Monday, 25 October 2010

Bye Bye Birdsong... and Bella bashing...

I write at the peril of my university tutor reading this... but I decided to put Birdsong down on Saturday and have not picked it up again. Even the juicy sex scene (around page 50) couldn't keep me interested. There was something really archaic about the writing - I know it's just a taste thing, and I was meant to be reading it to analyse the narrative structure, but I just can't force myself to read something. Faulks just isn't my bag.

I was going to write a review of Lament by Maggie Stiefvater for you tonight, but as I started dwelling on what I would say (whilst listening to the Spring Awakening soundtrack on repeat) I ended up arguing with myself (in my head!) over the poor portrayal of young women in the teen-supernatural-romance genre.

The main character in Lament is called Deirdre (I am assured that it's pronounced Deir-DRA, but I'm afraid that the pronunciation is stuck as Deir-DREE in my head, something I blame firmly on Coronation Street). So instantly we have a sucky name (not so sucky for non-Coronation-Street-viewers who have no waddle-infused connotations) and from the first chapter onwards, a profoundly sucky main character.

Deirdre is an introvert. This is made very clear to us. We also know that she is very good at playing the harp, but that she vomits before every performance. She meets the hero of the piece, Edward-Cullen-alike Luke Dillon (anyone else want to bet that Ms Stiefvater is a retro Beverly Hills 90210 fan?) whilst crouched over a loo chundering away her dignity. He holds her hair back. She nearly faints (after all her copious chundering) and falls into his arms. Apparently this is all it takes to make him decide - MASSIVE FRICKING SPOILER ALERT!!!! - that he doesn't want to kill her after all and that he should instead take her out for ice cream.

I'm sorry, but if I ever find myself falling over in a girls toilet into the arms of Luke Perry (sic) with chunks all over my chin, then give me the blade and I'll do the job for you faerie boy!

We all know why we fall in love with Edward Cullen and his many other incarnations in current teen literature. Ed Cullen is perfect. He reads us Shakespeare, he plays us the piano (if we're lucky, he'll write us a lullaby) and he is entirely devoted to every teeny weeny inch of us - and here comes the crux - for apparently NO REASON. So whilst falling in love with Edward is entirely plausible for Bella, why the frick is he in love with her?


Bella is moody.
Bella really seems to dislike her friends (is she ever nice to anyone who isn't supernaturally tainted?)
Bella never expresses wit of any kind.
Bella needs constant looking after (trauma and death await her at every icy turn).
plus, do we really need reminding... Bella smells.

Edward falls in love with her for no reason at all.
Luke falls for Deirdre apparently instantaneously, whilst her head hovers over a toilet bowl.

Where are the great inspirational heroines?
Where are the narrators that real young women can aspire to?
Where are the women with passion and fire and the ability to stand on their own two feet, for these incredibly perfect (albeit un-dead) men to really fall in love with?

Maybe this is the crux of the appeal of these novels - the young women reading them can fool themselves into believing that love will just happen without them having to try. That they can remain passive, submissive and dull, yet still get the man of their dreams anyway.

I don't know about you, but I don't want a guy getting obsessed with me because I smell bad. I want a guy to fall in love with me because of the things that make me uniquely me. I want Edward to first notice Bella, not because of her pungent odour, but because she stands up in debate class and wins her argument, or because she forces the cafeteria to include healthy option meals. I want Luke Dillon to fall in love with Deirdre after she astonishes the crowd with her incredible harp playing skills, not before.

So, rant aside....

Lament comes out in January in the UK. I understand that it's been out since 2008 in the states. And it is a great read, I assure you. Nothing too taxing on the noggin, but if you need some light relief or something to do on a rainy weekend, I can't suggest anything finer than this novel. It's great fun, it promises great things from potential sequels, and if you have read (and, like me, adored) Shiver and Linger, then you really won't be disappointed.

To end, I would love some examples of great heroines in current teen literature in the comment box please. There is no point about me bringing down the genre without other people to bring it back up again!




  1. ... and the other thing about bella is she keeps falling over. she did it so often in twilight i thought stephenie meyer was setting us up for some big revelation about her balance or some kind of physical disability. but no. she just falls over.

    teenheroines - have you read the midnighters by scott westerfeld? i really loved Dess, who is a polymath and who spends her spare time welding bits of metal together and inventing 13 letter tridecologisms (13 letter words) which help ward off the darklings. she makes mathematics and all shades of geeky cool.

  2. well if you are looking for strong heroines that would rather draw a blade instead of a kiss from a male than try looking at these reads:

    The Hunger Games series: Yes it has gotten a lot of attention lately because of the big buzz behind the film but the Hunger Games was the first book to really bring the dystopia craze into production overdrive in the last few years. The Heroine, Katniss, is really quite something. . . she is not moody, nor is she weak. She puts her life on the line for her family, is strong in the heat of battle, keeps her wits about her, and doesn't instantly fall head over heels for the good looking guy who declares his love for her. . . instead she is more likely to try and kill him. Seriously check it out!