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Book Review: Dolores Claiborne

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Dolores Claiborne tells the story of a sixty-six-year-old woman who has lived on Little Tall Island all her life. She may not have seen much of the world beyond the island, but she has certainly lived through some experiences.

The novel is narrated by Dolores herself, and takes the form of a confession monologue. The work is unusual in the way it is one continuous outpouring from Dolores, with no section or chapter breaks. When I first discovered this, I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I would be able to get through it.

However, the way King shapes the characters, especially those of Dolores, Vera (her employer), and Joe (her husband) is astonishing. The way he builds suspense and holds the reader in its grasp is equally masterful.

I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this novel. It’s very different to King’s usual work, but it still contains all the classic hallmarks of one of his works.

I’m glad I ignored my initial doubts and decided to read Dolores Claiborne, as I think it’s one of the best King books I’ve read to-date. Highly recommended!

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Book Review: Skeleton Crew

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s no doubt that Stephen King is a master of his craft. Skeleton Crew is a collection of short stories written over seventeen years of his life, from just before he started college, aged eighteen, through to 1983, when he was in his mid thirties.

One of the things I most look forward to reading in King’s story collections is the introduction. Skeleton Crew contains a short but good one, written in his usual style. The tale of his conversation with a friend he refers to as ‘Wyatt’ is hilarious.

Four of the stories leapt out at me as being outstanding. The Mist, Mrs Todd’s Shortcut, Nona, and The Reach. These contain all my favourite ingredients from a classic King recipe: a strong sense of place, wonderful scene-setting, nostalgia, great characters, and a swimmy, dreamy narrative.

There were a few stories I didn’t like so much, but I read them all through to the end and they usually came good in some way. One of these was The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet, which I struggled with. This one had a slow start, and I couldn’t place when it was supposed to be set, due to what seemed to be a historic narrative voice. I was very near the end when I began to realise it was actually contemporary.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Anyone who enjoys a good short story with a horror twist should read this. It’s quite an old book (although not as old as me), published in 1985, but the stories themselves feel timeless.

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Book Review: The Discomfort of Evening

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Discomfort of Evening is narrated by Jas, a ten year-old girl who lives on a dairy farm with her parents and siblings in a northern village in the Netherlands. Her brother dies after falling through ice while skating, and the family begins to fall apart as her parents become depressed, first over the death of a son, then over the loss of their entire herd during the foot and mouth outbreak. Jas tries to make sense of these events and deal with them through a series of uncomfortable rituals.

Without doubt, this is the strangest novel I have ever read, but also one of the most beautiful thanks to the poetic nature of the prose. The subject matter is uncomfortable and upsetting in many places, covering topics such as sexual experimentation, incest, and animal cruelty. As such, it is definitely not a read for the faint-hearted or easily offended.

A few things I really liked: I loved the narrative voice of Jas, and her childlike way of thinking. I also loved the imagery and scene-setting description that is abundant throughout. The way Rijneveld shapes the main characters and brings them to life was also brilliant.

What I didn’t like: Some of the scenes involving animal cruelty were difficult for me to read. I’m an animal lover so these bothered me more than some of the other difficult themes.

It’s worth noting that this novel, Rijneveld’s debut, recently won the 2020 International Booker Prize. I would recommend it, but I would first reiterate that it is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.

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