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Stephenie Meyer’s latest thriller The Chemist is just too formulaic

The Chemist makes a play for the more serious, adult-thriller market – the book is even dedicated to Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross. 
The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer.
The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer.

Stephenie Meyer has sold a ­staggering 155 million copies of her generation-defining Young Adult vampire romance, Twilight. Not that you’d have any idea of this from the cover of her new novel, The Chemist.

Instead, we are reminded the 42-year-old American is “Author of the Number One Bestseller The Host” – her first post-­Twilight novel, which piqued some interest but was hardly considered a must-read. 

Still, this airbrushing of Meyer’s career does make a kind of sense. The Host, which ­revelled in the possibilities of a parasitic alien race on a post apocalyptic Earth, was very much a grown-up novel. 

The Chemist, too, makes a play for the more serious, adult-­thriller market – so reminders of Bella and Edward’s vampiric desire probably would not go down too well with the Robert Ludlum crowd, whom Meyer has gone on record as wanting to attract – the book is even dedicated to Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross. 

The Chemist in question is Alex, a character who is more Carrie Mathison from Homeland than Twilight’s Bella Swan. After using her medical training to interrogate terrorists using teeth-­grindingly painful drugs for a rather ­unpalatable branch of the US government, we find her on the run from her former bosses when it is decided her methods and knowledge would be slightly problematic should the truth get out. She is frazzled, distrustful and pleasingly mysterious. 

In a very Homeland touch, she is drawn back into preventing one last terrorism plot in the hope that playing the hero might allow her to live a normal life – whatever normal might mean to a woman who is so paranoid she sleeps in the bath, wearing a gas mask. 

It is not all high-octane action, though. There’s also a weird ­romantic subplot that appears to suggest agonising torture is a perfectly fine first date. Each to their own. Better still, an impressively skilful dog helps out when the baddies get too close.

All of which coalesces into a novel that ticks plenty of ­thriller boxes. Alex takes on multiple identities and disguises, uses James Bond-style gadgets masquerading as jewellery to overcome enemies, as she battles the constant shadow of ­wrongdoing at the highest levels of government. 

But it also feels slightly out of step with the prevailing mood for more domestic dramas.

The Chemist is such a cold, calculating heroine it is incredibly hard to root for her – not least because her normalisation of torture is hardly a character trait to ­celebrate, no matter how much Alex tries to plead that the ends justify her means. 

Maybe Meyer is trying to tell some unpalatable truths about the way the world works. But ­doing so in the context of an ­eager-to-please cinematic thriller, with added romance and ­redemption, seems a bit odd.

The writing, too, gets dragged down into reams of plot ­exposition and cliché.

No one would argue Twilight was high art, but it was at least passionate. The Chemist just feels, well, a bit too formulaic. 

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: November 22, 2016 04:00 AM

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