While reading The Host, I had so many people ask me, “Why?” with a clear mark of distain in their voices. But why do I need to explain myself? Just because I’m reading this book doesn’t mean I like it. But if I do like it, am I an idiot, like some might say? If I say I don’t like it am I just going along with what the popular notion is? Should I automatically be closed-minded about it because of the name on the cover? What is it about Stephenie Meyer that makes people so up in arms?
I tried to read The Host a few years back when I was in high school, but I only got about a quarter of the way through and had to stop because I was just so bored with it (and also had some more important school reading to finish). But here I am, giving it another go. And did I like it? Well… I’d say that it has a really intriguing premise to it that could be developed into something incredibly interesting. Unfortunately, it was not handled very well, and inevitably became very frustrating for a number of reasons.
The idea behind The Host (if you weren’t already aware) is this:
A race of aliens known as “Souls” have basically invaded the planet earth over time, taking over human bodies as “hosts” to house their species. The aliens believe that humans are too violent, and therefore do not deserve the planet: they live by a certain set of rules, and all abide by them. They are calm, and courteous, and have a society in place that runs smoothly. But the threat of humans is always present, as the Souls believe there are still pockets of human survivors that have not become overtaken and inhabited by Souls yet. When the body of the young human, Melanie, is found, it is believed that she can lead the “Seeker” Souls—who hunt out humans—to more humans and eliminate them so that they do not try to fight the Souls. Yet once Melanie is implanted with the Soul (who is eventually known as Wanda), it becomes clear that Melanie’s mind is still active within the host body.
Melanie speaks to Wanda, feeds Wanda memories, and essentially makes Wanda fall in love with her brother, Jamie, and boyfriend, Jared, who Melanie left behind when she was captured. Wanda is overcome by Melanie’s memories and wants to protect these humans just like Melanie does, and so goes on a mission to find her lost humans in the desert. She does of course manage to find them, in a small colony of people in a desert encampment, however the humans are not so accepting of Wanda, especially not Jared. Wanda eventually manages to forge a place in the society, but she soon becomes entangled in (to steal a line from The O.C.) a “love rhombus,” as Melanie inside Wanda loves Jared, and Jared loves Melanie, but Wanda has her body so Melanie doesn’t want Jared touching Wanda, and Wanda herself has a bit of a thing developing with a human named Ian, but if she were to act on this it would be a betrayal of Melanie’s body and… do you see where I’m going with this? It’s a mess. And Melanie is extremely petty and childish throughout the entire novel. Really, I wanted her to leave and Wanda to stay. That’s right, I turned against the human, not the aliens (as it should be, eh?). In any case, inevitably the question becomes whether or not they can keep life going like this, what to do with Wanda’s crazed Seeker that is looking for her (seriously, Seeker woman, let it go. You are like Javert at this point), and most importantly, what to do with Wanda being inside Melanie’s body.
If you’ve read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, you are probably aware that she likes perfect, almost too happy endings. This book is no different, and while there may have been some struggles and loss throughout, things are just too neatly wrapped up, and the pains of the characters don’t really transcend to the reader at all. It’s like the difference between choosing to kill off Luna Lovegood or Hannah Abbot in the Harry Potter series. One would hit hard, while the other is not really as emotional at all as I gained no real attachment to the character, despite them being present (not the best example, I know, but you get the idea).
While I’ll admit that The Host wasn’t nearly as boring once I got past the part I had reached when I tried to read it previously (my bookmark was still in the book after all those years), it still suffered from a dragging feeling. Everything was drawn out and took way too long. Not to mention, the writing suffering from having silly metaphors and attempts at poetic language that made me groan, as well as trying to be clinical and exact at the same time, mimicking the speech patterns of the Souls. It was like the overly-poetic-and-sappy-without-saying-anything writing of the last Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants book and the textbook-like precision of World War Z had a mutant baby resulting in this writing style. It was frustrating, to say the least.
But more than anything, the relationship stuff was just plain weird. You know, the stuff with there always being an extra mind present, or the body versus soul nonsense. And yes, I understand that (spoilers?) having Ian accept Wanda’s soul in a different body is making a statement about love being more than what a person looks like, but one definite part of human attraction is physical, and while I believe that it really is about who a person is and not how they appear, I don’t think Ian would have accepted the whole thing so instantly if he were a real person: there would have to be some kind of work done to get over the weirdness of this person being a different person now but the person you saw being someone new now too and… it’s exhausting just thinking about it.
Despite all these problems, however, I did keep reading, as I wanted to know how everything would be solved. And I did think that the idea of there still being a human mind present even after the parasitic souls took over had some potential; it even made me think of some questions I have about the Angelic vessels on Supernatural, and the person trapped inside (don’t worry, I’m not going to elaborate on that). But turning it into a strange, childish romance scenario? Not such a great move. I don’t know, I think that in another author’s hands this idea could have been made into a better book, but as it is now, The Host just seemed a bit juvenile to me. Maybe if I was 17 again I could better relate to the sappy love scenes? Yeah, I probably could, but unfortunately I’m not a teenager anymore…
P.S: Now that I’ve read the book though, I just know I’m going to see the movie adaptation. I always have to see what they do with it, you know? And Cloud Atlas wasn’t that bad as a movie, right? I mean, Ben Whishaw was fantastic as Robert Frobisher, at least… but now we are getting off track.
[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]