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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Under the Dome by Stephen King Book review

President Schwarzenegger has erected a large dome around the town of Springfield after Homer disposed of some pig shit in....whoops, sorry wrong review. Stephen King started writing this massive tome in the 1970's and only went back to it in recent years. The author claims to have never seen the Simpson's movie which shared the same plot and was startled when reviewers picked up on the similarities but as King said it didn't matter -

"stories can be no more alike than snowflakes" as "no two human imaginations are exactly alike", Stephen King

Fans seem less convinced that the novel's conceit – a town discovers that it is encased in a giant dome, put there by an unknown force – is so terrific. Many took to the Internet to point out that a similar plot was the basis for The Simpsons Movie. King took to his website to respond that he had never seen the movie and that the similarity came as a complete surprise. Fans reacted with incredulity, pointing out that not only is King a pop- culture omnivore, but has played on stage with The Simpsons creator Matt Groening in his Rock Bottom Remainders band. King then gave a different account of the book's origins, this time saying he started it in 1978 or thereabouts, and wrote a second, unpublished version called The Cannibals in 1985. In order to silence any accusations of plagiarism, he published the first 60 pages on his website (in the original IBM typescript to prove its age).
It matters not, though and Under the Dome, despite its length, is one of King's most tightly plotted novels in years. The story is very episodic and almost a collection of mini novels within the main novel, which works well and keeps the tension at an incredible level for most of the narrative.

If anyone deserves to be called the main character then it is ex-soldier Dale Barbara, known by the rather macho nickname of Barbie, who finds himself placed in charge of the situation when the town of Chester's Mill is mysteriously covered by an invisible dome that is impenetrable by the best weapons the powerful US military possess.

The story unfolds through multiple viewpoints as we are introduced to a mixed bag of characters - from the good Julia Shumway, a crusading journalist who thinks the dome is part of a military experiment gone wrong, to the bad Junior Rennie, a small town thug who is being driven  insane by a tumour in his brain. And it isn't very long before Junior and his cronies are facing off against Barbie and his valiant helpers.

At 800+ pages, Under the Dome is a big book and a big story - and it is only a rare talent like King who can keep the reader captivated for such a long period. I read the book as an eBook and I had such a lot going on in my regular life that it took me over a month to finish it. I'd put it down, often for days on end, but still found the story easy to get back into when I picked it back up. This is surely the sign of a great writer.

Man, to be able to write this good would be something else indeed. Though there are weaknesses particularly in the final denouncement (which I'm not going to give away) but then that's a common failing with King's endings. The story itself is so good that it's a shame to reach the end and know you have to soon  leave the world of Chester's Mill, but when that ending comes it is all too convenient and Star Trek for my liking. I could have done away with the end and gone on for another 800 pages, so engrossing was the story being told.

Overall a great book with a slightly unsatisfactory ending - but the narrative style is so good that getting there is a blast. In many ways the style of Under the Dome reminded me of vintage King and I would highly recommend the book to anyone wanting a great escapist read with more than a few thinly veiled environmental issues.


Randy Johnson said...

I thought it was his best book in years, with the caveat that I have yet to read Duma Key.

David Cranmer said...

Glad you like it. It's keeping up one leg of my dining room table and I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

King remains the Master.