Come back Bella and Edward, I didn’t mean any of it
If you get my Facebook feed, you’ll know I’ve spent about forty thousand million billion years snarking about all of the forty thousand million billion things that are wrong with Twilight. On the recommendation of a friend – who clearly felt I needed my Tortured Teen Undead Romance horizons expanding – I have finally got around to reading The Vampire Diaries. I am aware that I’m getting round to this long, long after everyone else and yes, I know there’s a TV series that I also should have watched (but haven’t). But what can I tell you? Sometimes I am very, very slow on the uptake and don’t listen well to what my friends tell me.
So. I was told to read The Vampire Diaries because it is, apparently, much better than Twilight. (I’ll refrain from describing in too much detail the vast oceans of space and time that lie between the two points of “Better than Twilight” and “objectively any good”). And I’m happy to admit that The Vampire Diaries does solve many of the flaws of Twilight. The human heroine Elena Gilbert is much tougher and more assertive than Bella Swann. The vampire hero Stefan isn’t an insane, controlling control-freak who spends every night counting Elena’s eyelashes while she’s asleep. The plot actually begins at the beginning, rather than showing up when the book’s eighty per cent in. The supporting characters are distinguishable from each other (I can even remember their names without looking). There is no Vampire baseball.
Clearly the word “However” is going to be used soon, but let’s save that for now and do the plot summary. Fragile beautiful girl living in small town lays eyes on pale, muscled, strangely alluring guy with hot car and is instantly smitten. Alluring guy is aggressively rude to fragile beautiful girl, but still rescues her from sexually threatening situations. Once this has happened they are legally obliged to be In Lurve, and yet she senses he is holding something back. He eventually confesses that he is a Vampire. There is a Bad Vampire, who probably twirls his moustachios in the mirror and will inevitably be the subject of a whole lot of oh-Elena-if-only fan fiction. Some people die. There is a prom.
Of course, everyone on the planet who owns a pen, a brain-cell and a copy of Twilight has entertained the notion that they could do much, much better. And in the interests of fairness, I have to say that from a technical standpoint, The Vampire Diaries is, indeed much, much better. I really wanted to like this book, and I tried very hard indeed to do so. I’m sorry to say that I failed.
But, because I’m just that dedicated, I read it anyway. And kept chapter-by-chapter notes, which I will be posting up in batches. Here’s everything you need to know about the first five chapters. Enjoy!
And remember, I do these things so you don’t have to.
Chapter One – we meet our heroine, Elena Gilbert. Elena’s been in France for the summer, in circumstances which are supposed to be mysterious, but I bet it’s because her parents are dead. [Note from the future; yep.] She keeps an annoyingly emo diary, filled with thoughts of Sad Things and Culture, to show that she is a cut above those brainless airhead girls she is forced to associate with. So, that’s nice. Like Bella, she is pale and flawless and beautiful (but blonde. Because Bella’s cornered the market on Brunette). Unlike Bella, she clearly knows it. This makes her less Sue-ish, but more irritating.
On the way to school, a crow gives Elena the once-over. Okay, I’m sure this is supposed to be a surprise, but that crow is clearly a Bad Vampire in disguise. [Note from the future; it was.] Finally, we meet our hero Stefan. When we first see him, he’s draining a rabbit and doing some self-loathing.
Best line of the chapter; “Elena Gilbert, cool and blonde and slender, the fashion trendsetter, the high school senior, the girl every boy wanted and every girl wanted to be.” Kill this woman now, please.
Chapter Two – we are introduced to Elena’s two slavish minions. No, sorry, I mean best friends. Meredith is tall, dark, cerebral and clearly has sex on a regular basis. Jolly good for her. Bonnie is diminutive, ditsy, psychic, has red hair, and thinks that if she perms it, she will look taller. Okay, that’s…that’s not so good.
On the other hand, at least I can tell them apart, right? Maybe this will be better than Twilight after all?
