I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but forget the book and just watch the movie. Or in this case, the TV series, which is so good I decided to check out the source. True Blood is excellent: dark, gritty, and entertaining, it’s got a gripping storyline and fantastic script with good actors playing unforgettable characters. But Dead Until Dark, the novel on which the first season of True Blood is based, will from here on be referred to by its acronym DUD, because that’s largely what it is. If you’ve already seen the TV series, there’s absolutely no point in reading the book because DUD has almost nothing to add to the story. Oh, there are minor differences in plot of course, and the book has much more detail about Sookie putting on make-up, shaving her legs, or doing the housework but for the most part it just reads like Anna Paquin’s portion of the script with regular descriptions of what she’s wearing but with a lot less of the sass that makes her so appealing, and a lot more of the gushing that makes for a corny romance novel.
True Blood has actually managed to stick very closely to the plot without sacrificing any valuable detail as most film adaptations are forced to do, probably because DUD is not as rich a novel as it could have been. Charlaine Harris had some great ideas that made her novel pleasingly different to other popular vampire fare. The artificial blood, the difficult integration of vampires with human society, the prejudice against human vampire-lovers known as ‘fang-bangers’, and the attempts of some vampires to ‘mainstream’ all make for interesting new character dynamics. The conservative American South provides the ideal backwater setting: social tensions are more pronounced, but at the same time it’s isolated enough for the wilder aspects of the vampire to thrive, and for a good murder mystery plot to develop. And of course there’s that unique Southern wit. Unfortunately, it’s only True Blood that these ideas are used to their full potential; Harris mostly wastes it on a vampire-human love story that rapidly grows tedious while the serial-killer mystery hovers meekly in the background. Of course, if you’re actually a fan of paranormal romance you may well find this fun and exciting, but I’m really no judge in that department.
DUD’s first –person narration means we only ever see things from Sookie’s perspective and the view from there is rather dull. I really missed the True Blood characters – Lafayette is just a few sentences, Jason only pops up every now and then, and Tara doesn’t even exist. The mystery isn’t particularly interesting either. It only comes to the fore near the end, when Bill has to leave town and Sookie’s narration is forced to focus on something else, at which point the novel suddenly rushes toward the ending.
The writing is equally mundane, except for the moments when it becomes silly or just plain awful, usually during the sex scenes. Listening to the audiobook, I also became painfully aware of just how often people do or say things in ways that end in ‘ly’ – quietly, thoughtfully, meaningfully, relunctantly etc.. And when the author isn’t describing how her characters are speaking, she reverts to the basic ‘he said, she said’. Dull writing, dull book.