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Oh. My. God.

It took a couple of false starts, but I did eventually get through New Moon. I’ll say the positive stuff first.

It’s better than Twilight.

Never mind that the list of books that are better than Twilight can (and does) fill entire libraries. It’s a start.

It starts out awful, continues awful, then Edward leaves and things get a hell of a lot better for a while. I almost got caught up in the story, until things devolved again with Edward’s return.

To summarize, the parts without vampires in them are almost decent.

Except for Bella, who continues to be

a) Stupid

and

b) Schizophrenic

Let’s start with the first point, shall we?

(Beware! “Spoilers”)

Plot Summary:

So, the book starts out with Bella having a nightmare about herself getting old and Edward staying young. Yawn. She then spends several pages bemoaning how old she is, because it is now her 18th birthday.

“Don’t women usually wait until they are twenty nine to get upset over birthdays?”

Oh, thanks.

Anyway, the vampires, with the indefatigable cheerfulness and unrestrained affection for which vampires are so well known, set about celebrating Bella’s birthday in style while she remains stubbornly ungrateful.

They were all waiting in the huge white living room; [ed- why the semi colon? WHY??] when I walked through the door they greeted me with a loud chorus of “Happy birthday, Bella!” while I blushed and looked down. Alice, I assumed, had covered every flat surface with pink candles and dozens of crystal bowls filled with hundreds of roses [ed – some quick math tells me that there are at least 1200 roses in this room now, and possibly more than 2400]. There was a table with a white cloth draped over it next to Edward’s grand piano, holding a pink birthday cake, more roses, a stack of glass plates and a small pile of silver-wrapped presents.

It was a hundred times worse than I’d imagined.

Boy she loves being a martyr, doesn’t she? She actively plays the part and she admits it. When they push her to open her gifts, she tells us  “I put on my best martyr face”. Charming. Then, when a paper cut ruins the party by setting all the vampires drooling for her blood, she moans about Edward dropping her off home early. Even the angelic Edward loses patience with her.

“You can’t have it both ways- either you want people to ignore your birthday, or you don’t.”

I have said it before and I’ve said it again – Edward is a much more reasonable character than I ever expected.

Bella, on the other hand…

Anyway, another significant conversation in the opening section of the novel is a discussion about how attractive suicide is. An excellent topic for the teen girls who read these books. Edward sighs wistfully and talks about how much he envies the human ability to commit suicide, since suicide for a vampire is MUCH more difficult. He tells Bella that if she had died back in Twilight, he would have tried to kill himself.

“Well, I wasn’t going to live without you.” He rolled his eyes as if this were childishly obvious. “But I wasn’t sure how to do it–“

Bella then gets all pissed off with him and is like “but whyyyyyy would you doooooo that??” and Edward asks her what she would do if HE were killed, and she’s like, “that’s not the saaaaaaaaaaame”. So basically you have to read through several pages of the lovebirds arguing over which one gets to kill him/herself when the other dies (which is totally part of any healthy relationship, I’m sure).

But after the paper cut incident (in which he throws her onto a pile of broken glass to save her from the other vampires, resulting in a simple paper cut turning into a gushing flesh wound which requires stitches) Edward gets all moody again because he somehow feels responsible for dragging Bella against her will into a house full of vampires and letting her nearly get eaten by them.

Bella can’t understand why he would feel responsible for such a thing (“it’s my fault,” she says, which pisses off Edward so much that he goes into a tirade about how idiotic she is), so it takes her totally by surprise when he breaks up with her and moves his whole family out of town overnight. She is hurt and baffled by this behaviour, but assumes it is because Edward no longer loves her, instead of attributing it to a protective measure on his part.

This is followed by Stephenie Meyer’s first bit of good writing: The next four pages are completely blank except with the name of the passing month on each one: October. November. December. January.

It was effective. It conveyed a lot of meaning. It didn’t have a single dash or semicolon.

I loved it.

