Some thoughts on ‘Life and Death’ by Stephenie Meyer


Life and Death. Stephenie Meyer. Atom. October 2015.

Unless you’ve been living under some giant moss-covered boulder in the middle of a forest for the past hundred years, you’re likely already aware that, last month, Stephenie Meyer released a ‘re-imagined’ version of Twilight for its 10th anniversary. The re-imagining element is that the gender of every character within the book (with the exception of Charlie and Renee) has been reversed. Life and Death is not the story of Bella and Edward, but of Beau Swan and Edythe Cullen.

Love it or hate it, nobody can deny what a huge phenomenon The Twilight Saga escalated into, and how many readers it made of a generation. As a teenager, I am mildly embarrassed to admit I was a massive Twihard (but c’mon, who wasn’t?!), and these books really were my world for a good few years. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan now, but part of reading Life and Death for me was a nostalgia thing; I was curious to revisit the characters that took over my life, and made me obsessively read reams and reams of (some good, some very, very bad) fanfiction.

Before I move on to my thoughts on the book, I want to address the accusations of ‘laziness’ that have been flying  around, because we can’t deny the fact that this book is virtually the same story as Twilight, give or take a couple of scenes, and the ending. What I would add, however, is that Stephenie has been pretty open about that from the word go, and if you’re going into this book expecting something different, I don’t think that’s her fault. You can be cynical about this, call it a money-spinner (and it is), but the fact is, people are willing to part with money to read Life and Death – and I don’t think that’s due to any deception on the part of the author or publisher, but simply because… people want to read it!

I know it’s never going to be comparable with Proust or anything, but the first thing I want to mention is that the writing in Life and Death is a considerable improvement on Twilight. I noticed this from the first chapter, because although the commentary is pretty much the same (I recognised so many lines as the original book is so familiar to me), Beau’s narrative is much smoother than Bella’s. Stephenie has mentioned in her introduction that rewriting this book gave her a chance to polish up some of the parts she was unhappy with, and I think that really shows. I remember a lot of Bella’s thoughts being quite jarringly written and dropped abruptly into sentences, which at times made her voice sound unnatural, but Beau’s voice sounded more authentic. It’s strange considering his thoughts about everything are the same as Bella’s, but he really did feel like a different character with his own distinctive voice. That voice also sounds more like a teenager than a mom, in a way that Twilight itself never managed – I could always hear so much of Stephenie’s voice in Bella, yet I think Beau sounds like a real person and not the author.

This book made me think a lot about some of the issues people had with the original book, mainly the criticism of gender-stereotypes in the novel (Bella as the damsel in distress who does all the cooking.) In this book, Beau also does all the cooking for Charlie, but because he’s a guy, the question of gender-stereotyping falls away – you can see that he does it because he likes cooking and Charlie’s useless at it. The thing is, Bella does all the cooking for the same reasons, yet people find this sexist because she’s female?

Similar things have been said about Bella’s clumsiness – oh, she’s a damsel in distress stereotype, she’s fragile, always needing to be saved by Edward, etc. etc. However, seeing that same trait in Beau, we just see that… he’s a clumsy and vulnerable human. The thing is, Bella’s a clumsy person too, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a girl. Girls are allowed to be clumsy, and they’re allowed to not be clumsy… Making them one way or the other does not make a writer sexist. You know what I find more sexist? Criticising a female author for choosing to portray a female character in the way she wants to portray them. Sure, Stephenie could have made Bella smooth and strong, but it would have been hard to show such a difference between humans and vampires if she had. Showing these traits in Beau, a male character, has given Stephenie a chance to show how ridiculous these criticisms of Bella are. They have nothing to do with Twilight being sexist, and everything to do with our own sexist assumptions.

