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7th October
2010
written by Steph

I don't know what an "Anthony Award" is, but I don't think I want one...

Regular readers know that I don’t shy away from writing negative reviews here at S&TI! In fact, some might argue that I actually revel in lampooning the occasional deserving book. I admit that sometimes it’s just a whole lot more fun (and a lot easier) to snark on a book than it is to sing its praises. But I try to only do this if I think a book really deserves it. Dead Until Dark (aka “the first Sookie Stackhouse book”) definitely deserves it. I realize that most of the time when I rag on a book and call it “bad”, I generally talk about how I found the writing uninspiring and/or not very good. But I also realize that my high prose standards are not always appropriate – not ever book strives to read like poetry or transmute words into shimmering gold, and that’s ok. It's not fair for me to lambaste a book for not achieving something it didn’t set out to do. So I will skip my usual diatribe of “this book was not written well” and try to focus on the other things Dead Until Dark does aim to do, and perhaps does not succeed in doing. But first, a little back story! I’m sure faithful followers are surprised to even see this book featured on this blog, since it’s certainly not the kind of stuff I generally read. I know that “paranormal romance” is a genre (it always cracks me up when people discover this for the first time… their bemusement and incredulity is always priceless), but it’s not really one that I read. Dead Until Dark also can be considered a mystery/thriller novel, since it doesn’t just have preternatural creatures doing the dirty, but there are also murders thrown in for good measure as well. I mean, if sex, death, and vampires are good, can you imagine how titillating a book involving ALL THREE must be? Anyway, the reason I wound up reading this book is because I took up knitting, and one thing I can’t actually do while I knit is read… but what I can do is listen to audiobooks. I’d heard the Sookie books were fun (and have actually seen the first season of True Blood, the television series based on the books) and my public library had them available via Overdrive, so I thought I’d give the first one a whirl. I admit, this was a mistake. Now I know tons of you love these books, so clearly my reaction is only my own and nobody else’s. I thought these books would be kind of great for listening to because they wouldn’t be overly complicated and would likely lend themselves well to being listened to rather than actively read. I’m very much a visual person and I have a hard time concentrating on things when they’re conveyed aurally, so I’m not looking for Proust or Gabriel Garcia Marquez in my audiobooks. I wanted something light and fun that would be easy to follow and that it wouldn’t much matter if I zoned out every now and then. The problem is, I found the listening experience so excruciating, I kind of wanted to zone out more often than not (or put the audiobook on pause for extended periods of time). I think there were several elements that contributed to my agony, which can probably be boiled down to: the subject matter, the writing (urg, I know!), and the tv show. Ok, first the subject matter. Given the tv show, I knew that Dead Until Dark would have a lot of sexiness happening in it. I have no problem with people reading romance novels or erotic fiction, but I will perhaps suggest that you be the one reading it, rather than having someone else read it to you. It was really uncomfortable to sit and knit while some random woman narrated sex scenes to me… in part because I can’t imagine how that wouldn’t be awkward, but also because she had to put on different voices for each character, and her voice for vampire Bill was probably worse than the fake accent Steven Moyer employs on the tv show and was kind of similar to the voice I put on when I pretend to be our dog Emmy Lou. You can see how this would make me squirm in the least sexy way possible. Most of the time I would just laugh whenever “Bill” was speaking, but the sex talk took things too far. Additionally, Tony was unfortunate enough to catch snippets of this book and he said he felt the motifs were very similar to rape fantasy – Sookie is a naïve, unspoiled virgin who has not a chance of overpowering her vampire lover, who frequently uses his physical strength over her. Add into that the vampire dominance dynamics of her “belonging” to Bill, and you can’t really fault the guy for pointing out the rather questionable power imbalance that is set up. I agree that I find the recent obsession with vampires and sex rather disturbing, and also didn’t find Sookie and Bill’s relationship all that attractive. The second reason for my disliking this book is tied very strongly to the first and that has to do with the writing. I know I said I wouldn’t harp on it, and I’m not going to, except here where I think discussion of the prose is germane. See, my thought on romance/erotic writing is that it should be, well, arousing. It should get the blood pumping, make you feel frisky, but this book could easily be passed out as a method of contraception it was that unsexy. The sex scenes were uncomfortable, not just because of the narrator, but because of the writing. Having a character say “I would like to enter you now”? That’s just: ew. Anyone who says that is never seeing my lady parts, and I have to say, Dead Until Dark made Tony and I consider sleeping separately for a while, it was that alienating. Maybe Harris got into a groove later on and made her sex scenes less awkward and horrifying, but let me re-iterate: “I would like to enter you now.” Does anyone else want to bleach their brain? Or buy a chastity belt? Finally, another reason I think my experience with this book suffered is because I had, as I mentioned earlier, seen the first season of the show and that stays pretty close to the novel in terms of plot. So I knew who the murderer was and all the big twists, and I admit that this is not the book’s fault, but my own. However, I have to say that I actually thought the televised version of the book was actually way better than the book in other ways! For instance, I like that on the television show, the characters are fleshed out a lot more, including Jason, LaFayette and Tara (who doesn’t actually exist in the book). I think Sookie is kind of insipid, so the fact that the tv show has other people to feature and focus on every now and then is definitely a point in its favor. There were more storylines, more things to hold my interest, and yes, generally speaking the writing was slightly better. Faced with the prospect of reading book two or watching the second season of the show, I’d rather do neither, but if forced to pick, I’d definitely go with the show. I think the rule of reviewing is that I am supposed to say at least one good thing about this book, so I will say that the one thing I do think is clever about these books is how they use vampirism as a way of paralleling other fringe elements in society, namely racial minorities and homosexuality. I think the way these ideas allude to one another are quite clever (like vampires being “out of the coffin”), and the fact that Sookie is from the Deep South just adds to the atmosphere and appropriateness of the entire thing being taboo. Also, even though I felt I might have been losing IQ points while listening to this book, my brain never actually leaked out of my ears as I feared it might… so let’s call that an upside! Bless Sookie’s heart, but I think it’s best she and I parted ways. I’ll definitely be more cautious when it comes to picking out my next audiobook! Any suggestions? Rating: 2 out of 5

