Misery by Stephen King – 5/5 Stars

Misery by Stephen King‘It was the face of a woman who has come momentarily untethered from all of the vital positions and landmarks of her life, a woman who has forgotten not only the memory she was in the process of recounting but memory itself. He had once toured a mental asylum…’

The sheer terror and suspense of Misery left me speechless with shock during the entire reading experience. Bestselling writer Paul Sheldon has a car accident and wakes to find he is crippled. Soon after he realises he has been kidnapped by Annie Wilkes. From their first encounter Paul sees something amiss in Annie Wilkes’ behaviour and believes she is mentally unstable. His legs are broken, being confined to his bed, and he is addicted to the painkillers she feeds him. In his delirious state, she has him in thrall. Indeed Paul soon sees what happens when he contradicts Annie or awakens the ‘Dragon Lady’. What does Annie Wilkes want? Well, she’s the number one fan of his Misery books, and she can’t wait for him to write another one. This new book will be a single-copy special edition, dedicated to her. After all … she did take care of him, rescuing him from his car after the accident, and of course she loves him, right?

Seeing the breadth of the terror Annie embodied and how it affected Paul was one of the most thrilling parts of Misery. Annie’s sadistic nature and sly intellect grow with each part, and you’re left feeling as helpless as poor Paul. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. Throughout, Paul has to tread carefully if he is to keep his life; she’s threatened to kill him on more than one occasion, and he sees it as dangerous to go against her. All the while he is bringing back to life a character he killed at the end of his Misery series, Misery Chastain, in his new novel Misery’s Return.

In many ways Misery is the story of a writer fighting against fears and paralysing impossible situations to come up with new ideas and find the will to write the story you feel like writing, and want to write.

Stephen King’s website

On Writing by Stephen King – 5/5 Stars

On Writing by Stephen King

‘When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.’ Stephen King.

On Writing is Stephen King’s semi-autobiography and writer’s tips book. For the first 120 pages, Stephen King summarises his writing history, from a small publishing enterprise with his brother when he was young to writing for magazines at university. We get a number of fragmented ‘glimpses’ into his family, jobs he has held, and some of his early writing successes and failures prior to first publication. These ‘glimpses’ showed what made him the writer he became. Stephen King has since battled through family death, drug addiction, and alcoholism. At the end of this agonising road he came to the conclusion that ‘art is a support system for life’ and not the other way around. It’s a quote I intend to keep in mind.

The second half of On Writing provided writing tips to the aspiring writer; tips King has learnt to use to edit his writing and keep readers engaged with his stories. There are even a few examples of editing at the end of the book. Whether it’s the use of adverbs or dialogue attribution, King keeps it simple and relatable, without assuming a profound knowledge of English grammar or creative writing. The tone of the writing wasn’t snobbish at all. In fact, it was a surprise to read about his background. Without knowing any different, I wrongfully assumed the situation once-a-bestselling-author-always-has-been-a-bestselling-author. While reading, I felt like King was teaching me straightforward lessons while having a conversation.

Criticism: I didn’t agree with the following statements: ‘it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a good one’, ‘equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one’, ‘if you’re a bad writer, no one can help you become a good one, or even a competent one’, and ‘if you’re good and want to be great fuhgeddaboudit’.

A lesson of note was that although King had been writing since a young age, it was his commitment, perseverance, and his willingness to listen to others that made him a successful person and author. On Writing is candid, evocative, and bursting with writer advice coming from experience and hindsight. King delivers with personality and humour. On Writing is more than a book, it’s an experience!

Stephen King’s website

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – 4/5 Stars

Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Marsten House represents a childhood horror for writer Ben Mears, and he returns to Salem’s Lot to put that horror to rest. Ben doesn’t expect to fall in love with Susan or make friends with teacher Matt, but he is still seen as an outsider and not to be trusted. When a few disappearances occur, it’s natural that the village folk see Ben as the one responsible and he is promptly questioned. It doesn’t help that the subject of his latest story ties him in with the infamous Marsten House.

Purportedly a haunted house story based on Dracula and flesh-eating vampires, Salem’s Lot delivers with an eerie setting and a chilling atmosphere in the first few chapters, with creepy dialogue. There was a lot of planning and research in evidence – an apt background to the unexplained mysteries and horrors of the Marsten House. Stephen King delivered with the right pace, slowing down to add character background or speeding up events to the inevitable discovery … a discovery which the reader suspects but the characters can only fear the supernatural. I thought this part of the narrative was artfully done.

From chapter three it became clear to me that Stephen King likes to delve deeply into the lives and histories of numerous characters. (Salem’s Lot is the first Stephen King book read, so this is new to me.) There were sinister plans in action concerning the renovation of Marsten House, but I did struggle to remember the character names and the respective facts about them, and so could not enjoy Salem’s Lot to the maximum.

SPOILER: I did think the focus of the story switched in a way I was less comfortable with; I wanted to learn about Marsten House and uncover secrets that could link it with vampires but it ended up being more about the latter.

When the focus returned to Ben Mears and the story sped up, I read with relish. The writing had suspense and didn’t need to work hard for my attention. I finished Salem’s Lot not with ‘Ah, isn’t that nice’, but with an equally satisfying ‘I’ve been through some ordeal, and I want to go through it again’.

Stephen King’s website