Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side is what I'd call a poetic mystery.

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

When I was young, despite the fact that I used to love mystery novels (Blyton's Adventure Series and Famous Five series, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys being my favorites) I was quite opposed to Agatha Christie, having tried to read but failed at reading the only Christie novel I could find easily in my house, namely Elephants can Remember. As a eleven-year old it is easy to get bored by a chapter on the hats a lady owns, and I never went very far into the book. However, since then I've finished Elephants Can Remember, and read a few more of her books, like N or M? and They Do It With Mirrors, and I really enjoyed them, so when my brother brought back this book from the library, I was looking forward to reading it.

It was about this time that I read Tennyson's Lady of Shalott in school and realized where Agatha Christie had gotten the title:

Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott

These four lines have a significance again and again in the book, and so do these lines, whose significance does not become apparent until the very end:

He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

This is not the only thing that makes me call this book poetic, even though it is a major reason. It is just the way this book is structured, and the way it is filled with the life and love of the small town and its residents, and especially the ending, that give this book a poetic resonance for me. In this book, you will see why Agatha Christie is often called the queen of mystery - because of the way she can blend tragedy with beauty, mystery with the ordinary, and base human passions with larger ones.

Yes, I loved this book.

Here's why - well written, compelling characters, including Ms. Marple, who is now vying with Poirot for the top spot in my favorite-detectives list, mostly because of how sharp and fun and sweet she is. Despite being old (very old) she's not beyond 'unraveling' a mystery, and anyone in the town will tell you that 'she's as sharp as needles' and 'I'll believe she's gotten soft when I see her'. She's very progressive. She's the kind of old lady who ditches her nurse and goes for a random walk into the 'Development' (only to get mixed up in a mystery) and stubbornly refuses to call the taxi service anything but the 'Inch' much to the puzzlement of anyone but an old-timer. She's seriously fun to read about.

A basic premise of this story? Well, the whole town's abuzz where Mariana, an old film-star, decides to buy a house in the town. Suddenly, at a party at her house soon after the arrival, silly Heather Badcock is murdered by a lethal overdose put into her glass. About twenty people could've done it easily, but the question is, who would've had a reason to kill the poor lady? Of course, things become quite tangled when people start to suspect that it was Mariana the killer meant to kill, and it's up to Ms. Marple, the town's resident detective, to unravel the tangles and figure out who killed Heather - and what exactly made Mariana's face look like the Lady of Shalott.

Final thoughts: Amazing plot, great writing, very believable characters. Christie does it again, and again, and again. And then once more for good measure. Go read this book.

Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side

Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger

Chasing Harry Winston, by Lauren Weisberger, is what chick-flicks are made up of.

Chasing Harry Winston Chasing Harry Winston

(No, its just one book, I just like the different covers of the book. A note: I read this book in a third version that was different from the two above. So far I like the second picture above the best.)

Anyway, as far as the book itself is concerned. I'll use the words the author herself (in describing another book inside the book which one of the characters, Leigh, reads) has used - "Sure its not got many lofty intellectual themes, but its witty, and fun, and I liked it." (paraphrased) Its actually ironic how the author describes her own book, but anyway, this is as accurate as it gets. It's a fun book for girls to read, to laugh over, to gush over, and then forget about in a few days. I don't mean this in a bad sense. I absolutely think that it was an enjoyable book (if it wasn't I would have bothered to finish it in a day) but I just didn't think it was brilliant the way Devil Wears Prada was (now that's a book and movie that just worked).

The basic premise of the book: There are three friends, bombshell, brazilian beauty Adriana, who is turning thirty and wondering if she's still got the appeal, Leigh, an editor, who has a seemingly perfect life with a great boyfriend (whom she finds repulsive) and a great job, and Emmy, sweet and innocent and naive, who finds out that her long-term boyfriend is cheating on her with an cheerleader cum trainer whom she actually hired for him. One day, soon after Emmy's boyfriend breaks up with her, the three make a pact (actually its only Adi and Emmy who decide to make a deal) and prepare for the year of their lives.

