Written by Camilla King


Bleeding the franchise dry?

Stephenie Meyer is back for another bite of the apple with a new book, Life and Death, a gender-swap version of her Twilight novels. Enough, says Camilla King.

Edward and Bella in a meadowIt’s been 10 years since the release of the first of Stephenie Meyer’s extraordinarily successful Twilight series. In honour of this, the author has ‘re-imagined’ the original novel as Life and Death; essentially the same story but with the genders of the characters swapped. Edward becomes Edythe, a centuries-old vampire, and Bella becomes Beau, a horny teenage boy, and so on. The only characters to retain their original gender are Bella’s parents Charlie and Renee (according to Meyer, a man couldn’t possibly have been granted custody in the 1980s).

If the concept for this novel seems a tad iffy, it’s Meyer’s foreword that’s been causing the biggest stir. In it, she says she didn’t have time to write a brand new novel, or even half a novel. So, she decided to test her theory that Bella wasn’t a massive sap (I’m paraphrasing) and that the story would still hold water if the gender roles were reversed. She found the exercise was “not only fun, but also really fast and easy.” Hurrah! A quick and easy novel!

But don’t worry, Beau is different, because as a man, “he’s not nearly so flowery with his words and thoughts.” That’s right, folks, all teenage boys are morose, grumpy and monosyllabic. If you thought Meyer was playing into female stereotyping with Bella, it turns out she doesn’t discriminate with the boys either.

While I’d love to say that the Twilight series was published when I was a hormonal teen and had a lasting impact on my adult years, it wasn’t. I read the books in my mid-20s and, even though I know Bella is a moany, annoying, self-obsessed, man-reliant, chip-on-her-shoulder pain in the ass, I confess I really loved the series.

“It’s easy to imagine Meyer sitting at her computer manically clicking ‘find-and-replace’, cackling to herself, while occasionally rubbing dollar bills sensuously over her face.”

I shared the books with my (female) work friends and we were all completely obsessed. I mean come on, fantastically attractive vampires, first love against the odds, sexy werewolves, the Volturi, a half-vamp, half-human baby…

Even if Meyer’s writing doesn’t do much to flesh out her ideas, the concept itself is really great. For a lover of fantasy novels, with an active inner teenage girl, it’s literary gold and given the success of the series I’m not the only person who thinks so. There’s even an entire episode of the wonderful Parks & Recreation dedicated to the books.

This is why the release of Life and Death is such an irritation. It’s an obvious cop-out and it’s easy to imagine Meyer sitting at her computer manically clicking ‘find-and-replace’, cackling to herself, while occasionally rubbing dollar bills sensuously over her face. It’s the same kind of lazy writing characterised by E L James’s Grey, published earlier this year, which rewrites her original novel from the viewpoint of Christian Grey, and was panned by critics and fans alike.

As any avid reader knows, a great story means investing emotionally in the characters and forging a connection with the author, who, one assumes, cares just as deeply about the fates of their creations as their audience. When an author appears to be cashing in on a book’s success (especially when they’re already loaded), it feels as if they’re messing with something sacrosanct.

Not that I approach Twilight with anything nearing religious fervour, but I can’t help wondering why Meyer didn’t take a leaf out of J K Rowling’s book and develop some of the other storylines. I’ve always wanted to know more about Jasper. Or what about a grown-up Renesmee? A guide to vampiric history? There’s a treasure trove of material in there.

Life and Death book coverMeyer is a mother to three children, reason enough not to have time to write (I’ve got two and I can barely get out of bed in the morning). I can only imagine the immense pressure from publishers, agents and other management types that she must be under; after all, a whole industry has been built around the Twilight franchise, but why the need to simply rework an existing novel to prove her critics wrong? Who cares?! Bella isn’t a feminist icon; neither is Stephenie Meyer.

But hey, you can’t have it all, and while it’s a shame that Bella can’t exist without a man, you know, she’s a made-up character, in a book. I’ve yet to meet a single girl or woman whose response to Bella is, “Sheesh, I wish I could be like that: less feisty and more dependent on men.”

None of the characters in Twilight are especially well rounded, but it’s a bloody good yarn. Let’s leave it at that, appreciate it for what it is and move on. I hope Meyer resists the urge to tinker further with her books, instead leaving her characters in their imaginary universe, happily draining mountain lions of blood and glittering like beautiful statues in the rare Forks sunshine.


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Written by Camilla King

Freelancer in the arts. Unwilling expert on Batman, dinosaurs and poo (there are children) and running widow of @UpDownRunner. Lover of music, cake and lady stuff. @millking2301