by Stephen King
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2009.
The publication of any new work from Stephen King is an event. When that work is 900 pages long and hailed as his crowning glory then the event takes on mythic status. So everything was dropped when this monster landed on the doorstep and with huge anticipation I started to read…
The book focuses on the town of Chester’s Mill and the surrounding area where, on an otherwise unremarkable summer’s day, a remarkable event takes place. The town becomes surrounded by some kind of invisible barrier or force field..the Dome. The book then focuses on the characters in the town and the tensions the Dome creates which build on the pre-existing relationships between those characters.
Now, when you have a whole town full of characters to focus on and outline you can expect a slow start and to be honest three hundred pages in I was finding things slow going. A constant barrage of names means you have to focus on the characters but think of this like a slow fuse leading up to a massive pile of dynamite at the end. Have patience and you will be rewarded.
When the fuse finally ignites, the book lights up with remarkable intensity. All that character creation gives depth and background to the events that follow. And what follows is a Lord Of The Flies descent into madness as sides are taken and territories defined.
One of King’s strengths has always been his remarkable ability to draw characters with a few choice phrases, to colour them with unique patterns of speech. All the usual suspects are here, the dodgy Boss Hogg type town official, the crazy backwoods guys, the ineffectual policeman and the heroic no-body’s who find themselves at the centre of the action. The book observes these characters as it draws to an inevitably horrific conclusion
It’s not Kings’ crowning achievement it might be in the top ten of his books but given the remarkable back catalogue he has amassed that is no slight. I wonder if this had been presented by a lesser author if the editors wouldn’t have trimmed it. Those first few hundred pages certainly start slowly and may benefit from some tightening but then again all the groundwork is required in order to make the later stuff more powerful. It’s horrific certainly but there is no supernatural horror here, instead it’s all psychological horror. The only other issue may be with the ending, I can’t spoil it for you but I did think to myself….eh? It’s a strangely unsatisfying way to end, or at least I thought so.
Maybe King is a victim of his own high standards but for me this book is nowhere near the quality of The Stand to which I have seen it compared. It has neither the scope nor the supernatural threat that made that book so brilliant. It’s a good book just not great.
Rating 4 out of 5