Whilst reading this book, I decided Beau and Edythe are more likeable characters than Bella and Edward, and I think it’s down to their humour. As I mentioned before, most of the dialogue is the same, but there was some new material, and most of it was banter between Beau and Edythe, which softened the characters up a bit. Beau is considerably less snarky and bitter than Bella, and Edythe is less rigid and formal than Edward. The other thing I found was that some of the lines which made Twilight a bit lame were re-worked here, so they sound much more natural. For example, instead of being unconditionally and irrevocably in love with Edythe, Beau says:

“There were a few things I knew for sure. For one Edythe was an actual vampire. For another, there was a part of her that saw me as food. But in the end, none of that mattered. All that mattered was that I loved her, more than I’d ever imagined it was possible to love anything. She was everything I wanted, the only thing I would ever want.”

Okay, so still pretty cheesy, but at least it sounds like something an actual person, rather than a Thesaurus, might say.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of problems with this book. The relationship between Beau and Edythe is still unhealthy and stalky (and I know a lot of people felt strongly about this aspect after reading the original book). It’s not that I don’t see the creepiness of this, because I do (in hindsight though… at the time, I thought it was very romantic), it’s just that I also think we underestimate the intelligence of readers by saying that books shouldn’t portray these things  -that they have a responsibility not to. Crime books glamorize murder, yet the average reader of these books is not going to go out on a killing spree after reading them. In the same way, young girls (and at the time of reading Twilight, I was one, and an insecure, vulnerable one at that!) may get all fluttery reading these books, but it doesn’t mean that they will seek out that kind of relationship in real life. I certainly didn’t, and I was incredibly obsessed with Twilight back in the day.

I would recommend this book to anybody who had a huge Twilight crush as a teenager and is curious, or fancies a trip down memory lane. However, don’t go in expecting a completely different story. The differences are subtle (although they do make it a better book), and a lot of the content is very familiar.

Have you read Life and Death or Twilight? What did you think of it? I appreciate there are a lot of conflicting opinions on these books (and everyone has one!), so I’d love to hear your thoughts!


18 thoughts on “Some thoughts on ‘Life and Death’ by Stephenie Meyer”

  1. LOVED this post! I’m definitely going to read this because I was a HUGE fan of Twilight, still am maybe. Twilight was the book that got me reading more into the fantasy genre, I’m eternally indebted. 😛 So yeah… I’m exited and looking forward to reading it! 🙂

    1. I felt the same way – before Twilight I never really read any fantasy/paranormal books – I actually didn’t read much at all apart from the occasional contemporary romance. Twilight got me into reading in a big way! Hope you enjoy the book, let me know what you thought when you finish 🙂

  2. I’m obviously one of the few who have been living under a boulder as I’d never heard of this 🙂 I knew there was a new version out but didn’t know about the gender switch which does sound like a better idea than the Edward pov version. I loved Twilight so will no doubt read this at some point.

    Great post.

    1. Thanks Ali! I agree – it was definitely a more interesting idea than the Edward POV version. I think I’d still read that if she decides to publish it one day though – I owe it to my 16 year old self who was so desperate to read it (I remember being so gutted that there were only about 7 leaked chapters available!) Hope you enjoy the book if you decide to read 🙂

    1. Haha, glad I’m not the only one! I did love Harry Potter as a kid, but I never became obsessed with a series until I read Twilight. Hope you like the book! I was a little frustrated to begin with because I was expecting it to be more different, but once I got used to it, I just found it interesting trying to look out for all the little changes. Let me know what you think if you decide to check it out 🙂

  3. I want to read this but I’m not sure I can cope with a character called “Edythe”, is that like an actual old-timey spelling of Edith? How do you even pronounce it? Haha

    The Bella vs Beau thing reminds me of criticisms of the fashion or cooking industry – when it’s a woman sewing or baking it’s just a ‘craft’ but when it’s a man its art (see all the top chefs, all the male heads of fashion houses)

    1. Haha, yeah I had trouble working that out too… I assume it is supposed to be Edith. It is a ridiculous spelling though. And yes, I know exactly what you mean about the fashion and cooking industries. It’s almost as if it’s assumed these are women’s activities, so they’re not considered as special. Not cool. Let me know what you think if you decide to read it! We still need to have our first book club session (when I actually get round to reading The Martian that is..)

