These turbulent political times - Trump, Brexit, the new Toblerone - evoke conflicting opinions in me: about 60% of the time, I want to talk about it constantly and engage in discussion, debate and deliberation. For the other 30% of the time, I want to crawl into bed and forget about all of it, and just escape to somewhere else.
And what better way to do this than a good book? So, if you'll excuse the tenuous link, I am taking this chance to encourage you to pick up a book by one of my all-time favourite authors: Stephen King.
As a lifelong hater of scary films, I always dismissed King as simply a writer of gore, appealing to those readers who just seek a fearful thrill; I assumed I would dislike his horror books as much as the film counterparts. However, I couldn't have been more wrong- not just about whether or not I would enjoy his writing, but about the supposedly narrow focus of his work. After reading Carrie at the age of 14, I was magnetised by King’s ability to encompass a multitude of genres, and my opinion of him as purely a horror author vanished. Immediately after finishing Carrie, I vowed to read every King book there was- somewhat naively, in retrospect, as he seems to write new books faster than I can read them. Anyhow, I hunted through charity shop bookshelves and came out with piles of King literature. Here are a few of my favourites and personal recommendations.
Arguably King’s most successful novel, Carrie has been wildly popular, clearly shown by the 3 feature film adaptations made since its publication. As one of King’s shorter books, Carrie is more accessible than many King books, and perhaps more appealing to a younger audience, given that the protagonist is a high school girl. The titular character, Carrie has telekinetic powers and uses them to wreak havoc in her town. However, the memorable scene for many people - that of a girl covered in blood on a school stage - is not representative of the entire novel. The violence is effectively used - but almost pales into insignificance alongside bouts of psychological torment from a religiously deranged mother, schoolgirl crushes on the oh-so-cliched high school dreamboat, and intense scenes of Carrie fighting with her own mind. King’s first-ever novel succeeds in becoming essentially timeless, terrifying in places yet oddly relatable in others. Don't expect a happy ending.
At roughly 1000 pages, Insomnia is a fairly epic read, but utterly worth it. King follows the story of widower Ralph Roberts, who, as the title suggests, increasingly finds it more and more difficult to stay asleep at night. Gradually, we are introduced into a fantasy world of creepy clowns, gremlins and brightly coloured ‘life forces’ that hang by strings to people’s necks, invisible to everyone but Ralph. Although this may sound like a children’s story, the fantasy and supernatural elements are integrated beautifully into a novel grounded in real-life issues: small-town politics, feminism, abortion, leadership, and love. Insomnia could be placed in almost any genre section in a bookshop; the length of the book allows King to explore themes such as true love with depth and tact, all whilst maintaining the ever-present spontaneous fear in his writing for which he is so famed. I personally could hardly put this book down - the plot twists and turns were sufficient to keep you reading, but not so frequent as to be unconvincing. Insomnia is a truly stunning work of literature; I believe it is one of King’s most underrated books.
This story, another more well-known and popular King book, is popular for a reason. King explores the lives of 7 children who grow up in the fictional American town of Derry (King actually sets many of his books in this fictional town, and the discerning reader can find links between some of these novel’s events). He jumps between scenes of adulthood and childhood with such poignancy that the very nature of what it means to grow up, and to become an adult is deeply explored. The complexities of human relationships are dealt with touchingly, and again, the long length of the novel means the characters are rich in detail and experience; as the reader, you feel like you have known these characters for a lifetime. All these important themes run through a novel which is based essentially on a terrifying clown character hell-bent on creating misery and fear for the people of Derry. The final scenes in the deep caverns under the city centre are some of the most emotional and gripping scenes I have ever read, and I will always be in awe of the way in which King created such an incredible finale to a book which creates such incredibly high expectations and tensions throughout.
Lisey’s Story (2006)
The categories of Horror and Romance are truly combined in Lisey’s Story, which is essentially a colossal tale of love and loss, with a little psychological terror thrown in on the side. The cast of characters is mainly made up of three middle-aged sisters (including Lisey) who each deal with their own emotional and supernatural experiences. The story centres around the unbreakable bond between Lisey and her late husband Scott, a successful author with an incredibly secretive and dark past. Whilst also dealing with themes of love and death, King provides in this book one of the richest supernatural landscapes he has ever created: the scary land of the dead with its terrifying creatures and beautiful moon. It is impossible to do the book justice in such a short summary- but if you are a fan of romances, thrillers, crimes, historical novels, science fiction, fantasies, dramas, mysteries, action books and, of course, horror, then this book will appeal to you. Lisey’s Story is my favourite King book (so far), and if there’s a book that can destroy any preconceptions about King’s purely horror-writer status, it's this one.
This is only a tiny selection of King’s 54 novels and 200 short stories. His skill in writing is unique in that each book is very different, and yet King’s distinctive style is immediately recognisable within the first paragraphs. Whichever book you may choose to read, it is guaranteed to provide a perfect escape from life for a little while. So if Trump is stressing you out, and the thought of more Brexit talk makes you want to switch off all media for a while, then do it - and pick up a King book. You won’t be disappointed.