Ostensibly, I've read it over the last twelve days. Finishing it took over my life just a little, and I don't know how many nights I p...moreThis book. Wow.
Ostensibly, I've read it over the last twelve days. Finishing it took over my life just a little, and I don't know how many nights I put it down and got to bed before 4am. Probably not many. It feels like I've been living with The Stand for much longer than that, though, and in another respect, I've really been reading it for almost three years. I made my first attempt at it in April 2009. At the time, IIRC, the only Stephen King books I'd read in full were Misery, Dolores Claiborne and Cell - the first two years beforehand, and all of them pamphlet length compared to the doorstop-sized Stand.
I've always had a taste for the apocalypse, and so the premise appealed greatly to me. The first chapter bore that out, but I hit a stumbling block with the introduction to Stu Redman. At the time, I just wasn't acclimatised to King's tendency to use twenty words where one would do, and by the time I fought my way through to meet Frannie Goldsmith on a pier in Maine, I was ready to give it up as a bad job.
Still, over the months that followed, my mind would turn back to it from time to time, and in November of that year I gave it another shot. I got a lot further that time around. Over the course of three or four months, dipping in and out, never reading for too long in order to savour every chapter, I eventually reached page 466, only just shy of finishing the first book, "Captain Trips". I can't really say why I never finished it from there. Mostly, it was never wanting the book to end. By then, I wasn't frazzled with Stu and Frannie, I loved them, and Larry Underwood and Nick Andros too. I wanted to feel that their world was there waiting any time I wanted to visit. The Stand was put to one side, and while I always kept it on my 'currently reading' list, I don't think I opened it once between February or March of 2010, and present.
One night a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't feeling great and couldn't sleep. Laying in bed, wide awake at 3am, I scanned my shelves for something to read, and paused on The Stand. The time felt right to give it another try. I was pretty confident that I could still pick up from where I'd left off, bookmarked just after Nick leaves Shoyo and before Larry awakens beyond the Lincoln Tunnel. But I thought back on those 466 pages, of seeing the world end over a couple of weeks from mid-June to early-July, and wanted to read it all over again. So I did. I re-met the old characters and fell in love with them all over again. And when I got to page 466, I kept on going, right through "Captain Trips", through "On The Border", "The Stand" and "The Circle Closes". It was exhausting, frequently frustrating, and I don't know that I'll ever have it in me to read it again, but I utterly loved it, and can happily say that this belongs on my favourites shelf.
All of this is not to say that The Stand is without flaws. I don't hold its length against it (though in the event of a future re-read, I'd plump for the original, rather than uncut edition). I think my first real discontent began with the introduction of Randall Flagg, the levitating, near-omniscient bad guy. I'm not keen on books that begin grounded in the real world, go on that way for hundreds of pages, and then throw in a surprise supernatural twist. I was even less keen when the emergence of Mother Abagail made plain that not only would the following events be strongly supernatural, they'd be driven by religion. Good v evil, God v devil. Not my cup of tea at all. Once it became clear that The Stand is very much a homage to Lord of The Rings (which, by great coincidence, is next on my re-read list), I could accept the supernatural elements and Flagg's all-seeing eye more easily. I never got so accustomed to the constant presence of God. When Larry went bravely into Vegas in the expectation that it was what God intended, and that He had something in motion that would come through... that was probably the pinnacle of my frustration, because I'm a cynical, pre-Mother Abagale Glen Bateman at heart.
