that her survival instinct is broken and that she is special because she doesn’t run away from the obvious danger that being with him brings. As a century-old vampire who can literally hear the thoughts of the entire school of teenage girls around him, this reasoning is completely implausible. If you think it is unusual for a teenage girl to ignore her own safety because an older irresistibly attractive man has paid her attention, in a society that tells girls this is essentially the point of their existence, you clearly haven’t talked to a teenage girl, and you definitely have not been privy to their thoughts. This is especially true considering the irresistible dazzling I mentioned above. Meyer attempts to use Midnight Sun to remedy this problem that I’m sure has been thrown in her face countless times since Twilight’s release. Edward explains that when one becomes a vampire, one is frozen. Edward was 17 when he was bitten, and therefore he remains 17 forever. There is a strange kind of biological logic here that attributes “growing up” mostly to literal brain growth rather than the accumulation of lived experience, that I’m not sure I buy into. While it’s true that the brain doesn’t reach maturity until around the age of 25, the idea that 100 years can pass and one would still find the company of someone with only 17 years of experience interesting, is in my opinion, a bit ridiculous. Although it does, of course, explain why Edward is just as annoying, neurotic and insufferable as an actual 17-year-old boy, and why he thinks Linkin Park and Clair de Lune are cool. Of course, if you do buy into it simply being two teenagers awkwardly bumbling through wanting to bang each other’s brains out and mistaking it for love, both Twilight and Midnight Sun make complete sense, but then you kind of remember that he’s over a hundred years and suddenly it makes no sense again.
Amongst all the typos and grammatical errors, there is something potentially quite interesting that Midnight Sun revealed that could partly redeem the trash heap of non-feminist propaganda that the original books were. We discover that Bella’s favourite author is Jane Austen and her favourite “movie” is the BBC Pride & Prejudice adaptation (also one of my all-time favourites, but also not a movie). Just as the tall, dark, and difficult Mr Darcy was the archetype for my atrocious taste in men, we can see too how he inspired the Edward of the original Twilight. Recently, Meyer said in an interview about her new book that readers would come out thinking differently about Bella, and I think it is here that we most see that. By adding in Bella’s interests, specifically her love of Pride & Prejudice, we see parallels which do add a different hue to Bella’s character. It is the eternal joke of Pride & Prejudice, a joke that the queen of satire Austen most definitely intended, that Elizabeth only realises her love for Mr Darcy once she has seen his massive house, extensive grounds, and makes friends with his delightful sister. Free from Bella’s incessant fawning that is inescapable when told from her perspective, what Bella actually says in Midnight Sun, more than swooning over Edward, is how much she wants to be a vampire. Of course, we know the subtext of is so she can be with Edward forever. However, and stay with me here, I think that becoming a vampire is Bella’s Pemberley. Elizabeth wants to leave her tumultuous family life, ridiculous mother and embarrassing sisters, and Bella sees the Cullen’s as the picturesque escape from her parents’ broken marriage and the role of parent she performs for both of them, and of course, Alice is Georgiana. Bella is an intensely clumsy, lonely, average teenage girl who wants to be beautiful, powerful and dangerous. This shifts the power dynamic in Midnight Sun a little if Bella has a plan that uses Edward as a means to an end, with the bonus that he’s really fit. Of course, as soon as you re-read Twilight, or god-forbid New Moon, all Bella’s power is lost and we see how hopelessly devoted she really is, but this is an interesting development to Bella’s character, which I hope rather than assume was intentional.
Regardless of whether Meyer meant to for Austen to provide Bella with power, she definitely shoehorned her in on purpose, along the Brontës. Her purpose may only have been to explain why Bella would fall so hard for Edward, as her type in men was shaped by the emotionally unavailable chivalry of that era, but again it is possible that she was doing more. We (the collective of women raised on the tropes of attractive men and Bella as one of this collective) find Edward attractive because he is the “strong silent type”, just as we do Mr Darcy, yet in Midnight Sun it is Bella who embodies this type. We like silence because we project our own romanticised ideas into it and assume there is something beautiful under the surface. Bella is the only person in the whole world who Edward cannot literally peer into. She is the only silent person he has ever known, the only person onto whom he can project his fantasies of romantic perfection. Of course, this makes their romance even more of a disaster: Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet work because she brings him out of himself, and he makes her less careless; Bella and Edward, however, are both Mr Darcy, so neither of them can actually just say anything they mean, or stop projecting their bullshit onto the other. Reading Twilight alongside Midnight Sun could therefore be a bit like reading Normal People if Sally Rooney was a Mormon who can’t write, each chapter was an entire book long, and also Connell was a vampire.
I struggled writing this review because I couldn’t decide whether I was giving Stephenie Meyer too much credit by reading more into Midnight Sun than she intended, or not enough by assuming that any interesting addition was merely an accident. I do think that she tried to do a bit more with this than she did with the original series. In fact, I think she tried to do too much, resulting in an inexcusable amount of pages, and a bizarre car chase scene that read like a creative writing course assignment. Meyer has stated that she wishes her legacy would be her other more serious books, but that inevitably she will be remembered for Twilight. I think she tried to use Midnight Sun to justify the existence of the entire series, and yet she still had to pander to the millions of fans who simply want to read about the love story they had been obsessed with. She wanted to excuse Edward’s sins and her own sin of writing an abuser as a teenage love interest who is never condemned and always vindicated. I think she wanted to tease at mocking Edward but didn’t quite have the courage. Between overextending metaphors beyond breaking point, repeating the same lines over and over as if her audience were all idiots, and writing with an inconsistency that doesn’t adequately hide that the book was written disjointedly, and perhaps at times begrudgingly, over 10 years, I think that Midnight Sun shows Meyer simply doesn’t have the talent to have turned Midnight Sun into the intelligent satire it could have been even if she had the guts. And yet, realistically, she did exactly what I wanted her to do, which was write a silly book about stupid beautiful vampires that I wolfed down like milk chocolate, just as sweet and about as nourishing.