Tuesday 24 October 2017

Review: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Hodder,€22.22, Hardback

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Simply put, no other writer in the world can engender the same sense of dread in a read as Stephen King.

Often glibly and unfairly dismissed by the sort of people who wouldn't dream of ever actually reading him, King has been going about his business for decades and, as his latest collection, Full Dark, No Stars emphatically proves, there's no sign of his powers abating.

A frighteningly prolific writer, it seems King averages a book a year and this collection of four novellas comes hot on the heels of the hugely successful Under The Dome.

King has long been a stout defender of the short story, an art form he thinks is near extinction, although given how much he writes, it's no surprise that what often starts out as a short story frequently ends up as a novella.

And so we have the finest collections of stories from King since 4 Past Midnight.

In the first offering, 1922, we meet Wilfred Leland James, a man about to die but who wants to unburden his soul first.

Wilfred has a terrible secret -- well, this is King territory, after all -- years ago his scald of a wife wanted to sell their farm. So he killed her.

Not only did he commit the deed himself, but he also enlisted his young son as an accomplice, an act which would have ramifications that echo down the years.

What makes 1922 such a horribly compelling tale is that at no point do you get the feeling that the narrator is a monster -- his reaction to the killing was to vomit profusely and the guilt he felt at roping a young boy into the murder reminds the reader of some horrible, demonic inversion of the love felt between father and son in The Road.

Indeed, a sense of dread and, interestingly, self discovery runs through all four stories, which all eschew the dark, mischievous humour which often runs through King's work.

A classic example of King literally finding horror in the most mundane of places is brilliantly rendered in A Good Marriage.

With her husband of more than 20 years away on business, Darcy Anderson goes into the garage to find some bulbs.

Once in there, however, she trips over a box she has never seen before and despite the inexplicable feeling of dread -- there we go again -- she feels at the sight of the innocuous box, she opens it. And what she sees in that box will change her life and everything she knows about her husband forever.

It's a brilliant play on domestic routine being blown away by a shocking discovery and it's something that the modern master excels at.

Full Dark, No Stars won't convince the literary snobs who profess to dislike him, but for his fans, it's a genuine treat and for those who are coming new to him, it's a perfect introduction into his strange and fascinating mind.

Irish Independent

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