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Monday, 27 January 2014

The Long Walk - Richard Bachman AKA Stephen King

This is an older Stephen King story, actually written before Carrie (1974) but unpublished until 1979 when King had become a hot property. Though the novel was not originally published under the King name and instead became one of the books the author published as by Richard Bachman.

And at the time of publication it was a secret that King was Bachman - In fact King went to great pains to hide the fact that he was the author and a false bio was invented for Bachman. King's agent, Kirby
Bachman author photograph - actually Richard Manuel,
McCualey even hired a friend of his to be photographed, posing as Richard Bachman,  for the book jacket. There were several reasons for the invention of Bachman but the main one was that King's publisher's were reluctant to publish more than one book a year by their current hot property and risk flooding the market. And King himself wanted to see if the books could sell without the Stephen King name, especially as it seemed that the market would buy anything with Stephen King's name attached. As it turned out the Bachman novels sold reasonably well but hardly troubled the bestseller lists. However when it was revealed that Bachman was actually King all of the Bachman novels became huge bestsellers.

I'd read a lot about The Long Walk but had never read it until now. King claims it was the first novel he ever wrote and there are many people who claim that it is actually King's best ever work, and whilst I'm not so sure about this, it is a damn fine book. I was led to believe that the book was set in the near future but that is not the case, and it is actually set in an alternative 1970's America - there are several clues that point to this being an alternative version of the USA, most obvious is the fact that in this America the East Coast was air bombed by the Germans during the Second World War. In fact even the blurb on the original paperback cover claimed the story took place in a future America, but the book is set in present day (the 1970's) only with a twist.

The plot is quite simple - in a dystopian society there is very little hope if you are born on the wrong side of the tracks, very little chance of you improving your lot. The only way seems to be The Long Walk, an annual event in which 100 people line up for a walk - each walker must maintain a minimum speed of four miles per hour. If a walker drops below that speed he gets a warning and another follows after thirty seconds. Three warnings and the walker is shot, usually through the head, - this is called buying a ticket. The walk goes on and on and on until only one walker is left standing. The Walk begins at the Main/Canada border and continues across America's East Coast, mile after blistering mile, until only one person is left alive. The prize for the winner is anything they desire for the rest of their lives.

A slim premise and I can't think of many writers who could spin off an entire novel from such a premise but King does it and he does it incredibly well - as soon as I started reading I became so involved in the story that I didn't want to to close the covers for it's three hundred odd pages. I just had to get to the end and find out what happens.

It's a brutal story - imagine walking and having to keep on walking while your feet blister and then bleed. You are unable to stop because behind you there are several nameless soldiers riding on a slow moving vehicle ready to give you your ticket as soon as you falter.

The hero is a character called Ray Garraty and during the walk he strikes up friendships with several other walkers, only to lose his new friends one by one as they give in to blisters, torn muscles or insanity. Some walkers become so tired, so exhausted that they even welcome the bullet that will put them out of their misery.

The narrative zings along and although it does start to drag somewhat as it nears the climax it never fails to hold the reader's attention. It's no wonder that Stephen King is such a big name when he writes as brilliantly as he does here. 

An absolutely brilliant book. If you've not read this book then you really need to take the Long Walk.


1 comment:

Seriously Though said...

This is so interesting! how did you find this out anyway?