I’ve just finished reading Charlaine Harris’ “Dead Until Dark” – the first novel in the series that the brilliant HBO series “TRUE BLOOD” is based on. Being such a fan of the show, I was excited to read the book… However, I came out a little traumatized, and very very confused.
“Dead Until Dark” introduces us to Sookie Stackhouse – a telepathic waitress living in a small town in Louisiana. Apart from being a bit of a loser because of what she calls “her disability”, life for Sookie is pretty normal. The world of the novel is one where vampires and humans live side-by-side. It’s not all peaceful; there’s a lot of prejudice and a fair bit of violence, but it’s like society’s relationship with any minority group.
Sookie gets involved with “Vampire Bill”, who is attempting to “mainstream” – to live among humans in peace, drinking synthetic blood to survive. As their romance gets more involved, Sookie being drawn further into the vampire community, the discord between people and vampire gets to boiling point. Local girls just like Sookie start being murdered, and a pattern starts to emerge… Sookie’s powers and her relationship with Bill come in handy in chasing down the murderer and restoring a little peace in the small town.
Now, there’s so much I can tell you that’s bad about this book… But at the end of the day, I quite enjoyed reading it.
Charlaine Harris seems to have some weird problem with tenses for the first half of the book. It’s narrated mainly in past tense, but then occasionally an “is” will slip in there… It’s so hard to pay attention to what’s happening in a novel when you keep getting snagged on something as dumb as a lack of “is/was” continuity.
The writer also seems to struggle with instilling a bit of character logic into her story. I can suspend my disbelief as far as the book asks me to – OK, there’s vampires. There’s shape-shifters. There’s telepaths… But on a number of occasions in the novel, people hear or see things which they respond to in a totally illogical way. Example: (spoiler here!) – Sookie’s boss Sam is a shapeshifter, which is something he’s been at pains to hide from her for the 5 years they’ve known each other. One day, Sam feels like Sookie’s in danger, so he turns into a dog and goes to her house to protect her, where he falls asleep on her bed. The next morning Sookie wakes up with Sam, naked, in bed next to her. Her reaction?
WHAT!? That’s IT!? Just a very calm, “oh, Sam.” As if.
Harris either has no confidence in her skill as a writer, or grossly underestimates the intelligence of her readers. She feels the need to reiterate simple points over and over…and over, to the point of redundancy. At least three times in the first two chapters, Sookie refers to the fact that her parents died – both of them, when she was seven, in a flash flood, leaving herself and her brother with her Gran. And each time she refers to it in this much detail… We get it, just tell us once…
I figure this must be a lack of confidence on Harris’ part, which wouldn’t be entirely unfounded… She seems to have a fondness for adverbs and a strange aversion to the word “said,” forcing her characters to “smile”, say “disgustedly” (what a horrible word!), “notice”, and “observe”. These are just a few of the many horrible modes of speaking that people in the world of Dead Until Dark use when conversing.
…But for all of these faults, Charlaine Harris has written an incredibly fast-paced, no-boredom novel. Right as I was getting pissed off with the B- or C-grade writing, there was SEX! and then BLOOD! and then a CRAZY NEW CHARACTER! Then more sex! More blood! Sexy blood, and bloody sex!
Hence the confusion.
For how terribly written the novel is, for how much it truly insults me as a reader, I enjoyed reading it. And, if someone were to give me the sequels, I’d probably read and enjoy them too.
11/02/2010 at 5:21 am
Hmmm – I have no urge at all to read these.
But the HBO series? Phew! I was hooked at the opening credits – the South never looked so dirty or so friggin’ cool!
11/02/2010 at 5:47 am
My boss lent me some Anne Rice (which I started yesterday), and this, as we were talking about my never having read a vampire novel but wanting to.
HBO have turned some terrible novels into a great TV show, so I just assumed the book would be awesome also. No cigar.
But hells yes, True Blood rocks hard.
15/02/2010 at 5:40 am
A friend of mine who’s pretty much in thrall of the Anita Blake novels says they’re also wholly ridiculous and indefensible. For that reason I started to think the pages of lousy vampire books must be laced with a powerful narcotic.
But really, I’ve got my own guilty pleasure reading that isn’t “bloody sex” or “sexy blood” but “bloody blood” — zombie novels. And bad writing has a tough time distracting me in those books much in the same way.
15/02/2010 at 6:37 am
Zombie novels, you say?
Like what? I know of the terrible re-working of Jane Austen, but other than that – zombie novels? How intriguing.
17/02/2010 at 4:06 am
Chiefly World War Z by Max Brooks, which is like a literary gift to everyone who’s ever enjoyed a zombie movie. Soon I’ll be checking out David Wellington’s Monster Island, which, while not being as great, is supposed to go some very interesting places with zombie lore. Then there’s Brian Keane’s books, like The Rising, which are certainly not for the sqeamish, but can do the trick.
17/02/2010 at 4:33 pm
I just found World War Z at my local library, so I put a reservation on it… I’ll let you know how I go, and whether it’s a genre I simply must have more of!
21/02/2010 at 1:03 am
World War Z blew me away, and I’m hardly interested in zombies as a genre.
I suppose it’s the socilogic apocalyptic speculation that I loved.
Sure you had zombies… but like I said, it blew me away.
Speaking of book to movie/TV misalignment, I recently read “The Postman” by David Brin. Incredible. Forget the movie, read the book.
21/02/2010 at 10:35 am
thanks for stopping by LGWABP…
Zombies as a genre, in film, are pretty hit-and-miss for me. Sometimes it’s absolute gold, others it’s just so badly done and so cheesy (unintentionally – intentional cheese is totally hot) – that I can’t make it past the half-hour mark.
Did you read “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks also? I haven’t read the whole thing, just had a bit of a prolonged flick, but it was obviously quite different to an actual novel that he’s done with World War Z… So I’m pumped to get on in there! Will definately write up a review when I finally do get around to it.