This has been the year of surprises, shocks and twists. So what better way to mark the midpoint than the publication of a book that was hotly anticipated a decade ago, but is now consigned to fan subculture?
I'm talking, of course, about Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer's retelling of the events of Twilight from the perspective of Edward, the 104-year-old sparkly vampire love-interest to protagonist Bella Swan. Shelved in 2008 after an internet leak and finally published during a global pandemic, Midnight Sun's road to publication has been a saga of its own.
To some Twi-Hards, it's been a long wait. But these fans are now in their late twenties or thirties, and times (and fan culture) have moved on.
Despite not being a fan, I've always found the snide commentary on the series (usually by middle-aged men) more egregious than the books themselves. Everyone loved to hate Bella, but she was a decent protagonist, and I liked the strong choice narrative of the original series.
In contrast, Edward's internal narrative, self-loathing and possessive, is difficult to plough through. He makes a show of feeling bad about stalking Bella, but doesn't stop. He fantasises about murder constantly. That's to say nothing of his misogyny.
Bella is 'different' to other girls - she doesn't wear make-up, she reads Victorian novels and she knows who Debussy is. Almost every other female character is toxic and shallow, but most vilified is his vampire foster-sister Rosalie, who is still bitter that Edward didn't instantly fall in love with her when they first met more than 50 years previously.
Some of Edward's faults as a narrator are inevitable. Twilight is, at its core, a moody mystery, but we know how that story ends. There's no tension in Edward's anguish over his feelings for Bella because we know he gives into them. It doesn't help that Edward can read the minds of everyone (apart from Bella), including his sister Alice, who can see into the future. Each time he must make a moral decision (should he watch Bella sleep?) he looks into Alice's mind to see what he does in the future, and resigns himself to it. He berates himself often for making the wrong choice, but it's ultimately pretty meaningless.
In her defence, Meyer doesn't expect us to see Edward in Midnight Sun as a 'good person', but she doesn't offer much serious criticism either. He is so self-loathing yet hypocritical that it borders on hilarious. His disgust at his desire for Bella's blood (his 'own personal brand of heroin') is obviously a metaphor for sexuality: there are at least 170 references to Edward's shame at his lust, more than one every five pages. An 'incel' Edward would have brought the book a satirical edge, as would an Edward whose Victorian morality is at odds with the emerging hook-up culture.
As it is, Midnight Sun is difficult to justify. The original book was 544 pages; this clocks in at 756, with only limited new scenes and information. Conversations are word-for-word the same as in Twilight, and Edward just isn't interesting enough to justify hearing these from his side. Once you've understood that he hates himself for his 'inability' to stay away from Bella despite wanting to hurt her, there's not much more to add. The whole book feels stale.
Binge-reading Midnight Sun in 2020 is an exercise in discomfort. Edward grows angry with Bella when he feels 'tempted', he watches her sleep without her consent and he's very aware of the difference in their age and maturity levels. It's telling that the character he most resembles is not his father, Carlisle, but instead a paedophile he killed as a new vampire.
Edward watched the man grapple with his urge to kidnap, rape and kill a five-year-old girl, despising himself, but eventually giving in (although Edward kills him before he harms the girl). It mirrors Edward's internal struggle in such a disturbing way that I can only assume that Meyer intended it, but it's a bizarre choice for a romantic lead. Then again, Edward's behaviour was always coercive; some advocacy groups even use the books as a teaching tool for recognising the signs of an abusive relationship.
The 13 years Meyer has spent on Midnight Sun have clearly weighed her down. "Every single word was a struggle," she says in a New York Times interview. "Writing him made me more anxious, and that's one of the reasons it was hard to be in that story. His anxiety combined with mine was potent."
Perhaps (metaphorically) exorcising Edward is something she needed to do to move on. And if she produces something better and fresher next time, maybe these 756 pages of self-flagellation and quasi-Catholic guilt will have been worth it. But somehow, I doubt it.
I can only hope that we leave the 'stalking as an expression of true love' trope back in 2008, where it belongs.