An exciting premise, and author Weisberger executes this with skill and finesse. Her characters don't have revolutionary turn-arounds, but they change in subtle ways that makes them more real and sympathetic. I really enjoyed the way that Weisberger writes (and the hilarious title-names that she comes up with). The fast pace was perfect for the kind of story it was. At parts the story became really, really funny, and at times it actually became sad. I cared about what happened to most of the characters, and even the minor characters, like a hairdresser, came across as unique and interesting.

My favorite character was undoubtedly Leigh - a neurotic loner who loves her job and who everyone believes has the most amazing life ever. I mostly liked her because she was the most like me, what with the love for reading and the tendency to panic. Leigh's life is on the edge at the start of this book, and she's ready to fall down the valley of adventure or come back on to the safe-but-boring plateau that is her boyfriend, and this makes for a highly interesting read. Emmy, the sweet naive girl who decides to have some 'fun' as the book progresses to get over her horrible boyfriend, is another great character. The problem according to me was Adriana, who was too-perfect and far, far too shallow for me to like her or care one whit what happened about her. However, her parts were at least fun enough for me to read through them, so the book did progress.

Final thoughts: Overall, I'd repeat my earlier statement: This isn't a masterpiece. It's not even this author's best work. Its a chick-flick to pass away some time. I would recommend borrowing it from a library (like I did), because I don't think it'd stand up to a re-read.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

The Dragonfly Pool is an Ibbotson classic.

The Dragonfly Pool

Roughly translated, this means: its a warm, fuzzy, intelligent, cozy books to warm your days and capture your imagination. It's a feel-good, the kind of book I read in the same mood as when I read an Enid Blyton book, though I must admit that Ibbotson's books have a little more depth and a lot more relevance. She mostly writes in the time period within or around the second world war, which is not far enough to become archaic and impossible to related to, and not near enough to dispense the 'fairy-tale atmosphere' that this story has. In fact, who can't feel sympathetic for a young girl who is getting sent to boarding school due to the threat of the second world-war on her city - where her friends and family are still going to stay?

And that is exactly how the story of Tally, the heroine of 'The Dragonfly Pool' begins.

Tally is an amazing character. She's sweet, she's caring, she's sensitive and she's sensible. She doesn't thrown tantrums. She cares deeply for her family and friends and will often do crazy things to protect them. She cares enough to notice the importance of an old elm-tree in her new school, and most of all she never pretends to be anyone that she is not. Not even facing the Prince of Bergania is enough to make Tally lose her nerve or her head. In the hands of any other author, I think, Tally would have been one of those hideous mary-sues who can do no wrong, but Ibbotson converts this tricky heroine into a real, breathing girl who does make mistakes, who's determined without being pig-headedly obstinate, and who comes across as inquisitive and sweet instead of obnoxious and meddling.

There are some other great characters in this book - Tally's dad, Doctor Hamilton, who saves people's lives but is altruistic enough to not charge them as much as he can. Matteo, her new biology teacher, who can talk in five languages and who has the most amazing biology lessons ever imaginable. Julia, who suffers from parental neglect and a lot of psychological issues but still comes across as a good friends and a sweet girl, and finally Karil, the hero of our story, Prince of Bergania who wants nothing more than to be with the normal people. In many ways this may seem like a whole bunch of cliches and characters who're too good to be true, but you have to read the scene where Matteo tells Tally that no place in the world is truly all good to know that no, this is not an ordinary story and these are no ordinary characters. The bad characters, though decidedly 'evil' for most part, also have much more depth than most characters in children's fiction do. Scold, for example, is almost sure to be liked, despite being a major irritant to the hero's life.

But the most important part of this book is that is raises some very crucial questions about today's day and age, about how being different can be both a curse and a blessing, and about what is takes to be unique and proud of it. In Elderton, arguably the most unique and crazy school I've ever heard off (surpassing even Whyteleafe) we see what is most beautiful and most ugly about the process of growing up and facing the world - the struggle between conforming to what is normal and doing what you know is right. It's also a book about tolerance, and about the effects of war, and about how not everything is how you thought it was. It's an important book for children to read because of these messages, and they are what change this book from ordinary to above ordinary.