When Bella starts talking again, we learn slowly that she has been suffering from a numbing depression (understandable) and that her uncommunicative misery has managed to alienate her from all of her high school chums. At the prodding of her father (who threatens her with a shrink, God forbid! Bella seems to consider this tantamount to being locked up in Bedlam), she begins to speak to her friends again. They respond suspiciously or angrily, since she has been ignoring them for months. Bella says she feels as if she is starting school all over again, and realizes that this is even the anniversary of her first day in Forks last year.

“Nothing’s changed much,” mutters one of her friends. Bella mentally agrees.

Wait. What?

Um, Bella, I realize that you have some serious emotional issues not to mention esteem problems, so let me remind you: Your first day in this school was fabulous. Boys were falling over themselves to talk to you. This same group of girls befriended you instantly. If by “nothing’s changed” you mean “you are still being a bitch to people who are nice to you” then, yes, nothing has changed. But their treatment of you this year is nothing like last year.

Bella can’t hear me. Instead she muses about

the feeling that I was starting over — perhaps the way my first day would have gone if I’d really been the most unusual person in the cafeteria that afternoon.

So… if Edward hadn’t been at school that day, totally avoiding you, then everyone else wouldn’t have been so friendly with you? You wouldn’t have continued to spurn the advances of every other human at that school? Bella, you’re a twit. Worse, you’re a bitch.

She doesn’t even feel bad that she has hurt and alienated her friends, and she doesn’t feel the need to apologize to them and explain that she hasn’t felt like herself lately.

Meanwhile, she has discovered that if she places herself in a dangerous situation, she actually hears Edward yelling at her and ordering her to stop being such a moron. She calls this a “delusion” and decides to continue doing dangerous stunts in order to bring back his angry, domineering, dulcet tones. Now, you might be thinking, as I was, that Edward was somehow watching over her. After all, we know he reads people’s minds (except Bella’s). Perhaps he had found a way into her brain, and was using this to speak to her from afar. That’s what I assumed. We’ll come back to that.

Her desire to re-trigger Edward’s voice leads her to thrill-seeking, so she secretly buys an old dirt bike, and hunts down Jacob down on the Rez to fix it for her. You know, so she can ride it dangerously and hear Edward yelling at her some more. She funds this endeavour by emptying her college fund, to which she has access for some reason (have I mentioned what a good role model she is for teen girls everywhere?). She discovers that Jacob is a nice, kind, understanding guy and she ends up spending a lot of time with him because she feels more normal and alive when she is with him.

Bella’s affection for Jacob grows and grows.

It was strange for me, being this close – emotionally rather than physically, although the physically was strange for me, too – to another human being. It wasn’t my usual style. I didn’t normally relate to people so easily, on such a basic level.

Unlike her relationship with Edward, Bella feels confident in Jacob’s affection for her and finds him uncritical and undemanding. He never bosses her around, manhandles her, or show any desire for her blood the way Edward always did.

But no one’s perfect.

He may have been no Edward, but he was coming in a close second.

There was nothing left in my life at this point that was more important than Jacob Black.

So she is somewhat bummed when he disappears from her life for a while. She begins to suspect him of murdering people, which doesn’t seem to put her off in the least.

Jacob was my friend whether he killed people or not.

Happily, he returns as a kindly werewolf (having hit some kind of shapeshifting puberty). She also discovers that another one of those “bad” vampires from Twilight is still out for her blood, and the entire Werewolf population of the reservation is devoted to trying to stop the vampire from finding and killing Bella.

Just when we’re expecting a thrilling denouement of werewolf vs evil vampire… the plot goes to syrup again. Alice (a “good” vampire) shows up on Bella’s doorstep and tells her that due to a misinterpretation of a clairvoyent vision that she had, Edward now thinks that Bella is dead and has headed off to Italy to kill himself. This results in a hasty trip to Italy, a soppy reunion, and a happily-ever-after. The whole evil-vampire/werewolves thing is never resolved.