Next we meet Caroline, who is Elena’s rival for, well, for everything really, and they indulge in some Mean-Girls-style dialogue. As a woman in my thirties, I find this annoying. On the other hand, this is also much better than Bella, who is oblivious to such petty rivalry and would instead be in the library right about now, having gawky thoughts about Romeo and Juliet.
Bonnie reads Elena’s palm, and brilliantly divines that she will soon meet a dark, handsome, not very tall stranger. And then, OMG, a Porsche 911 Turbo pulls up at the school and out gets Stefan, and the entire school creams itself. Just in case Ms Meyer’s lawyers are reading, Stefan is wearing sunglasses, so we can’t see if his eyes are topaz or not. Oh, and when Stefan and Elena are in the same class, it’s History not Biology, she smells like violets not freesias, and they don’t have to look at amoebas. He can still read minds, though.
Elena and Caroline decide that they will now compete for Stefan. (His opinions and preferences don’t really seem to figure in this plan, so let’s hope he doesn’t secretly prefer ditsy redheads with bad perms.) Elena muses for a while about all the boys she has dated and how empty they leave her feeling and how she is still searching for something, she doesn’t know what, but… something…and decides she will now dump her boyfriend Matt, because she loves him like a brother and he doesn’t satisfy that yearning she has that she can’t put a name to…
Seriously, are modern teenagers this unaware of their bodies? That’s a really depressing thought.
For the record, Matt is not giving any signs of being a werewolf yet, but there’s plenty of time. [Note from the future; as of the end of the first book, Matt is still not a werewolf.]
Then Stefan puts a nasty teacher in his place, making his own small contribution to the ongoing erosion of professional respect for educators everywhere. On the basis of 1) how he looks and 2) how much he knows about the history of the European Renaissance, Elena solemnly declares that He Will Be Hers, Oh Yes, He Will Be Hers.
Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God. I’m trying. I want to like it. I do. But seriously now – isn’t this all a little bit crappy?
Best line of the chapter; “Do you see that jacket? That’s Italian, as in Roma.” Because teenagers everywhere can unerringly spot Italian tailoring at a hundred paces. TRUFAX.
Chapter Three – opens with a brief, angst-ridden insight into the tortured yet fascinating mind of Stefan. We’re in Renaissance Italy, meeting Stefan’s family. Stefan’s brother is called Damon – an unusual choice for fifteenth-century Europe – and he is totally going to be that crow from C1. [Note from the future; he totally was.]
Damon and Stefan are both In Lurve with a girl who is Elena’s Renaissance doppelganger, which will clearly end badly and set them up for an un-lifetime of deadly sibling rivalry. Stefan, I have only had to put up with your company for twenty-seven pages, and already I want to kill you. Let’s hope Elena doesn’t feel the same…
…oh, she doesn’t feel the same! Well, that’s a relief. Here she is giving Matt the kiss-off, and here is Matt making it achingly clear that he will now resign himself to being her little lap-dog for the rest of time. Great. Now I also hate Elena and Matt. Doesn’t anyone have any decency or self-respect around here?
No, clearly not. Elena is now ruthlessly bullying Bonnie and Meredith into keeping Stefan away from Caroline, presumably on the basis that possession is nine-tenths of the law. The path is now clear for Elena to make a fool of herself, which she duly does. Her cunning plan is to pretend that she’s been assigned by the Welcoming Committee to show him around, a plan clearly worthy of Machiavelli. Unfortunately, our actual Renaissance Man is unimpressed by this plan, and rudely storms out of the room. Possibly blocking up his nostrils to keep himself from being overcome by her delicious freesia-scented goodness. I mean violets! Violet-scented goodness. Violets smell completely different to freesias. Cancel the lawsuit.
Best line of the chapter: “He had hoped to find peace here, but that was impossible. He would never be accepted, he could never rest. Because he was evil. He could not change what he was.” Indeed.