Other things bothered me too. I was never all that interested in the antagonists, but might have been more so if "On the Border" hadn't been almost exclusively in the good guys' camp in Boulder, and "The Stand" with the bad guys in Vegas. I'd have liked a little more intermingling. The second book was my least favourite overall. The chapters were too long for my liking, the focus too squarely upon Stu, Frannie and Larry. Nick all but disappeared in this book, and I'd come to love him so in "Captain Trips". From reading King's On Writing last year, I knew about the bomb. I didn't know who would die, and for a chapter there I could hardly read on through fear. But afterwards... I didn't feel so much. I'd become emotionally disconnected from the lack of focus. It hurt more in "The Stand", when Nick came to Tom in dreams.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the women were mostly background characters, either weak or under developed or repulsive. King does this a lot. And then there was bloody Nadine, who was all of these and less. My least favourite character, without a doubt. The shift from when we met her, to our next encounter where she was CRAZY was just bizarre, and I could never but never empathise with her. There was Mother Abagale, yes, and I did enjoy her segments, but she was the utter embodiment of the "magical negro" trope. And as for the page where Frannie and Lucy sit sadly drinking tea while their men go bravely off to confront Flagg... oh my eyes about rolled out of my head. Two characters I would have loved to have seen more of were Susan Stern and Dayna Jurgens. Strong and brave and utterly badass, but with hardly ten pages of development between them. There was a much more fulfilling story there waiting to be told.
Then came the ending. After my second failed attempt at reading The Stand, I read a Goodreads review of it, so I knew one fact. (view spoiler)[I knew Larry was going to die. (hide spoiler)] There were times that I was desperately sad and scared for him, but in the final confrontation and aftermath... again, I didn't feel so much. I genuinely thought this book was going to tear my heart out, stomp all over it and make me cry. The closest it ever came to doing that was when Stu broke his leg and sent the others off without him. I closed that chapter almost literally shaking with the unfairness of it all, but even then, there was some hope. There was Tom Cullen. Words cannot describe how much I love Tom Cullen. If I had to pick a favourite character, I think he would be it. And yes the final journey was protracted and slowed the pace down when we should have been racing for the finish, but despite that, despite all these gripes and complaints, I'm sat here the afternoon after finishing it reflecting on how satisfying it was, all told.
The Stand isn't a literary masterpiece. It isn't perfect, and maybe it was even better 400 pages lighter. But it is a bloody good book, one of my all-time favourites, and I'm so glad to have finally read it. In a way, it doesn't feel like I've sat in a recliner and read it for twelve days. It feels like I've been on a journey. Like an experience.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Another book spoiled by my occasional need to read ahead. I got maybe a quarter of the way in, then read a huuuge spoiler for later in the series and...moreAnother book spoiled by my occasional need to read ahead. I got maybe a quarter of the way in, then read a huuuge spoiler for later in the series and just couldn't be bothered to finish it.(less)
As a long-standing Harry Bosch fan, I've been putting off reading the Mickey Haller books for a few years. After attending a talk by Michael Connelly,...moreAs a long-standing Harry Bosch fan, I've been putting off reading the Mickey Haller books for a few years. After attending a talk by Michael Connelly, during which he praised the film adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer and spoke of his hope that it would be adapted into a television series, I rented the DVD and was very pleasantly surprised. While it might have been a little pointless going on to read the book, knowing almost the entire plot, I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless and am now very much looking forward to the next instalment.
This is my third Michael Connelly read in short succession, having not read anything of his since the publication of The Scarecrow a few years ago. In the intervening time, I'd become vaguely convinced that his writing was probably not quite up to snuff, in the same way that many of the series which became my favourites as a teen no longer hold up when revisited (checking in on Rendell's modernised Wexford is always a distressing experience). Happily, that's not the case. The Lincoln Lawyer is very tightly crafted, with some excellent twists in the tale, and I'm very much looking forward to bringing myself up to speed on Connelly's recent works.(less)
When Gerald and Jessie Burlingame head out to their holiday cabin, an afternoon of bondage games are on the agenda. Not so planned is the heart attack...moreWhen Gerald and Jessie Burlingame head out to their holiday cabin, an afternoon of bondage games are on the agenda. Not so planned is the heart attack that kills Gerald, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed and unable to escape...
There were things here that worked for me and others that didn't, and the split largely comes down to the difference between Jessie's physical and emotional well-being throughout the novel. The physical side of things I thought was well-executed - her terror was palpable, the spasms, cramps and numbness in her extremities were realistically described, and a late attempt to free herself from her predicament was so visceral I could hardly take it (in a good way!)
