Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Source: Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie by Stephen King

Standalone book
Publisher: Anchor
Release date: 5th April 1974
Tagged under: adult fiction, horror, paranormal, 2014 read
Pages: 304
Buy at: Amazon

Stephen King's Legendary Debut...

Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be normal and go to her senior prom. But another act - of ferocious cruelty - turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget.

Review [May contain spoilers]

When I think of Stephen King, I think horror and then, as a sort of automatic self-defense mechanism, my brain immediately turns to a lighter subject like rainbows or unicorns. For those who don't know me, I don't do horror. Period. A mildly scary TV show episode that won't even bother any normal person would leave me with nightmares for weeks. Once, on a roadtrip, my friends decided it would be fun to watch a Japanese horror film. According to them, it wasn't even a scary one. All my friends were making fun of how bad it was the whole way through. I think I watched half, cowered behind a couch pillow for the second half and then, for the next few hours, was as high-strung as a horse that refused to settle down. I simply couldn't sleep that night and because I couldn't sleep, no one ended up sleeping. Suffice to say, that was the last time my friends ever suggested a horror film to me. Even after the road trip, I had difficulty sleeping for the next two months or so.

So it was really for my own self-preservation that I steered clear from Stephen King for such a long time. I have read his On Writing memoir so I knew and was charmed by the story surrounding the creation of Carrie. I also knew vaguely that Carrie was about a girl having her first menstrual period in the girls' bathroom at school. But beyond that, I didn't know much. And frankly, given how Stephen King is often dubbed the king of horror, I didn't want to know much.

But last week, when I was in the local library, I stumbled across the book and I thought if I were really to broad my reading horizons, I should try a little bit of everything, shouldn't I? It's okay. I'll just read the book in broad daylight while in the presence of other people and hopefully, that'll dampen my level of fear.

And now, 304 pages later, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Not sure if it's my lack of experience in the horror genre speaking or what, but my impression of the horror genre, be it books, TV shows or movies, is that the whole thing is just scary. The whole point of the experience is to scare the audience as much as you can for as long as you can. Everything else is secondary to the scare factor. So to my surprise, Carrie is more than just a scary book, it has a lot of character and plot development and I was really drawn into the lives of the residents of Chamberlain.

Stephen King gets the ball rolling right from the beginning. The entire novel is a combination of prose and excerpts from various articles and books on the Carrie Incident. So even if you come into the book completely blind with no idea what Stephen King writes or what this book is about, you knew something terrible was going to happen soon. There is a heavy sense of foreshadowing. Even simple phrases such as "one of her surviving classmates..." makes you wonder exactly how many people are going to end up dead by the end of the book and then, the nature of their death.

But beyond the escalating sense of impending horror, I can't help but be drawn into the characters' lives. Right from the start, I sympathized with Carrie the protagonist who will end up wielding powers of mass destruction. Carrie is really a victim of circumstances. She is raised up by a religiously fanatical mother who forces her to wear frumpy clothes, pray frequently every day and kept her in the dark about most things in life. The fact that when Carrie had her first menstrual period in the school gym, she thought she was bleeding to death is a prime example of how restricted her knowledge is. To make matters worse, when she goes home and confronts her mother about not telling her, her mother browbeats Carrie into praying because menstruation is a sign she sinned and drags Carrie into the closet for more praying. One of Carrie's poems in class summarises the situation perfectly:
Jesus watches from the wall.
But his face is cold as stone.
And if he loves me - As she tells me
Why do I feel so all alone?
But beyond Carrie, I am also drawn into the lives of all the other players in this book. Susan Snell with her guilt about what she did in the bathroom and her need to atone for her actions. Miss Desjardin with her initial exasperation at Carrie's behavior and then later, her stout defense of Carrie and fitting punishment of the students who started it all. When the principal snaps back at Christine Hargensen's father regarding lawsuits, I felt a moment of triumph. I even got involved in the scholarly articles and the White Commission as they speculate what exactly happened and who was to blame. Their miscast of blame and attempt to find a scapegoat really did get on my nerves but I guess that's what happens after a tragic accident. The dead can't talk.

Overall: 4/5

I really did enjoy this book, more than I had expected to. Stephen King frequently mentions this book as sort of "raw" but I can see how this book catapulted him onto the bookshelves of millions and how even today, it's being read and heralded as a classic. But does this mean I'll read more of his works? Probably not. Like I said before, I have my own self-preservation to consider first. 

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