I've spent much of the last few days getting to grips with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga, the series of books detailing the love story between a teenager in a small, rainy north western US town, Bella Swan, and her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen. Thrown into the mix is a vampire family that's much more functional than any of the human relationships in the book, werewolves (one of whom is Bella's best friend), some really nasty, murderous villains. You get all the perils and dilemmas of first love combined with added horrors.
I've meant to read these books for a while, not least because all the people I know who are into the same sort of things as I am absolutely loved them. There's quite a crossover between the Harry Potter fanbase and Twilight - and for the F1 people, Stephenie Meyer has helpfully imbued her vampire heroes with a love of speed and fast cars. What spurred me on was that virtually every single one of my daughter's school friends was reading them and she wanted to. I knew that the content was in places inappropriate for 10 year olds, but to be honest, I'd rather we read them together and discuss the ideas in them than she gets frightened by what she's told in the playground.
I was actually worried that I might get scared - regular readers will know I'm a great big wuss. I get upset watching the bit in the Sound of Music where Fraulein Maria goes back to the Abbey, so vampires and werewolves are bound to petrify me. Well, yes, but I stepped up. I managed it. Well, so far, anyway.
I've only just started the third book of the four - but I was so absorbed in the second that I didn't turn the light out until 1.30 this morning. When I woke at 9, it wasn't to watch Andrew Marr, but to read some more. And when I finished that at midday, I thought I'd just have a wee nap - and woke up at 2.30.
When I mention that I'm reading Twilight most people ask whether I've fallen for Edward Cullen. Well, no, to be honest. I think the character's great, complex, capable of great love, honesty, nobility and self sacrifice - but he can also be patronising, supercilious, controlling, manipulative and intensely annoying. If I had to choose one character to go for, it'd probably be Carlisle, the "daddy" of Clan Vampire.
I guess I look at it from a different perspective as the mother of a daughter. I know all too well that mine will go through the intense experiences of first love, although obviously not with a supernatural being. She's bound to get her heart broken at some point and the books remind me what that's like. Of course I don't want her to go through it - but she will, and that scares me as much as any vampire. I think, though, that the fact that Bella and Edward's relationship is intense, but essentially chaste is a good thing if it's being read by 10 year olds.
There are lots of very positive themes and messages that I've picked up so far - as a mum I have no problem with her reading tales of genuine self-sacrificing love and the stabilising influence of family. Bella is the anchor in her human family - she's the adult in the relationship with her mother and her father's effective housekeeper - but in desperate need of her own support network, although she doesn't realise it. There's also a very liberal theme about accepting people as they are - Bella has absolutely no problem accepting that her boyfriend is a vampire and his family accept her into their midst with little resistance. Bella also copes remarkably well with her best friend turning werewolf on her, more troubled about the effect it has on their friendship than the issue in principle. If only we could all be as accepting of those who are different.
For all the mutual acceptance between Bella and the werewolves and Bella and the vampires, the prejudice and bitter emnity between the two supernatural species mirrors the sort of ridiculous bigotry we come across too often in our society. There's also a powerful, ruling vampire family whose outer civility hides both their hypocrisy and the atrocities they carry out in secret.
The other thing I've acquired from my first foray into this saga is a serious case of author envy. How I would just love to turn a dream into a best selling series of books. When I read a book, I always make a point of avidly reading the acknowledgements. Often they are perfunctory lists, but I love it when an author puts some effort, something of themselves, into thanking the team who've helped them. I think she does it well.
She's written the books beautifully and sensitively, creating characters and situations in a deceptively easy style that just draws you in. There's a scene in a meadow between Bella and Edward where they're both very honestly discussing the situation they're in which is fantastically done. One of the best love scenes I've come across in a while.
Anyway, I have been away from Eclipse for about as long as I can stand. It's sitting on the desk inviting me in. School night tonight, though - so lights will have to be out at 10.30.