After reading three books by this author (namely The Star of Kazan [also a beautiful book, which you must read, if for nothing else for the gorgeous descriptions of Viennese culture and food and cooking], The Journey to the River Sea[a book about tolerance, dignity and breaking free from your self-imposed prisons[ and The Dragonfly Pool) I have started noticing some repeated themes that come up again and again in her works, like the curious and intelligent heroine (Annika, Maia and now Tally), going away from her home (Annika goes to germany, Maia to south america and Tally to Elderton), the mysterious guy she meets who changes her life(Zed, Finn and Karil) and her other [more-ordinary] friend (Stephen, Clovis and Kenny) who somehow helps her save the day. Of course, there are other differences between these stories, but these have come up enough for me to want to read something new by this author. Hopefully, in her later works (especially for older readers) like A Company of Swans, she changes this formula.

Final thoughts: Sweet, funny, beautiful and with a great message. Every kid should have this book as a companion when they grow up. Ibbotson writes simple stories remarkably well and will occupy a place in my heart (and bookshelves) forever.

The Star of Kazan Journey to the River Sea The Dragonfly Pool

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The short review of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - It's absolutely fabulous.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel

However, a 1008 page book deserves a little more than that, so I will start my review. I first came across Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell through limyaael, whose advice, as I have already noted, I find highly suited to my tastes. I was even more overjoyed to find this book in a local book shop, but it was a big book and an expensive one, and I dithered a lot before deciding on whether I wanted this book. Finally, after finding nothing else I wanted to buy in that entire bookstore, (except for Blyton's Naughtiest Girl in School, which I bought on the same trip, and my review of which can be read here) I finally decided to forget about waiting to read some more reviews and I just bought it.

My verdict? Jonathan Strange, as a character, is a more than sufficient reason to read this book. Mr. Norrell, the other principle character in this story, is another. Mix in some magic, mayhem, history, and a certain Raven King, along with a few creepy gentlemen with thistle-down hair, a certain nameless slave, Childermass and Arabella and you've got enough to make you want to re-read the book plenty of times. Clarke is a brilliant writer, and this clearly shines through her characters. She writes is many different perspectives - and whether she's writing through the eyes of cautious, fussy Mr. Norrell, or the crazy and daring Mr. Strange, or the confused but genuinely concerned Stephen Black, or even through the perspective of Childermass, Mr. Norrell's servant-cum-assistant, Clarke never fails to dazzle.

Set in 1806, this book covers the span of many years, and many important events - a war between france and england, the revival of english magic, and the biggest magical showdown for many years. Writing with skill and finesse, Clarke manages to build a startlingly beautiful world - mixing just enough of the real and the fantastical to create a setting that is amazingly fun to read. The setting manages to create a base for the story without actually proving to be too obtrusive to it, which I appreciate, because ultimately I believe this is a story about people rather than about the setting and I really felt that Clarke understands this delicate balance. Her setting is made even deeper and more real by the clever use of footnotes. These footnotes are a lot of fun to read, because they tell you stories and tales and add some spice to the world. (For another use of amazing footnotes, especially for humor unlike in this book, check out Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy - my review of which can be found here.)

Clarke is a great writer. She knows how to make a reader feel interested in the fate of even a character who might have been boring in any other hands. (Mr. Norrell, who has been described as the following by the author herself - "He hardly ever spoke of magic, and when he did it was like a history lesson and no one could bear to hear him." ) To convert this and the half-crazy, passionate, daring, charming guy Jonathan Strange is into a novel of this perfection is absolutely amazing. Her book is divided essentially into three parts - the first, of Mr. Norrell, the second devoted almost entirely to Mr. Strange, and the third being a combination of the two of them and a culmination of a large range of other plotlines into a dazzling finish. However, Mr. Strange is not entirely absent in Mr. Norrell's part of the story, and neither is it the other way around. Through footnotes, and introductory chapters, and small references, Clarke introduces us to Mr. Strange before he appears in the story proper, which is great because otherwise I might have lost interest in him long before the third part.

