It has been an unusually rainy August in Delhi this year. We are not used to such heavy downpours in this part of Northern India. So the city along with its one crore population get non-plussed as rains get incessant over days here. Water collects on poorly drained streets, power lines break down plunging us into the mercy of the inverter through hours and vegetable vendors and the newspaper boys run for shelter leaving most of us gaping over how to tide over the morning rush in the routine rhythm. On one such day, irritated by being caught unawares of such generosity of the monsoon, I decided to distract myself by reading something unusual. I had bought a copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight long ago, when the film New Moon was released, with a view to understanding what it is in such vampire tales that allure young girls all over the globe. I decided to read through it now that the atmosphere outside seemed to be so right for a story set in Forks, the rainiest city in the world.
The story is about a high school girl whose parents are separated and they live in different cities. Her mother stays in the sunny and dry city of Phoenix while her father is the Chief of Police of Forks. The girl decides to come away from her mother to stay with her father and while the explicit reason given to the reader is that she does not seem to like her mother’s young boyfriend, it appeared to me that she wanted to reconnect with her chances in the city of Forks in which she was born and would have continued to live had her mother not found it too wet and cloudy. Young women do not control their lives in any country of the world and the only way they seem to be able to do it is perhaps to give in to Fate.
Studies seem to come easily to her but the author is careful not to attribute this to her innate brilliance but instead assigns it to her being in a school with a higher standard that can only be expected in the larger city where she was residing so far. Brilliance is not feminine and hence our lead character is careful not to seem focus on her academic strength and instead dwells too much on hating the gym class because she is bad at sports. Like girls in every culture are supposed to help in household chores, our protagonist finds that her father cannot cook and takes on instantly the command of the kitchen. Her father is the Chief of Police and hence neither fame nor acceptance is wanting in her case and she does not have to work in order to achieve the same. This seems to be the ideal situation for a girl to be in; parents separated and hence cannot supervise her too closely and she always has a chance to take advantage of a parent by using the reference of the other. She is thus left free to pursue her adventures with her Vampire boyfriend who she is helplessly attracted to and vice versa.
The construction of the boyfriend is interesting. He is seen not as an individual but as a member of his family. The characters in the book are all in families, there is no individual. The family becomes a very important attribute of the boyfriend. He pretends to be only seventeen but is actually hundreds of years old so that makes him both young and yet have none of the disadvantages of youth, namely the need to earn money. The boyfriend is a vampire for many convenient reasons. One, it makes him ageless which is always so convenient for girls; he looks young but has the maturity and prosperity of the old; the other it helps him be supernaturally handsome and third it helps in his family and he be mysterious. The mysteriousness is important because it places her future husband and in-laws beyond the scrutiny of her own circle and society and helps her also move away from them. This desire to move away from all the known life is intriguing.
The boyfriend like her own self to comes from an eminent family of vampires and for the society to see from a very well reputed community doctor. It is not only the boyfriend but the entire family which is exceedingly good looking, and good at anything and everything they do. Since it is a family of association rather than of blood, there are romantic possibilities within the family. This strongly suggests incest, something that women always suspect their husbands and boyfriends of. The family is very kind to her but is always potentially ravenous towards her. The nice but innately harmful in-laws is a familiar motif for young girls in all cultures and truly America is no exception. The family has all the riches though one does not really know how because vampires are always on the move. Yes, in one place the author mentions that since they have no need to sleep they can study and excel in their trade all the time. I suppose that this is an inner desire in women to marry well into a rich and protective family and yet be annihilated by them, being loved so much that also dying from it.
The attraction of the girl and the boy for each other is fatal because death will come in the end. The girl is food for the boy and the boy while he is dangerously attracted to the girl also controls himself all the time so that her lure for him does not end in him devouring her. There is a constant giving in and holding back of affection and attraction which constitutes the rhythm of the romance. The only future for the girl seems to be death and for the boy, loss of the girl because vampires do not die as easily as humans. Indeed vampires may live over centuries as the members of the boy’s family have done. A strong death wish with death being the only future for the girl seems to underlie the mood of the novel. Her only future is the boy’s love and the logical culmination of this love is being eaten up as food!! In this total annihilation through consumption that constitutes the erotic appeal of the novel and Meyer’s series serve as a bridge between the pure high school stories and the Mills and Boons romances.
I am disturbed by the novel. The girl is a bored character who has everything going for her yet feels constrained by the rain and the smallness of the town. Her adventure lies in something which will certainly end her life and this death that will come at the end of the headiest erotic pleasure is so fantastic that no call of life seems to be worth waiting for? I am totally confused by this letting go of any kind of social engagement, any desire for living a full life, any instinct for material or intellectual accumulation. I see in this novel a desire for girls to withdraw into a haven of venom, near death bites, oozing blood and accidents, all of which are destructive of the body and are supposed to be erotic fulfillments superior to achievements in studies and accolades in sports !!
Are mothers of adolescent girls listening?