Bella’s stupidity comes to a head during the “climax” because she is completely baffled as to why Edward would want to kill himself just because he thinks Bella is dead. She manages the entire trip to Italy, the mad-dash across a crowded Tuscan square moments before Edward’s suicide attempt, and the reunion/unpleasant meeting with some Italian vampires still convinced that Edward doesn’t care a jot for her.

Edward eventually realizes this and is understandably impatient. It takes him multiple pages to explain to her why he had wanted to kill himself because he thought she was dead.

“But I still don’t understand,” I said. “That’s my whole point. So what?”

“Excuse me?”

“So what if I was dead?”

He stared at me dubiously for a long time before answering. “Don’t you remember anything I told you before?”

[…]

“Bella, I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist.”

“I am…” my head swam as I looked for an appropriate word. “Confused.”

[…]

“–as if there were any way that I could exist without needing you!”

I was still frozen. His words were incomprehensible

When she finally grasps what he is trying to tell her – that he broke up with her because he didn’t want her to be eaten by his fellow vampires and that he actually loved her the whole time – she decides that she must be dreaming and he spends another two pages convincing her all over again.

So we never find out what happens about the evil vampire. Presumably the werewolves continue to hunt her down, but they don’t matter now because Bella has Edward back (along with his controlling behaviour which includes trying to restrict her choices of beverage: Coke is bad for her, you see) and that is the truly important thing.

The end.

But here’s the thing: we do find out that Edward knew nothing about her thrill-seeking stunts. His voice that she was hearing? Totally nothing to do with him.

She actually was having auditory hallucinations.

That was when I realized that she is actually in the early stages of schizophrenia, and that sheds a totally different light on her character.

Now, I realize that it’s a little glib to say that Bella is schizophrenic just because she hears voices. After all, there are many different causes of auditory hallucinations, including extreme depression, and the whole “hearing voices = schizophrenic” association is a little stereotypical. But hear me out.

People tend to think of schizophrenia as a commonly-joked-about-but-actually-quite-rare sort of disease, and is often considered the definition of “crazy”. Well, schizophrenia isn’t a joking matter, nor is it rare (although it is rarely diagnosed, since schizophrenics often avoid medical care). Schizophrenia occurs in about 1% of the population around the globe. That means one out of every 100 people may be schizophrenic. How many people did you have in your high school? How many people live in your city? You’ve probably met a lot more schizophrenics than you think you have. They’re real people who happen to  have a terrible disease.

Schizophrenia tends to be diagnosed in early adulthood. While symptoms can start in the teenage years, they often don’t peak to a recognizable level until much later, mid twenties or even early thirties. So I don’t think Bella is a text-book schizophrenic.

…Yet.

Let’s start with the auditory hallucinations, that big alarm bell: The “voices” that schizophrenics hear characteristically run a commentary on the individual’s behaviours. They may give orders, or warn of danger. It is not uncommon for the voice to be familiar to the individual – someone they know.

Bella hears Edward’s voice warning her of danger and commenting on her behaviour when she does something stupid. He orders her in an increasingly aggressive manner (which even includes angry growling) when she ignores his voice.

Now, let’s go on to examine Bella’s other symptoms, shall we?

Another common early sign of emerging schizophrenia is a tendency towards a wooden or emotionless appearance, and/or the loss of the ability to feel pleasure. Over the last four months, Bella has shown plenty of both. She even refers to herself as a “zombie”. Despite the fact that she has been suffering from severe depression, she has not been crying or showing any particular signs of depression. In fact, her friends’ lack of sympathy suggests that she has shown no outward signs of sadness. She certainly has found no pleasure in anything. Of course, these can also be symptoms of depression, and even the auditory hallucinations could be blamed on this depression as a rare, but not unheard-of, symptom.

Then there is her poor interpersonal relations. Let’s face it, Bella sucks at making friends and sucks even more at keeping them, and this was a personality factor last year, before the depression hit. She also isolates herself, which is both a sign and a trigger for schizophrenia (often delusions are worse when alone). What is more, she frequently ignores friendly behaviour and continues to believe that people don’t like her despite evidence to the contrary. This suggests the beginning of paranoid delusions.