The plot is really well-crafted. It has a prophecy at the heart of it, and even though I do not generally like prophecies (too often in the hands of an inexperienced author you can tell what is going to happen long before the end, which is the worst way to have prophecies) but Clarke subverts this so cleverly and pulls such plot twists that it is a delight to read about this particular prophecy. In fact, in many ways this actually adds to the book, because by the time I reached the third part, I was actually getting goosebumps just reading the titles of the various chapters. (You can only understand this if you read the book till the second part, and then decide to ration the rest of the book by reading a hundred pages a day.)

Overall, this book is must-read for any serious fantasy enthusiast, and perhaps a must read for a lot of people. It's interesting, it's serious, it's funny, it's dark, and it's absolutely beautiful. It's a study into human nature. It's a well-researched book. It's a book to admire. It's a book to treasure. It's a book to fill your bookshelves and a book to read quickly, and slowly, to talk about and to spend some time with, a book to spend stormy afternoons with. It's a book to ration the pages off because despite its length you will feel it got over too soon.

In short, it's a book to love and a book to add to your bookshelves, like I added it to mine.

Final thoughts:
Great writing, brilliant characterization, excellent plotting and great settings. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell will captivate you, it will make you think and it will make hours disappear before you know it. It's the kind of book you read till midnight - telling yourself you'll put it down after the end of the chapter but realizing only twenty pages into the next chapter that you forgot all about that. Need I say more?

Of course, if you don't believe me, check out reviews of this book by other great people, chief among which is Neil Gaiman, whom I also admire very much. It might also be great to check out what Mr. Strange and Mr. Norrell have to say about the story. Of course, it might also be great to get some information on the film being made on this particular book.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ode to the West Wind by P.B. Shelley

There are many words to describe the beauty of the wild, and in 'The Ode to the West Wind' finds all of them.

Ode to the West Wind and Other Poems

It has been raining these past few days, and also we have been learning 'The Ode to the West Wind' in school. Of course, this poem is not really about the rain. It is about autumn. However, Shelley is describing a storm coming on, and because of the gorgeous way he uses imagery and because of the rain outside, I've started associating this poem very heavily with rainfall. I love the way Shelley writes. His use of words makes even someone like me (a highly non-visual reader) imagine the gorgeous scene that is in front of him. As an example, look at the lines below, which will immediately conjure up before you a beautiful scene of water, and lightning, and a merging of the spheres of the earth and the water.

Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning!

Shelley often uses very hard to understand language, but once you understand what he's trying to say in a particular line you realize how wonderful the line actually is. There is an amazing rhythm to this poem, which you can feel if you start reading out loud, until you almost feel that this poem could be made into a beautiful song. There are lines in this poem, like the ones given below this paragraph, that chill you to the bone and make you feel like the thunder and the lighting and the hail are all around. Just feel the evocative imagery Shelley uses in the following lines, especially with the words, 'black rain and fire' as symbolic of the upcoming storm.

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!

In this poem, Shelley has used a lot of figures of speech. Through careful use of metaphors, similies, alliteration, personification and apostrophe, Shelley makes this poem a real treat to read. In this poem, Shelley uses a verse form called the 'terza rima' wherein there are 4 tercets (sets of three) followed by one tercet. The rhyme scheme, ABA BCB DED EFE GG is very distinctive and really adds to the aforementioned rhythm of the poem. All of these technicalities, even if you don't really notice them while you're reading this poem (as a student you don't have that particular luxury) really add to the atmosphere that Shelley has created.

But despite the fact that Shelley spends the first three stanzas explaining the effect of the west wind on the ground, the sky and the sea, this poem is not really about the west wind. It is, in fact, a lament by the author. He goes on to explain in his fourth stanza how he wishes he were a leaf, or a cloud or a wave, so that he could be free - pretty much like the west wind. He laments that he is not young anymore, and must implore the west wind in his hour of need to lift him away and save him from the thorns of life that he has fallen upon. Shelley was facing a great number of personal problems during this period, which is perhaps why he writes these lines.

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.