Chapter Four – Elena has what I can only describe as a completely bizarre over-reaction to Stefan not instantly wanting to rip her knickers off in the classroom when she made her alluring offer to show him how to open his locker and where the toilets are. She only laid eyes on Stefan about five hours ago, and already she’s heartbroken that he hasn’t fallen In Lurve with her. Sorry, but occasionally even Bella had the self-awareness to remind herself not to obsess over a very rude boy who she only met a week ago. (Occasionally.) She goes home early and mopes, then her Aunt and little sister get home and she runs out the back door and takes herself off to the graveyard. And there in the graveyard are her parents, oh yes. Didn’t see that one coming.
For some reason, Bonnie and Meredith then show up and beg her to share the secrets of her heart. Oh yes, please, please let’s hear the secrets of Elena’s heart! In a further break with Mary-Sue tradition, Elena actually does share the secrets of her heart, and makes her two friends swear a blood-oath that they will not try and steal Stefan and will totally try and help her get Stefan and none of them will rest until she has got Stefan and nothing in the whole world ever has been as important as Elena getting Stefan and I swear on the graves of Elena’s parents which they are all sitting on while they do this, I am truly not making this up.
NB Stefan has now been in town for about ten hours.
Back in the graveyard, Bonnie has a psychic moment. Some sinister shit happens. Everyone screams and runs. A homeless guy living under a bridge is the victim of something which we are supposed to believe is Stefan, but probably isn’t. I’m going with Damon. [Note from the future; it was both of ’em. Huh.] In L J Smith’s defence, this does at least mean the plot is progressing at the same pace as the swooning.
Best line of the chapter; “I swear to keep this a secret and do anything Elena asks about Stefan.” A minion in need…
Chapter Five – and let’s have some more angsty I’m-such-a-monster self-hatred from Stefan, shall we? Because really, it’s been what, a whole chapter since we last did that? Stefan has been out for dinner, and this has reminded him of kissing Elena’s doppelganger Elizabeth, which has reminded him of Elena’s violet-scented goodness, which is messing with his mind, and possibly some other part of his anatomy too. We meet his landlady, whose name, amusingly, is Mrs Flowers.
There’s some more filler on Stefan and Elizabeth, but it’s dull, so I skipped through it. She’s a vampire, by the way. Oh, and I want to slap her. Stefan has a nightmare, proving that he does sleep and is therefore so totally not Edward with a slightly less beige wardrobe, and wakes up shouting.
To prove how their Lurve is so true even though they have only exchanged about twenty words, all of them rude, Elena wakes up thinking someone is shouting. I guess we’d better start looking for hats for the wedding, then. Slightly more usefully, Elena now has an even more Machiavellian plan to bag Stefan, which will totally work because it is brilliant. Apparently. I’m hoping it involves a tranquilliser dart and a giant net.
Damn it, there is no tranquilliser dart or giant net. Elena’s new plan is to spread the rumour that Stefan is “a narc” (which I thought was a seller of narcotics, but turns out to be an undercover policeman), which will keep Caroline away from him (Why? How? Is Caroline some sort of juvenile delinquent?) and also to pretend that she has a French boyfriend, called Jean-Claude. Let’s all just contemplate this piece of magnificence for a moment.
Then we go to Bonnie’s house and meet an annoying yappy dog called Yangtze, who I sincerely hope will be dead by the end of the book [Note from the future: yessss!] and Bonnie’s sister, who is a nurse and looks tired and tells them about some homeless guy who was bitten by a vampire under the bridge near the graveyard. Well, she doesn’t actually use the word “vampire”, but that’s because people in vampire stories are always strangely blind to the overwhelming evidence. Full marks for having a plot, L J, but I still hate every single one of your characters.
Best line of the chapter; “The glimmer of white behind a lemon tree. The feel of a sword in his hand; Guiseppe’s voice shouting from far away. The lemon tree. He must not go behind the lemon tree.” Yeah, I have nightmares about lemon trees all the time too.
That’s all for now, folks! Five more chapters of obsession, self-loathing and lemon-trees coming up soon.
Just in case there’s any doubt – I’m not recommending you buy “The Vampire Diaries”. Also, you probably have a copy already, right? Because I am astoundingly late to this party. However, if you absolutely must, it’s available on Amazon for £4.26.