On the emotional side though... presumably in an attempt to add other "characters" to a situation where Jessie is entirely isolated, she spends the entire novel conversing with several voices in her head. Sometimes out loud. She does later acknowledge that a significant childhood trauma left her virtually schizophrenic for several years, but I still found it really, really hard to relate in scenes where she was having full-on conversations with multiple participants, all created by fragments of her own consciousness. It really hacked away at the realism for me, which was disappointing.
(view spoiler)[(Also, I'm not sure if it says more about me or the way SK writes dogs, but by far my favourite character was the dog that turned up early on and started munching away at Gerald's corpse. Then again, I also found Cujo the most sympathetic character in Cujo, so make of that what you will.) (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was a quick and enjoyable read. It was nice to see King writing from a POV outside his usual stable of middle-aged men a...moreThe Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was a quick and enjoyable read. It was nice to see King writing from a POV outside his usual stable of middle-aged men and instead bringing to life 9-year-old Trisha. If the sprawling geography of the woods Trisha was lost in was sometimes hard to visualise, then Trisha's response - her actions and emotions - rang very true. (The one time I got really, truly lost in the countryside, I was a crying, babbling mess within an hour, but I can readily believe Trisha would be braver, ha.) If this had solely been a book about a little girl surviving in a desperate situation, it would have been quite excellent. The religious-fantasy subplot muddied the waters though - it just didn't work for me. The ultimate conclusion (view spoiler)[that God saved Trisha in the final innings, rather than her own courage pulling her through (hide spoiler)] left me flat after an otherwise solid read.(less)
I think Hotel World would do best as a one-sitting book. At just shy of 240 pages, it's certainly short enough, but it's also one that demands a lot o...moreI think Hotel World would do best as a one-sitting book. At just shy of 240 pages, it's certainly short enough, but it's also one that demands a lot of attention. I gave it a few solid hours back in May, then set it aside and just never got around to picking it up again until today. I definitely enjoyed it - I'd call it a 7/10 book - but if it hadn't been for the long gap, it might have been an 8/10.
It's broken into five sections, each focusing on a different woman whose life in some way intersects with a horrible accident at a Global Hotel. One such section consists of thirty pages of unpunctuated stream of consciousness. It's definitely an experimental novel, and a few times towards the end I found myself flicking ahead to see how much there was left to plough through. That's probably more to do with my own attention span than the writing, which is often beautiful. Challenging in places, but lovely.
I liked this just a shade less than The First Person and Other Stories, the only other Ali Smith I've read, but I'll definitely read her again. I'll just have to be in the right frame of mind for it.(less)
This is probably not really a four-star book. As crime fiction goes, it's fairly bog-standard, albeit with a protagonist different to most I'm used to...moreThis is probably not really a four-star book. As crime fiction goes, it's fairly bog-standard, albeit with a protagonist different to most I'm used to (at times, I could practically feel the testosterone wafting out of the pages). But it got me. It well and truly got me - I did not see the ending coming, and while it seems completely obvious in retrospect, it makes sense of a lot of my early niggles with the book, and in a few years time might even bear a repeat reading. For easily two-thirds of the book I'd written it off as 'decent-ish, but probably wouldn't bother with another'. But that feeling of having the rug pulled out from under me is rather marvellous, and if Mr. Billingham is as clever as I hope he is (easier to hope he's clever than wonder if I'm getting more dim-witted) then I'll more than likely try another should I come across one. Hurrah.(less)
I really enjoyed this whole book, save for "The Library Policemen", but I've reviewed audio copies of the first three tales separately. I picked up an...moreI really enjoyed this whole book, save for "The Library Policemen", but I've reviewed audio copies of the first three tales separately. I picked up an old, battered copy of Four Past Midnight from a charity shop just for "The Sun Dog", which is the story for which my audio copy was broken. And it was genuinely scary! I'm not too bad with dogs - my brother is comparatively petrified of them - but the gradual progression of the dog in the Polaroids, as each shot brings it a little closer, a little more ferocious, was delightfully horrible to read in the early hours. The segment where Pop Merrill tries to sell the camera on dragged a bit - none of the potential buyers he visited held my attention much - but he was a good, memorable character, and I'm looking forward to delving into Needful Things in the near future.(less)