The fourth stanza fills you with a profound sense of sadness, as you see the struggles of the poet. You are able to imagine him as someone who has known and enjoyed freedom for the greater part of his life, and who is now broken by the sorrows and troubles that assail him. You feel very sorry for the pain of the poet. With these short lines, he is able to say an amazing lot. It is hard to be sympathetic with a purely wild human being, but easier to sympathize with a wild wind, and then to feel sympathetic for a human being as proud and as wild as this wind, and I think here Shelley does really well.

However, Shelley is after all a romantic poet, and his writings eventually have a sense of great hope to them. In the final stanza, the poet talks about how he would like his dead thoughts to awaken new buds, much like the dead seeds that the autumn wind lays in their cold graves are woken up by the spring when she blows her clarion. And in the final lines, Shelley expresses a feeling of hope that finally life will renew itself, and gives the whole poem a beautiful message which is one of the reasons that it is still remembered even today.

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Final words: This line has been running in my head since the first rain - "They say dreams disappear when faced with the bleak landscape of reality. But when it rains I cannot believe that. The rain makes me poetic." I think there's nothing better than watching the first rain falling out of the window, except perhaps a beautiful poem to read while listening to the soft pitter-patter of the falling rain. And 'The Ode to the West Wind' is perfect for that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Naughtiest Girl in School - Enid Blyton

The Naughtiest Girl in School, by Enid Blyton, is the stuff that childhood is made up off.

Naughtiest Girl in the School

Strange statement?

I have grown up reading Enid Blyton. From the "Secret Seven" series, to the "St. Clares" series, I have read almost everything she has written. I grew up with the adventures of Fatty (Five find-outers and a dog) and Darell Rivers (Malory Towers), and I have great respect and admiration for Enid Blyton. However, despite the fact that I've read and I own most of the other series of Enid Blyton, I never quite managed to read the naughtiest girl in school series. So when I saw it recently at a bookstore, and failed to force my brother to buy it for himself, I finally bought it for myself.

Here's what I discovered - the naughtiest girl is one of the most enjoyable of Enid Blyton's school series. The things that make me recommend it over her other school series are as follows - the main character, Elizabeth, is a lot of fun to read about, the school sounds amazing (and is co-ed) and there's a lot of drama in it that prevents this book from getting as dated as the rest of Enid Blyton's books have sadly become. (I am one of her greatest fans, but sadly even I can't find them completely up-to-date anymore.)

We'll start with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is spoilt, and rich, and highly naughty, which in itself will recommend this book to most of my generation. She's smart, very willful and independent. She's not beyond disrupting a class to get what she wants. But despite all this, she is very, very nice. She goes out of her way to help a friend (even though she breaks a dozen rules to do this), she is intelligent and thoughtful, and she really and truly struggles against making things hard for other people. Besides this, she is also interested in varied things such as music, dance, and riding, which make her very human. Through most of this first book, she is trying to behave badly to be sent home (very Mirabel from St. Clare's, especially as Joan is amazingly similar to Gladys, but eventually Elizabeth is a lot more likeable than poor Mirabel ever turns out to be.)

The second is the school. Whyteleafe is a school I would love to attend. It's liberal enough to let the students choose their own monitors and head-boys and head-girls, who have a committee each week where they punish students off their own accord. The Principals, who Elizabeth terms, 'The Beauty and the Beast' seem content to let the students govern themselves (if you're looking for a Ms. Theobald like character here, you will be sadly mistaken) and the teachers and fun-loving and interested in the students. There is a jolly atmosphere, and most importantly as it is a co-ed school, it prevents this book from getting extremely dated. (Sadly I don't think this would work anymore...)

The characters in this book, though reminiscent of characters from other Enid Blyton novels (especially in the case of the aforementioned Mirabel from St. Clare's and Gladys from the same series, who represent Elizabeth and her only friend in the school - Joan) are very well-developed. This book deals with slightly more complex issues like the death of a sibling and arrogance which are not dealt with substantially in any of her other series. This book is a great read, which principles of morality and good conduct and honor that I wish were still as strongly upheld among children, but which is not by any means a preachy book.

This book is, essentially, a book that reminds me of childhood.

