Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Stand

The Stand
Stephen King
"First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams.
Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.
His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms."

Wow. Ok, there’s no way to go ahead with this review without saying this, The Stand is too damn long. I’m sorry, I know how well loved and respected it is by Stephen king’s legions of followers but it is. It’s too long. The copy I read clocking in at 1325 pages. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, much to the contrary, but the problem is that any novel approaching this size is bound to feel over stuffed and there are several points at which The Stand certainly does.
I should point out that the version I read was the complete version, when it was originally released King was asked to chop off some 400 pages from the finished book, not for any editorial purpose but simply to allow the publishers to release the novel for a much smaller price than they would have been forced to had it remained intact. I’m not sure what was removed from the original release so I can’t really comment on that.

I must say, despite what I said earlier The Stand feels a lot less padded than you might expect, although there are several moments that feel like obvious filler there are far less than I anticipated. The book is brilliantly written as anyone would expect from Stephen King and provides a massive cast of characters, each of whom are wonderfully written and believable. Of course there are characters I enjoyed more than others but none I actively disliked reading about as I have found in other highly populated novels.
I must admit in terms of plot I found the initial scenes of the plague slowly spreading across America much more satisfying to read than much of what came after. In these early days of the plague King is brutal, killing off characters that the reader has slyly been led to believe would survive. It is shocking and genuinely distressing. After the initial cull however, in the days of dream that follow the plague the novel slows dramatically which can feel a little jarring at times.

Speaking of the dreams, it is in these that most of the padding and filler is evident. I understand that the dreams are massively important to the novel, perhaps as big a maguffin as the plague itself, but as there are basically only two dreams (one of Mother Abigail and the other of the dark man), it seems a tad overkill to describe these dreams being had by almost every character in the novel several times. After a while I found myself skimming over them, far more interested in what Harold was building in his locked room than Frannie dreaming of the Dark Man chasing her down a corridor for the twenty seventh time. If all this weren’t excessive enough, these dreams are also responsible for the novels lowest point, when King describes both the Abigail and Dark Man dreams as experienced by Kojak…..the dog.

Despite a rocky middle section however, the closing of the book is incredibly satisfying and the best of any of King’s books that I have read and of course there are plenty of wonderful moments throughout. One thing that may bother some readers is that several pieces of action take place “off screen” as it were. In fact several major characters deaths and pivotal events aren’t experienced by the reader first hand, rather we learn of then through other characters reactions to then later on. I can see this as a bit of a marmite style but I personally loved it and thought it added a great sense of realism to such an overly fantastical work and helped to ground it.

The Stand is a great piece of work, there’s no doubt about it and any criticisms I could throw at it should not be enough to deter you from reading it yourself. It’s a weighty tome no doubt and can be hard going, but if you persevere you’ll find a genuinely great story. Perhaps not King’s best as many claim, but well worth a read.

Next: Kitty and the midnight hour

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