A better Twilight, shame about the gender stereotypes

Twilight rewrite Life And Death makes Stephenie Meyer's gender biases more visible, not less



By Stephenie Meyer

Little, Brown/Hardcover/400 pages (part of the 752-page Twilight 10th Anniversary Edition)/$34.24/Major bookstores/ 3/5stars

Stephenie Meyer turns the insipid romance between human teen Bella Swan and immortal vampire Edward Cullen into the still sickeningly self-absorbed courtship of Beaufort Swan and Edythe Culle in her new book (above).

Stephenie Meyer's reworking of Twilight is still a disturbing story about blinkered, obsessive infatuation but at least self-aware readers will not spend most of Life And Death wanting to kill either the main characters or themselves to end the misery. Only half the book at most.

Published back-to-back with the 10th-anniversary edition of Meyer's best-selling Twilight (2005), Life And Death exchanges the lead roles of that novel, turning the insipid romance between human teen Bella Swan and immortal, sparkling vampire Edward Cullen into the still sickeningly self-absorbed courtship of Beaufort Swan and Edythe Cullen.

Just as in Twilight, Beau has to move to rainy, sunless Forks to be with his police chief father Charlie. After a rocky start at his new school, he begins a relationship with vampire teen Edythe, adopted daughter of the town doctor Carine Cullen (Carlyle in Twilight).

The narrative mostly follows the same arc as Twilight did with some notable changes. Some make the story much more readable: Meyer now knows to show, not tell, readers what is happening, and so a key scene where the vampire over- estimates what the human will eat shines in comparison with the original one in Twilight.

Meyer also now hoards her sentences about the vampire's physical perfection and expends more on the biological reasons why the two might be attracted to each other: Beau because Edythe is the perfect predator designed to draw in human victims and Edythe because Beau is the perfect snack, designed to draw her fangs.

Their relationship has the darker undertones that Twilight the novel did not have and which Twilight the 2008 movie did under the lens of director Catherine Hardwicke.

Beau and Edythe are more fun for a reader to spend time with because they talk and banter much more than Bella and Edward did.

Beau has questions about Edythe's strength and capabilities because, in Meyer's world, male teens with a crush are actually able to carry on a conversation whereas Bella in Beau's place could only sit tongue-tied and wide-eyed and receive whatever Edward deigned to share.

After 10 years, four novels, one novella, two graphic novel adaptations and five movies, Meyer has learnt something about the craft of writing, but not much about the reasons that many readers found Bella an insulting gender stereotype.

Meyer has not simply changed the names in Life And Death, she has changed plot points and character behaviour because Beau is a boy. Beau has to state a few times that Edythe's superior strength does not bother him and the famous piggyback scenes where the vampire carries the human through the forest are deliberately played up for comic effect given the difference in their sizes.

A scene where Bella is rescued from rapists by Edward becomes one where Edythe rescues Beau from gunmen - because clearly as a male teen, he could face no other danger. What's also annoying is Beau getting to act in his and Edythe's defence in the climactic scene where a hunter has him trapped in a ballet studio. Bella in the same position could only attempt to run.

What worried me and so many other readers about Twilight was Bella's passivity in the face of danger, whether from villainous or virtuous vampires. It was disturbing how easily she accepted a relationship where her survival was continually dependent on the self-control of her stronger partner.

Life And Death makes the power imbalance in Twilight much more obvious, if only because Edythe's vampire strength puts her on equal footing with snarky, quick-witted Beau.

The odd thing is that Edward in her place was clearly the superior. Life And Death may be a better version of Twilight, but it still shows all the gender biases that Meyer thought she was erasing with this rewrite.

If you like this, read: Blood And Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997, Delacorte, $10, Amazon. com), about the difficulties a teenage werewolf faces when she falls for a much weaker human boy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'Hot Off The Press Perfect predator, perfect snack'. Print Edition | Subscribe