Sunday, September 14, 2008

Book: Breaking Dawn

In the immortal (sorry, couldn't resist) words of Paul Harvey, this is.... the rest of the story. You wanted to know what happened to Bella and Edward and Jacob? Here you go, kids. In detail. Oh wait, you wanted more than plot devices? Sorry 'bout that...

All right. First things first. If you plan on reading this book anytime soon and you somehow have managed not to hear about some of the plot points, then stop reading now since I plan to include spoilers. If you want a point-by-point review, going over the plot of the book, there are some excellent reviews out there. I'm just going to keep things simple and record my impressions.


OK. Let's begin.

(Let me first start by saying that I loved the first three books -- I didn't think they were perfect, and I had my issues with them, but I really adored the atmosphere and very real-feeling twists and angst of impossible love. For me, the atmosphere and authentic crazy-in-love portrayals outweighed the troublesome parts.)

So, I wasn't completely surprised by some of the plot points because I just couldn't resist reading a review or two when the book first came out in August. I had somehow heard through the internet grapevine that the book reviews were mixed, and I was trying to decide whether to buy it or not. I'm glad I didn't buy it -- my turn finally came around at the library. Worth waiting for at the library, maybe not worth buying.

Ok, so... Renesmee???? WTF kind of name is that? At least Bella had the good sense to be horrified by the awful nickname Jacob gives her: Nessie. But good lord. What was Stephenie Meyer thinking? That name just kills it for me.

The whole baby thing was weird, weird, weird. I thought Renesmee was creepy from the beginning, and not exactly in a good way. The entire pregnancy storyline was very Frankenstein, very Rosemary's Baby. I sort of appreciated that, but it didn't fit with the feeling of the previous three books. I also thought she was creepy once she was out. Here she is, supposed to be this perfect, beautiful, enchanting half-vampire child, but I thought she was icky. Creepy little shiny white teeth, eyes that already know too much, growing so rapidly, the ability to communicate when she's only a week old through ESP (sort of)... ick. Just wrong, wrong, wrong for a baby. Also the fact that half-vampire babies claw and bite their way out of their mothers, killing them in the process -- very Aliens. Again, yuck. I'm all for horror plotlines but this is a romance, right?

I wasn't as disappointed in the book as some people seem to be, but I didn't love it. It felt less like an escape novel (as the previous three were) and more like the deliverance of how it all turns out, without any of the emotion, tension, and atmosphere that made me love the first three. Rather than feeling sucked into the story and into the minds and hearts of the characters, I was just reading it to find out what happens. I think that's the big mistake here. Rather than continuing the exploration of all the painfully real emotions that happen when you've got an impossible love triangle (complicated by some supernatural incompatibilities), Meyer just fulfills what I'm sure she was hearing every moment of every day: the answer to the question of "What happens???"

So, what happens is: Bella gets everything. Bella wins. Everyone wins. Nobody's in pain any more. Everything's great. Bella gets her mutually co-dependent relationship, Jacob gets a future mate, Edward gets his Bella (without having to worry about breaking her), Bella gets immortality without any of the scary crazed-newborn stuff, PLUS she gets super-powers and extreme beauty. Oh, and she's rich beyond belief. The vampires and the wolves strengthen their truce, Bella's dad gets in on the secret (sort of) so she even gets to keep her human family.


The best part of the whole book was Jacob's point of view. Here was some of the authentic emotion and anguish, the complicated feelings and suffering that the other three books did so well. Jacob alone remained true to his character. The other characters were merely plot devices, Bella and Edward included.

I was actually very disappointed with the lack of romance; after all, they just got married and went on their honeymoon! Instead of pages and pages of steamy build-up, we got right down to it... and had to imagine it all for ourselves. I suppose that's only appropriate since it is a YA novel after all, but just a little more insight into how the First Night was for them would have been nice. All we get is a 5-page co-dependent argument about the bruises after the fact.

The whole book was rather short on romance, and the lovely misty Northwest atmosphere, the sense of place, was completely missing. Instead, we get all the neat and tidy plot wrap-ups we could ever hope for, explained in detail. Page after page after page, for almost 800 pages, we get every question answered, every sticky painful plot point sewn up as nice as you please.

