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: Needful Things

Needful Things by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Needful Things is the story of a new shop that opens in a small town in Maine, and the subsequent events that unfold around the customers and the residents of the town as the proprietor of the shop begins to do business.

The setting is Castle Rock, a place many King fans will recognise, and feel at home in. Some of the characters from King’s earlier works make a reappearance, including Ace Merrill (from The Body, a.k.a. Stand by Me), who is one of the main antagonists.

I haven’t read a Stephen King novel for a few years and had forgotten how much I enjoy his work. While I don’t care so much for monsters and spooks, I am a big fan of King’s prose. The way he imbues his characters with amazing depth, giving them wonderful quirks that bring them to life. The short but simple descriptive passages. The suspense.

It’s hard to say what I didn’t like about the book, because it’s down to my own personal taste; as an older man, I admit I now find it more tricky to suspend my disbelief in the supernatural. However, I recognise this, and therefore haven’t let my personal feelings cloud my judgement in this review.

What I loved was the characterisation, especially the main protagonist, Alan Pangborn. The way King shapes him through the course of this novel is truly masterful. I’ll remember that character and his shadow puppets for a long time, if not the rest of my life.

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