  4. I love twilight so much, and I really get what stephanie was trying to do, trying to say that it wasn’t that bella was a girl and that whole thing, but to me, the ending really felt rushed and kind if like fanfiction in a way?

    1. Yeah, I definitely agree with you about the ending… I thought it was good that she tried to do something different with the plot, because it would have been boring if it was scene-for-scene the same as Twilight the whole way through, but it did seem like she was trying to tell something which develops over the next three books in the space of a chapter. And I know what you mean about fanfiction – I guess in a way the whole book was like that, because it was a re-imagining of an existing story. So basically fanfiction about her own characters!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post, Jess. I was a fan of Twilight for a time, then I discovered an article that criticized Twilight for glorifying emotional abuse, and it was a massive 180 for me. My feelings for it have completely died for it though.

    Still, I like what you pointed out in your post. You’re very insightful! What you said has actually made me really curious to read it, especially when you confirmed that the writing had improved – that was one of my biggest gripes of the book. Thanks for the post, Jess. I might revisit this one day – and try and withhold my strong criticisms, knowing what the book contains!

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 I think a lot of people feel this way about Twilight, and there are certainly aspects of it that make me uncomfortable now (which at the time I didn’t recognise). I think the first book was relatively harmless, but in the later books, Edward becomes a lot more possessive and controlling and I can definitely see how unhealthy the relationship becomes. A part of me wonders if I was slightly blinkered by the fact that it’s paranormal romance… After reading 50 Shades of Grey, for example, I instantly recognised an abusive relationship (and I have no love whatsoever for that book…), but it was much harder for me to see in Twilight.
      If you do decide to read Life and Death, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I too tried to withhold my feelings on certain aspects of the original book, because I was mainly curious about the gender aspects and how the reversal would work.

      1. I agree! I do think the first book is harmless. I think, if my memory serves me well, the parts I didn’t like was the part where he took out her engine, and his chargrined growling, hahaha!

        I think I was the same. In ordinary circumstances, the problematic aspects of the relationship might be a bit more distinct, so I do think the paranormal plays a part (esp since we could easily excuse that vampires are more aggressive, violent, etc.)

        Yes, I’d love to share! Thanks for the great discussion, Jess. I’m sure I will be able to tackle Life and Death with a bit more maturity than I would if I was 15! hahaha

      2. Yes the car engine part was pretty awful! I’d forgotten about the chagrined growling though haha!! If somebody behaved like that in real life, I don’t think I’d be very ‘dazzled’ by them at all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this 🙂 I think Twilight’s one of those books that everyone has a strong opinion on, so it’s definitely an interesting one to discuss.

      3. Hahahaha I wouldn’t either! Though between you and I, I was pretty dazzled when I first read it. Thank YOU for writing such an insightful post. ❤

  6. Loved this post! I was never a HUGE Twilight fan, but it was the series that first got me into reading YA, so I guess I owe it a lot. My love of reading first stemmed from HP, but Stephanie Meyer was the one who got me interested in young adult literature. Though I realize now that Twilight may not have been the best book to read in terms of unhealthy, stalker-ish romance, I’m really curious to see how this book turned out!

    1. Thank you! I had the same experience really, Harry Potter got me into reading as a kid, and then as a teenager Twilight is what got me into YA in a big way. And yeah, curiosity was the main reason I wanted to read the book too, just to see how the gender flip thing would work. I think the stalkerish stuff in the books is so obvious now looking back at it, but at the time I didn’t see it at all! If you decide to read then let me know what you thought 🙂

  7. I can’t wait to read it too so we can discuss it further! ❤ So far, I really enjoyed the things you said 😀

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