Final thoughts: This book is sweet and pretty much timeless. I read Enid Blyton when I want something simple, and just plain uncomplicated, with no 'evil' and no 'badness' and happy endings - when I'm tired of things that 'mean too much' or that I have to analyze. I really recommend this book to everyone. I mean, its just so hard to believe that this book was written in 1940!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Theodore Boone by John Grisham

Theodore Boone, by John Grisham, was a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

A little background. My parents, when they got back from their trip, brought back two books: Theodore Boone by John Grisham and the White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. I have wanted to read the latter for a long time, but since my father is currently reading it, and my mother recommended the former to me, I decided to pick up Theodore Boone. I started reading it at eight in the morning, before I had to go school. By eight-thirty, when I had to catch the bus, I had finished around a hundred pages. By about three, I had finished the entire book.

And I wasn't bored for a single moment.

Theodore Boone is a story set in small-town America, where one of the largest trials ever witnessed in the small-town is about a happen - a trial to convict a man who seems to have murdered his wife. The entire town is abuzz about it. Cue in Theo Boone, a thirteen year old kid, who knows more lawyers, judges, and other officials in the judiciary than any one else in the town, who wants nothing more than to become a lawyer, and who somehow ends up getting deeply involved in the murder case when a mysterious eye-witness contacts him about it. This book is about Theo's struggles between his promise to the witness to his desire for justice - while at the same time facing normal thirteen-year-old problems like girls, and school and teachers.

I think the best part about the book is the characters. The main character, Theo, is immensely fun to read about. He's intelligent, thoughtful, honorable, and knows "more law than most lawyers". He's friends with the judge who is going to conduct the murder trial. He has hacked into the website of the court recorder in order to stay abreast with the developments in the trial. He helps friends and teachers alike by giving them legal advice: whether it is on foreclosure, or a divorce settlement, or a case of drug possession. In short: he's rather cool. Despite all of this, however, he doesn't come across as a wonder-kid. He comes across as a normal, human boy who needs help, who messes up sometimes, and who loves law. And if you need one reason to read this book - its for Theo.

But Theo is not the only interesting character in this book. His father, Woody Boone, is a real estate lawyer. His mother, Marcella Boone, is a divorce lawyer. His uncle, Ike, is an ex-lawyer who can now only file tax statements. Even in a reasonably short book, Grisham is able to tell you about all of these people in a way that makes you feel like you know them intimately. He uses great descriptive skills to tells you a few things about all of them that make them interesting, and loveable, and make you want to read more and more about them. And yet these people are not super-human, either. They're simple, and make mistakes, and hypocritical at times. It doesn't matter. You still like them. Even other, smaller characters, are fun to read about - from Judge Granty to Theo's Government teacher, to the various other small characters who make up the judicial system are very interesting to read about, especially when you see them from the eyes of Theo.

The book is very well-written. Fast-paced and full of suspense, it is hard to put down this book for even a moment. The writing is clean and simple and very easy to read. The book is of a reasonable length. The plot is very interesting, and well-thought out. I like the motivations of all the characters. The setting is well thought-out. All in all, this book is a treat to read. I guess it was especially enjoyable for me as an aspiring law student, but I'm sure anyone who likes to read will love to read this book.

Final words: Prepare yourself for a few hours of fun as you see Grisham doing what he does best. Theodore Boone is truly the work of a master.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

I have mixed opinions about the Twilight Series.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga) New Moon (The Twilight Saga) Eclipse (The Twilight Saga) Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4)

My review is for all the four books in the Twilight Saga: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

A little background. I read the twilight series in December 2008, which is long before it even became the major hit that it was among teenagers in India. And unlike a lot of people who, for whatever reason, criticize the book, I have actually read each and every book and some of them even multiple times. I have thought for hours about Bella, Edward and Jacob. I have read hundreds of reviews on this book, good and bad. I've even seen the first movie (which I hated for a lot of reasons, which I won't go into here because this blog is not called 'in my dvd collection.') So before you kill me, know that I've made a pretty informed decision on this one.

Here's my verdict: I don't think Twilight sucked.