21 Comments

  1. 10/07/2010

    Several people have recommended this series to me, but I’ve avoided it because I kind of had a feeling about the writing. And the story. And yes, “I would like to enter you now” would be pretty much a no-go line. Ick!

    As for audiobook choices, the best audiobook I’ve listened to in ages was A Clockwork Orange. I know it goes against all logic because of the made-up language, but I’m not sure I would have liked it nearly so well in print. And David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell are better on audio than in print, IMO.

    When I started listening to audiobooks, I found them to be a great way to reread. Zoning out didn’t matter because I knew the plot, but I still got guaranteed entertainment when I was paying attention.

  2. 10/07/2010

    I never thought I would be one to like this series either, but I love it! I guess I have gone over to the dark side….. But I hope you know this means you *have* to post a video (or audio) of you using the voice you put on when pretending to be Emmy Lou!!!

  3. kay
    10/07/2010

    As much as I like vampires, I still haven’t decided whether I’ll read this one or not. It’s on my shelf, but since I have been less and less into the TV show (until I just stopped watching somewhere season 2), and since you say the story mostly follows the same line as the show, I don’t know… I certainly won’t get the audio version, I absolutely don’t want some random lady to read sex scenes to me! Eek!
    As for your next audio, how about… Twilight? (why yes, that is an evil laugh you hear between my words!)

  4. I have been tempted to try this series in the past just so I can see what everyone is raving about, but I know I wont like it. It is quite nice for you to confirm that the writing would annoy me and all the elements that I feared were there actually are. Curiosity might get the better of me one day, but I’ll probably enjoy writing a similar negative review to yours!! I’ll try to stay away!!

  5. 10/08/2010

    Oh my! This book sounds like it was a painful reading experience. A lot of people seem to love these books and I guess I got caught up in the hype, because I ordered the first one, and it has been sitting on my shelf for awhile. The weird thing is, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to like it, and I got it anyway. I guess I just wanted to dip my toes into this genre and see what all the fuss is about. After reading your review, I may just skip this one and get rid of it. And seriously, “I would like to enter you now” is not only unsexy, it’s downright skeevy.

  6. 10/08/2010

    I actually enjoyed this series for the most part – for the simple reason they were so brain dead. Sometimes it’s just easy to skim through something light, and these books did the trick for me.

    Having these books read out aloud is another matter altogether. I would have died with mortification if my other half or anyone else walked in while any of these scenes were read out aloud. Eww!

  7. 10/08/2010

    I don’t listen to much audio so I can’t help with that, but I was quite bemused by your review. I could take or leave sex scenes in books (not because I’m a prude, just because…they don’t do it for me), but sex scenes being read aloud?? It’s just fodder for mocking. Particularly when someone says, Can I enter you now.

  8. 10/08/2010

    @ Teresa: Given what I know of your reading tastes I can’t imagine you being a fan of this series. It just really doesn’t seem like your thing at all!
    I think I may give Clockwork Orange a try; I’ve had no luck reading it myself, so I have nothing to lose by trying the audio version!
     
    @ rhapsody: OR you could borrow the audiobook and listen to the reader put on her “Bill” voice! Same difference… 😉
     
    @ kay: We didn’t make it too far into Season 2 either, so you can see why I’m not thrilled at the prospect of continuing with the books either.
    And a HUGE NO to Twilight, as I’ve already read it (it’s true!) and seen the movie, so that’s not one I need to revisit in any capacity!
     
    @ Jackie: It’s not like these books require a huge time investment, but they are so not worth it in my opinion. Certainly don’t do the audio version should you ever succumb to the series!
     
    @ zibilee: Yes, unfortunately I found everything that was supposed to be sexy about this book to be “skeevy” which is why it was such a huge failure for me. I mean, no one can make that infamous line sound good and enticing!
     
