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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Eclipse (Twilight, #3)

Eclipse (Twilight, #3) - Stephenie Meyer Looking at other reviews of Eclipse, I'm a little surprised by the comments. Yes, of course it's badly written. Yes, of course Bella and Edward are horrible people, and they have a sick, co-dependent relationship. But that doesn't get any closer to explaining why these books are so popular.

I would say that what they have going for them is that the psychology is not unrealistic, and in fact describes uncompromisingly how destructive love can be. It could hardly be plainer that Bella has made an appalling mistake in falling for Edward. Let's see: he's not even human; he's 80 years older than she is; he's a murderer; he's an amoral, controlling, manipulative type, who alternates between anal attention to detail and psychotic lack of impulse control. She knows all this, and she knows that Jacob is a kind, decent person who truly loves her, but she can't get Edward out of her head. Her obsession with Edward leads to her hurting Jacob over and over again, and still she can't overcome her compulsion to use him in increasingly humiliating and cruel ways.

What's powerful about the story is that we see it all through Bella's eyes, and watch her swinging back and forward between alternate phases of self-delusion and clarity. She's constantly telling us how good, kind, noble and wonderful Edward is, but her unconscious is also noting all the dreadful things he does, and we get to hear about them too. I thought the recurrent motif with the motorcycles was one of the clearest instances. In New Moon, Edward callously leaves Bella, and Jacob does his damnedest to rescue her from a nervous breakdown. He salvages two old motorcycles for them, and teaches her to ride. Bella loves the feeling of freedom and speed this gives her, and particularly relishes the sense of danger; this is how she also fantasizes that she is close to Edward.

After Edward returns, he sees that this is the place where Bella is nearest to escaping his grip. He acquires a much better motorcycle of his own to take the glamor away, and he also gives her a helmet and riding jacket, ostensibly to show that he cares about her safety; but she was only riding dangerously in the first place because he had left her. Finally, when Jacob has almost died defending Bella, his life-threatening injuries are blamed on a motorcycle accident. Edward cleverly exploits this to win over Bella's father, who is smart enough to have been suspicious of him; Charlie remarks that Edward hasn't been putting Bella's life at risk. Jacob can see how adroitly Edward manipulates everyone's feelings, but only comes across as jealous when he points it out. Well, of course he's outmaneuvered. He's a teenager competing against a centenarian; under the circumstances, he puts up a good fight.

What I approve of is that Bella is led to understand, through observing her own actions, just what kind of person she is: she's repayed her best friend's selfless kindness towards her by ruining his life. I was reminded of L'Âge de Raison, where Mathieu has a similar epiphany, and is forced to realize that he's not really a good guy; he's someone who's stolen a sizable amount of money to pay for his mistress's abortion. I can't help pointing out in passing that, even though Sartre is less popular than Meyer on Goodreads, he is a noticeably more competent prose stylist. If you liked the plot in Eclipse but were annoyed by the writing, you might want to check him out.

Which brings us to the downside of this book. As I've argued, it has worthwhile things to say, but it's just too sloppy and repetitious. Most of the good ideas were already there in New Moon, where they were interestingly underplayed. I'm guessing Meyer got a ton of fanmail after the second volume, and felt that she had clarify things; some of the time, I feel she's more answering a reader's letter than telling a story. Come on Stephenie, you're better than this. Do your own thing, and remember that ambiguity usually improves a novel. And if everyone in the world who believes in sparkly vampires claps their hands, maybe you'll even learn how to write.