All the hype notwithstanding, you wouldn’t have thought that Stephenie Meyer is as big a phenomenon as Rowling in India —yet. Apparently she is. As I write this, bookstores across are reporting “sold-out” copies and much-harried colleagues are running around to bag elusive copies of the four books that make up the Twilight Saga.
And that’s not even taking into account the breathlessness with which the movie version of Twilight (the first book in the series; the film comes out this November) is awaited by teenage fans, primarily girls.
Comparisons with Rowling, of course, are inevitable. Like the Harry Potter author, Meyer notched up several rejection slips (one of which came after her three-books deal with Little, Brown and she considered, as she says in her website, stapling a copy of the contract to the rejection slip and sending it to Publisher’s Weekly but “took the high ground”) before striking it rich.
Like Rowling, Meyer also wrote while her children (three young boys) slept, “mostly at night” when she could be assured of more than five minutes of uninterrupted time. And, of course, like JK, here is another author who makes for a pretty, airbrushed picture on the jacket, which I suppose never did harm sales.
But most importantly, both authors have cracked that magic formula of marrying traditional “school” or “boarding school” fiction targeted at the teens with elements of fantasy that makes for pretty unputdownable books.
Here, I would vouch as much for Edward and Bella (“vegetarian” vampire and human in love) as much as I would for Potter & Co, having kept them company this entire week. And I am not even a teenager!
Meyer’s world is essentially small-town America, peopled by vampires and werewolves who live in secret but not in isolation from the humans. As such, you could pin it down to the fantasy genre.
But that reading may in fact be not all true. If anything, Meyer’s work is a romance. There are echoes from Austen and the Brontes (not just Charlotte, whom the author lists as a favourite, but Emily too).
The atmosphere is Wuthering Heights and if you didn’t get that, there are enough references to the classic to drive home the point. But more than that the Twilight Saga most definitely reminded me of Mills & Boon.
Consider the characters: The hero is tall, ok not dark but “beautiful” and fair befitting his vampire status, very rich, with a love for fast, flashy cars, all powerful and, most importantly, the envy of everyone around. If you have read enough M&Bs, you’d know this is pretty much standard requirement.
As to being much older and worldy-wise, another prerequisite of the M&B hero, Edwards here is frozen at 17 but he is more than a hundred years old and sounds that.
The “heroine”, Bella, by contrast, considers herself not-so-good looking, has two left feet, little fashion sense and is dogged by bad luck from which she must always be saved. Once again formulaic.
In her interviews, Meyer has said that the idea for the series first came to her in a dream when she dreamt of her two main characters in a forest, the vampire thirsting for the maiden’s blood. We all know what Freud would have made of that and indeed there is enough sexual tension in the books (without graphic content) to merit its status as an M&Besque romance — or a Bollywood film
On the other hand, Meyer’s writing is pretty compelling. She is never sentimental and shows a remarkable gift when it comes to getting teenspeak and behaviour exactly right.
Bella, for instance, does not want to marry Edward at all, because she is conscious that in her world it would be an aberration, a matter of shame, to get married soon after she graduated. And, of course, she has a healthy horror of “ew”, old-fashioned, over-the-top weddings and demure, all-white bridal dresses. You’ll find it quite refreshing.
The last book in the series, Breaking Dawn, has just come out, all 756 pages of it. Bella Swan has an old-fashioned wedding after all, and goes through an impossibly painful pregnancy described in great detail and it is here that one begins to wonder at the response from the teen audience. Like the last few in the Harry Potter series, here’s writing not quite for the young.
Finally, one strange observation: girls from Middle India may specially identify with Bella Swan’s furtive romance. Contrary to how one would picture the permissive and fractured American society, Meyer’s is a touchingly conservative and family-centric world where dads frown upon young lovers holding hands and where themes of extended families play out quite in the manner of an Indian fairytale society.
This is no doubt in part because of the author’s own god-fearing Mormon roots. But you could also read it as aspirational fix for the non-rebellious Gen Y-ers in the country who dream of almost-perfect marriages and other fairytales brought to them in technicolour by Karan Johar & Co. The Twilight Saga is a faintly Indian saga too.
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Hachette Book Publishing India (Little, Brown)