This book goes along at a fast pace. Its hard to find a place in the book where the action or drama lags (unless you hate romance, in which case - why are you even thinking about reading this book?) The plot is fairly coherent. Some of the characters (especially the more minor ones) are quite engrossing. Its hard to put down this book. In fact, I've read the second, third and fourth book of this series in practically a day each, because I didn't want to stop reading it half-way. In fact, as far as books to pass time go...this one wasn't so bad.

Here's the problem: I don't Twilight was all that good, either.

There were loads of obvious flaws in the story. The first was the author's love for purple-prose, long descriptions of the perfection of her main character, and the many other little flaws of writing Meyer unwittingly commits. Of course, since this is her first book this is easy to understand, and one can hope that she improved with her second, but the problem is how so many people have raised it to a pedestal of literary greatness where this book really doesn't belong. In style and structure there is very little to differentiate this book from a regular romance story, except that most romance stories have slightly more plausible reasons for their heroines falling in love with the main hero. The story is often let-down by clunky writing like the following example:

It seemed silly that this fact – the existence of his soul – had ever been in question, even if he was a vampire. He had the most beautiful soul, more beautiful than his brilliant mind or his incomparable face or his glorious body.

The second problem with this book is the characters. The heroine, Bella is a literary 'mary-sue' - a character who can do no wrong. Her only apparent flaw is her 'clumsiness' which is often used as no more than a plot device to move the plot forward (for example, in the first part of new moon). The problem with Bella is that she's so reactive instead of active that with time she infects the whole book with a languid aura that can be very boring to read. And she's not the only perfect character in this series. Edward (and the rest of the Cullens) are perfect just because they are vampires, as Meyer has swiftly removed every classical limitation on vampires in this book without making any new ones, thereby making them pretty much indestructible. Edward has loads of character flaws - like his extreme protectiveness and his often disturbing fixation to Bella, but because the narrative just can't acknowledge anything but how Edward is so perfect, it is very difficult to sympathize with him. Jacob, the third main lead of this book, is better. He is very sweet in New Moon, but he soon takes a 180 degree turn in books three and four to become an odd guy who is first crazy behind Bella and then her daughter. And don't get me started on Renesmee, Bella's daughter, who is perhaps the worst mary-sue example in the entire series and is one of the major reasons for me wishing that Meyer never writer a sequel.

The secondary characters, in particular Seth, Leah (both shapeshifters) and Emmett and Alice (both vampires) are much better - maybe because we don't see as much of them. Even here, by giving Alice special powers (the power to see the future) Meyer adds another super-power and risks making Alice even more god-like than she already is, which makes her highly unsympathetic towards the end of the fourth book as well. The other characters were so mono-dimensional (even when attempts were made to make them more sympathetic by telling their sob-stories) that I barely thought about them during the book.

Other problems with the book involve the often poor plot. The Twilight Saga is a romance series disguised as an action series, and that is often painfully obvious. For most of the series, the real 'action' seems to begin in the last 50 pages, where Meyer tacks on a fight with a vampire or a group of vampires. This is even worse in the last book, where no fight happens at all - the Volturi, supposedly a dangerous group of vampires, pretty much walk away from a confrontation, despite having good reasons to want a confrontation. At this point in the book I was wondering if Meyer really thought her readers were stupid and couldn't tell that she was avoiding a confrontation to avoid having a fight in which one or more of the 'good people' might die.

All in all, what with the group of mary-sues, the sparkling vampires, the purple prose and the poor writing, this story felt more like an amateur piece of fan-fiction than a real book. As far as I'm concerned, I understand people liking the book but its very hard for me to understand people loving it.

Final thoughts:
This book was enjoyable. It was a great way to pass a few hours. It's just not a series I want to re-read again. Definitely not worth the praise and acclaim it has gotten. And its really, really hard for me to hear this book being compared with the Harry Potter series with a straight face.

Interesting links: Midnight Sun [I really enjoyed this...its twilight from Edward's perspective, and boy does he make a more interesting narrator than Bella.] The Movies [Which as mentioned above, I did not like, but all Twilight fans did love them - so what can I say?] Twilight Graphic Novel [A very interesting book...I flipped through it recently.] Twilight Companion [Probably a must-have for fans]

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