    @ Nishita: Yes, for certain light, fluffy reads can be just the thing… I don’t necessarily want to hear Tolstoy when I’m knitting, but as you can see, I don’t want to hear sex scenes either! It’s soooo uncomfortable!
     
    @ trish: Yes, I feel the same about sex scenes – normally they come off as kind of awkward, but having them read aloud makes the bad ones even worse! I guess you can fastforward audio books, but it’s not quite the same as just skimming or skipping over the parts that are less masterfully done in the novel. And believe me, there were plenty of sexy (and therefore uncomfortable) moments in this book to be endured.

  9. 10/08/2010

    I’m currently watching the second series on TV which I’m liking. I’ve also got the book which I found at a charity shop and bought because so many people have been raving about it. However, I find I’m reluctant to read the book after seeing the TV adaptation as I know there’ll be lots of differences (I didn’t realise Tara wasn’t in the book!) But we’ll see. But hearing a sex scene is probably much, much worse than reading it;P

  10. kay
    10/08/2010

    So you read it and didn’t review it? I’m disappointed. Was it in your pre-blog era?

  11. 10/08/2010

    I couldn’t even finish the book (and thank god I never made it to the sex scenes), so you’re a better person than I am.

  12. 10/09/2010

    sneaks in…
    phew I thought I was the only one that didn’t like this book!

  13. mee
    10/10/2010

    As usual your negative review is highly entertaining ;). Especially that I have no interest whatsoever in vampire books, so reading your review is more than sufficient for me to know what Sookie is all about!

  14. 10/11/2010

    @ Sakura: Tony and I devoured the first season in something like two days, but for whatever reason we just couldn’t get excited for the second one. I do think that if you’re watching the show there’s no need to read the books (something I hate to say, but it’s true!).
     
    @ kay: Yes, I think I read Twilight right around the time I started the blog… just a bit beforehand. I had considered writing reviews at the time, but it just never happened! Just read Tony’s review of the movie! It’s all you’ll need! 😉
     
    @ softdrink: I think the only reason I made it through is because I was doing other things so it was easy enough to leave the audiobook playing. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have made it through either.
     
    @ Kelly: Thanks for sneaking in! Isn’t it nice to learn you’re not alone?
     
    @ mee: Glad my pain resulted in enjoyment for your and my other readers! That’s really what matters… 😉

  15. 10/11/2010

    I did like this novel, but I love your negative review! It’s witty and hilariously funny.

  16. 10/13/2010

    @ Stephanie: I’m glad you could see the humor in my review, even if it didn’t necessarily jive with your own feelings!

  17. *holds hands up and confesses to having read the entire series so far*

    I see all your points and raise you that the books are sheer mindless escapism. I won’t review the series but I read them all over the summer (I hasten to add that I interspersed them with high literature at times but they were great for a reading slump and cat bereavement too). I have a post on comfort reading in relation to the series that I have on the back burner but the gist is that I found their formulaic predictability soothing and non-taxing.

    I think that listening to the books, however, would be its own brand of torture; the writing is painful and the sex scenes are most definitely cringe-worthy. This will sound most disparaging to Charlaine Harris but I was stunned to discover that she is married with children as her sex scenes read like those of a fifty year old virgin.

    I think there is a correlation between vampirism and rape fantasy (if you are a Buffy fan then please refer to Graduation pt. 1) and it is a link that I am suitably intrigued by to study further.

    The links to fringe elements of society are indeed clever but it is unfortunate that it isn’t pushed further (being one of the few thought-provoking and relevant inlusions in the narrative). Harris does improve through the series and has a wry sense of humour with Elvis (known as Bubba) -hence the frequent sightings- and Alexei Romanov both appearing as vampires.

  18. 10/15/2010

    @ Claire: I am a Buffy fan, so the notion of vampires and rape is not exactly new, but I suppose the difference with Buffy is that she is so often the strong one that the power imbalance isn’t so obviously there. But regardless, I think I can see how someone looking for mindless reads would find these fun or fluffy, but the thing that really bothered me was the fact I was listening to them (and the sex scenes were so uncomfortable… I agree I was surprised to hear that Harris is married with kids!) and because I already knew the story from having seen the show. Maybe later books wouldn’t be quite as banal for me, but I certainly learned my lesson and won’t be listening to them to find out!
    Did like how Elvis showed up though! That was one cute thing that isn’t in the tv show so it surprised (and amused) me! I wish Harris were more often clever and cheeky like that!

  19. 10/17/2010

    I’m in the ‘loved it’ category Steph – however I can sort of sense that as an audiobook, it wouldn’t work half so well.

  20. 10/17/2010

    @ Annabel: Yes, I think that while I never would have loved this book, it was the audiobook format that truly staked it through the heart for me. It just made certain weak elements of the book all the more glaring!

  21. […] is based: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. As it was only a pound, I had to get it, right? Steph and Tony Investigate! had mixed feelings about Dead Until Dark and it lay on my shelf for months until I read Gaskella’s review and […]

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