Bella also likes to hide things from her mother and father without good reason. Both of her parents seem very easy-going. They don’t seem to punish her much or even control her behaviour much at all. Yet she frequently tells lies of omission to her father and avoids emailing the mother whom she claims to love and miss. Her innate sneakiness seems totally unjustified, which again leads me to believe that she is slightly paranoid.

Then there is the clumsiness. People with schizophrenia, particularly catatonic subtypes, are characteristically clumsy and uncoordinated in their movements. The fact that Bella’s clumsiness is severe enough that she frequently lands in the hospital as a result should be a warning sign to any good doctor.

Sure, maybe she’s just depressed. But schizophrenia is common enough that (given the auditory hallucinations) it is very possible. I have to say, if it were my daughter experiencing this, I’d be getting her to a doctor right some quick.

Now, there are many other symptoms of schizophrenia which are absent – Bella seems to continue to have good life skills, in that she feeds herself, keeps up with her schoolwork, and as far as we can tell, maintains good hygiene (not showering for days on end is a classic sign of schizophrenia, particularly for the disorganized subtypes). However, keep in mind that at the age of 18, it is unlikely that Bella is a full-blown schizophrenic. Rather, she is likely pro-dromal and we are just beginning to see the edges of the emerging disease.

All of this is before you take into account the fact that she believes her boyfriend and his family are a group of “good” vampires, and that her best friend is a werewolf.

The Twighlight Saga is written in the first person. We believe Bella when she tells us about how her boyfriend is a magical vampire who is kind to her and throws her elaborate birthday parties of which there is no physical evidence (when Edward leaves, her birthday presents -which were never seen by another human being- also disappear, supposedly hidden by Edward). We believe her when, by extraordinay coincidence, her best friend becomes a werewolf. We believe her because we are predisposed to believe the narrator of a story. It’s the suspension of disbelief which comes with assuming that the author creates reality within a fictional world.

What if it’s all an elaborate delusion?

Think about it objectively. We have to accept that Edward and his family actually do exist as does Jacob, because Bella’s friends and family interact with them. Yet none of Bella’s human friends, or her father, have any suspicion that they are surrounded by supernatural creatures. Supernatural creatures who are obsessed with Bella and convince her that she is “special” (now we get delusions of grandeur). Then “bad” vampires also develop obsessions with Bella and try to hunt her down. Meanwhile, the “normal” people all supposedly dislike her, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Bella’s maladaptive social behaviour isolates her from the people who try so desperately to be nice to her and include her. Bella also refuses to believe that Edward genuinely cares about her despite all of the evidence to the contrary. However, her poor self-esteem comes with a side of delusional narcissism, since all these vampires and werewolves seem to consider her an exceptionally special snowflake.

If you start reading these books with the supposition that the vampire stuff is all delusion/hallucination, and Bella is descending into psychosis, it really changes the tone of the story. Go back and read my plot summary again, but keeping this possibility in mind. Sounds different, doesn’t it? Actually, the story makes a lot more sense, especially as told from Bella’s point of view. You even have to start wondering what she is leaving out. Maybe she isn’t showering, after all. After all, she’s not about to tell us that she has lost her ability to maintain basic hygiene, is she? Schizophrenics often don’t recognize their own maladaptive behaviour.

Poor Bella. I don’t hate her any more. However, I do think her father needs to grow a pair and get his daughter into a psychiatric ward before her illness worsens. It’s a shame that the “crazy” stigma of going to see a shrink is preventing her from getting treatment, like far too many other people in this world. I blame Meyer.

Other Twilight Posts:

Twibash

Why Jane Eyre is awesome and could kick Bella Swan’s self-centred ass right to the curb.

Perfect Husband reads Twilight

Oh. My. God.

New Moon, New Psychoses.

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