The Chemist Doesn’t Belong in 2016

cover of The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer in a review of the bookThere’s something for everyone under the sun when it comes to literature and that’s a good thing. As we know, Shakespeare’s works, in his time weren’t particularly high brow literature but mass market culture with something for both the upper and lower classes. In fact it is believed that his plays were popular stories of the time and Shakespeare’s versions weren’t the only ones, simply the best ones. All this is to say that it’s long time we get rid of the idea that the only books really worth reading or-or praising-are classics or exclusive, experimental literature or some man writing tirades against society or his mother. One of the best novels I’ve ever read about domestic violence and alcohol abuse is This Charming Man by Marian Keyes a book marketed as chic lit with festive purple cover art. Writing within a genre is a skill and the fact that something is consumed en masse doesn’t make it bad. Therefore, The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer could be forgiven for it’s stilted writing, a plot that is vague and not always fully fleshed out and a sentence referring to bedding as a unicorn mane. But what it can’t be forgiven for is the fact that Stephenie Meyer hates women.

There’s a fantasy that women are taught to have that if we are different enough and special enough, if we eschew make up and fashion, if we laugh at sexist jokes and “aren’t too sensitive” and if we prefer stereo-typically masculine activities over feminine ones then men will love us and treat us better, that we will be able to change an abuser and become the heroine of our own story. It’s been 10 years since Twilight , a series I will admit I enjoyed despite it’s flaws, was released and in that time Stephenie Meyer has learned nothing. A lot of the criticism directed at Twilight was about the fact that the only good woman in the book is Bella a beautiful but tomboyish book worm who has no use for any other women.Furthermore it is only she who can interest-and change- Edward for whom she is the only equal. But here we are 10 years later and she’s still writing the same story. In The Chemist we meet Alex, a torturer who belonged to a super secret unnamed intelligence agency but is now on the run for her life for reasons that are unimportant. She decides to take one last job where she picks up a suspect who isn’t what he seems. The fact that Meyer would make her heroine a torture specialist is odd considering what we all know about torture and considering current events. In fact, it’s more than odd, it’s wrong. For the past 50 plus years we’ve been inundated with films, books and television that tells us there is a clear right and wrong and that if the “good” people are doing it than anything goes. It’s this kind of blase thinking that encourages a world view that has increasingly little relevance to the actual world. But I digress. Alex is the hero because,as we are reminded continually, she is “ugly”. She has a flat chest! She’s short! Her face is scared because she’s been doing battle with various killers for the past four years!She is however, smart and the best that ever worked in her mysterious department. And she’s not good at relationships either. Foundation and lipstick are  the greatest mysteries of the cosmos to our intrepid heroine. All other women in this book are mentioned only in passing but with utmost derision. A women in a bar is a tramp. A clerk in a corner shop is too flirtatious. A middle aged woman is stupid and annoying. An ex-wife is a gold digger.  The only other woman who actually plays a part is a “hooker” who swans around trying to seduce Alex’s love interest for a few minutes before begrudgingly helping them out. To be fair the male characters don’t fare significantly better with one who’s only character trait is how nice he is and one who’s character is best described as boorish manly-man. Characterization has not particularly been the strong suit of spy novels but we already have James Bond and that’s outdated enough.

As women we should be gracious with each other. As feminists we need to fight internalized sexism and bring each other into the fold. We can cut the Twilight series some slack because I believe that Stephenie Meyer didn’t intend to write a misogynistic series. However 10 years have passed. The sexism in Twilight has been pointed out. Fifty Shades of Grey (which began as Twilight fan fiction)has been analyzed by reviewers and survivors as intimate partner violence alike. There’s no excuse for Stephenie Meyer to be writing and releasing a novel like this anymore.

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