Meyer has said that the whole Twilight thing began after a vivid dream she had. This makes sense to me -- I always picture in my head this midwestern Mormon wife and mother sitting at her keyboard, writing down the elaborate fantasy as it plays out in her head. Of course Edward is the most beautiful man in the world -- he's her ultimate fantasy man. Of course Bella is awkward and clumsy and utterly unspecial -- except to Edward. Isn't that what every ugly duckling dreams of? To be noticed by someone impossibly perfect, and included in that perfect fantasy life? To be told that you are the most special thing in the world?

The dream continued for three books, full of heartbreak and anguish and hard choices. The romantic tension felt authentic and kind of miserable -- like it should. The rainy, gray Northwest was the perfect setting. Although, as I said, I had some definite problems with the books, mostly I just enjoyed them for what they were.

But then, with this book, the dream is broken. Or rather, Meyer feels it's time to wrap it up. Because it's her dream, of course she wants everything sewn up nicely. That's how dreams are supposed to end (or at least, that's how we want them to end). However, I think the book would have felt more real and satisfying if at least one person had to deal with a little heartbreak. If maybe Jacob left to lick his wounds, leaving Bella with a hole in her heart forever.... maybe if Bella couldn't become vampire, so she and Edward had to live with the doomed love... maybe if the baby died. Something. Anything.

Actually, I think my main complaint is that I don't think Bella should have turned vampire at all. The whole point of the books was that she was human and Edward was vampire. Bella's entire character revolved around her being so very human, full of awkwardness and clumsiness and tiredness... imperfect and insecure, but real. Once she turned vampire, all of a sudden, she's perfect. She's strong and gifted and talented and beautiful and amazing and saves everybody. Go Bella. But it just felt so... out of character. It didn't make sense. It was actually interesting when the baby was hurting her, when the baby was breaking her bones from the inside. Sort of sick, but interesting. But once she crosses over, she's all perfect and boring. She should have died and become a ghost. There should have been some reason that she couldn't turn vamp. Edward should have died and been reborn in some weird karmic reward for being such an "angel." But Bella as a vampire? It just didn't sit right. It felt awkward and unreal.

I also have a problem with the pacing of this book. Twilight, the first book, was so well-timed. A long introduction as Bella wonders about that beautiful boy who always seems to be lurking nearby. The mystery of What Is He?? And then Does He Love Me?? Everything takes it's time, and the tension and buildup is deliciously extended. This follows, somewhat to a lesser degree, with the next two books. But in this book, we're off to the races immediately and it doesn't let up. No time for pondering anything, no reflecting, no tension, no thoughtfulness. It's just action and plotting and endless resolutions. Quick, quick, quick, for 750+ pages.

Anyway. Overall, I liked visiting these characters again and there is something satisfying about knowing how it all ends, even if I'm kind of unhappy with how it played out. However, it felt more like an extended afterword, rather than a logical continuation of the story. Nobody really develops any further. Bella and Edward remain somewhat immature. Jacob is the only one who grows at all, and then even his growth is stunted by the bizarre imprinting ploy.

I'd like to reread the first three sometime down the road, but I think once is enough for Breaking Dawn.


Anonymous said...

Happy, happy birthday, Daphne!! I hope your day is filled with perfect desserts, a fabulous book, and lots of time with your sweetie and kitties.

Love you!!

P.S. Great review about Breaking Dawn - I agree about the baby - weird!

Anonymous said...

I also found Renesme pretty creepy. I really felt like Meyer was telling us how wonderful and amazing this kid was instead of just letting us discover what the other characters saw in her. It made her seem strange and wrong instead of wonderful and miraculous. (Plus, as you mentioned: the killing the mother thing??? Ugh!)

Good review!

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I especially enjoyed your thoughts on atmosphere and character versus plot.

I enjoyed this book more than most, in the end. But I never did take to Renesmee like I wanted to.

Framed said...

Great review. I hated the name Tenesmee also. And isn't Nessie the name of the Loch Ness monster. I thought this book was okay but not nearly enough of Edward. Too many other things going on, I guess. Twilight is still my favorite.

Allison said...

I was waiting till I read the book and wrote my own review of it (on GoodReads) till I read your review. I agree with what you say here! It was completely written to make the storyline a neat little perfect package in the end, with no real conflict but the standard Volturi nonsense that never goes anywhere.

I also agree that Bella as a human was a much more interesting conflict. Her transformation was just so perfect it left me wondering why Edward didn't just change her in the first place! Twilight was my favorite, and I liked New Moon and Eclipse, but I just wasn't feeling the love for Breaking Dawn.