Published on 25 October, 2015 in Scroll.in
Taking a half a leaf out of EL ‘Fifty’ James’s strategy, Meyer has created a somewhat pointless retelling of her bestselling series.
They say there are two sides two every story. Two points of view, two perspectives, and two different versions circling around a common plot. Popular fiction authors seem to have taken a cue from this. From Stephenie Meyer to EL James, writers seems to be either retelling their bestselling novels from the PoV of their male protagonists, or swapping genders to present the same story in a somewhat new light.
So when Stephenie Meyer recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of Twilight, her insanely popular human-vampire love story, by releasing a brand new book titled Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, everyone thought she would be retelling the Twilight trilogy from Edward Cullen’s perspective. Turns out we’ll have to wait for Midnight Sun for that story.
This book, however, is a strange, summed-up version of the whole Twilight series, with protagonists Edward Cullen and Bella Swan swapping not just places but genders too. Edward becomes Edyth (female and human) and Bella becomes Beau (a male vampire). To emphasise the transition, the new book has a green apple instead of a red one on the cover. Meyer has also practically changed the genders of every character in the series, the only exception being Beau/Bella’s dad.
It’s one thing to stretch the length of a book by introducing new characters or prolong it with sequels, but to retell the same story without any novelty is plain boring. EL James’s fourth book Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, a follow-up of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, retold from the male protagonist Christian Grey’s PoV, received severe flak from critics and reviewers. While some labelled it “revolting”, others called it “creepy beyond belief”.
It’s possible that with Grey, James attempted to find answers to the inexplicable controlling tendencies of her hero and the reasonable causes of his unconventional, BDSM-practising relationship with Anastasia Steele. But since the story doesn’t drift much from the original trilogy, James’s new version only allows one inside the head of the “megalomaniacal sociopath” that Christian Grey is.
But since when did James care about reviews, especially when the sales figures speak for themselves? According to The Week, the book sold “more than 647,400 copies in the UK” in the first three days of its release. It also “beat the previous UK record holder Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which sold 551,000 copies in five days in 2009.” In the US too, 1.1 million copies of Grey were sold in just four days.
Those who’ve read Meyer will agree that her books are nothing like the films they’ve been adapted into, as is the case with most book-to-film renditions. Meyer writes for a YA audience and the Twilight series justly delivers the right proportions of fantasy, romance and action. But this new summarised anniversary edition seems to have failed to entice both critics and fans.
To begin with, there is a definitive and hurried closure to the story, which means there is no possibility of a sequel whatsoever. Secondly, teenager Beau isn’t insecure or self-doubting, as was Bella in the original Twilight book. One can imagine the plight of reviewers confronted with a book that instead of breaking gender stereotypes in the present day and age reinforces them. Her creation of the new male protagonist doesn’t in any way challenge the twisted gender biases that the world is trying very hard to counter.
A review in The Daily Beast reads: “He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t stare in the mirror and inspect his perceived flaws, he doesn’t imagine himself inferior to his superhuman lover with the intensity that Bella imagined herself inferior to Edward.”
One wonders then what’s new about this anniversary reprint, because the story more or less remains the same. In another interview with The Daily Beast, Meyer said:
“[Bella] has also been criticized for being too consumed with her love interest, as if that’s somehow just a girl thing. But I’ve always maintained that it would have made no difference if that human were male and the vampire female – it’s still the same story.”
It is unclear whether Meyer’s decision to write a gender-swapped version of the human-vampire love story was an attempt to redeem Bella’s damsel in distress disposition, or was it simply a 10th (has it been 10 years already?) anniversary celebratory book. Perhaps Meyer wanted to assert the fact that men too can be fools in love. However, in making Beau appear as the confident brat in love with a superhuman Edythe, she may have accidentally created a stereotypical, full of himself teen boy.