Tuesday 21 January 2020

Review: Under the dome by Stephen King

Gore and suspense lets King get under your skin
Horror veteran's latest is a strange mix but he's always worth a look

Welcome to the Irish Independent Book Club, where every month we bring you a compelling reading choice, from crime and mystery novels, to classics and contemporary fiction. Each month, we visit a different book club around the country and get their verdict.

This month's pick is Under the Dome by Stephen King published by Hodder & Stoughton.


Under the Dome is the story of the small town of Chester's Mill, Maine, which is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. No one can get in and no one can get out.

The normal rules of society are suddenly changed and when food, electricity and water run short, the community begins to crumble.

As a new and more sinister social order develops, Dale Barbara, Iraq veteran, teams up with a handful of intrepid citizens to fight against the corruption that is sweeping through the town and to try to discover the source of the Dome before it is too late.


Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, in 1947. After graduating with an English degree in 1970, he worked as a teacher and wrote short stories on the side until 1974, when his debut novel, Carrie, was bought by publishers for $400,000.

After that novel's success, King became the most successful horror writer in the world, with novels like Salem's Lot, The Shining, It, The Stand, Pet Sematary, and Misery, most of which have been adapted for the big and small screen.

He has also written several non-horror-themed stories that later inspired the movies Stand By Me, Apt Pupil, and The Shawshank Redemption.

Under the Dome is a reworking of an unfinished novel that King tried writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It's the largest novel he has written since It, coming in at more than 900 pages in paperback. Under the Dome debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list last November.

about the book club:

The Science Fiction Book Club was formed in October 2008. It meets once a month in the Ilac Centre Library, in Dublin city.

Each meeting normally has between four and six members, and every month the book choice is selected by the club's moderator, and staff librarian, Barry Meggs. Mr Meggs is charged with sourcing copies of the book for the club, through the library.


On the whole, the four members of the Science Fiction book club were quite divided in their responses to Under the Dome.

"King uses a lot of different narrative voices," explains Barry Meggs.

"There's an omnipotent one, one who doesn't know everything, and then there's one that partially reports dialogue. I accept that he's doing that to ratchet up suspense, but I don't know whether that's brilliant or a bit of a cheat."

Dermot Ryan was also put off by the narrative style. "I put it down to bad editing," he says.

"I found the book hard to read. I didn't like the dialogue. The first 60 pages are tailor-made for a movie screenplay, as it is made up of several points of view. It didn't work for me."

Conversely, member Ruth Jardine found that the choices regarding narrative style added to the book.

"This made a character like Junior more sympathetic, as it was clear that he was suffering from a brain tumour," she says.

"I liked the darkness of the story, for instance the scene of a character mourning the corpses of his ex-girlfriends.

"The book has that requisite thrill of horror, but also finds room to explore the idea that someone can be a complete monster and yet still do something good."

It being King, death and gore do feature quite heavily in the story.

"King certainly kills characters in very colourful ways," laughs Dermot Ryan. "Someone never just has a heart attack; rather their heart explodes!"

Barry Meggs adds: "The medical details are brilliant. King has done his research, but I did get a little jaded. The worst possible thing that can happen does happen."

Jer Hogan says he enjoyed Under the Dome, as it reminded him of King's other doomsday epic The Stand.

"This is certainly one of King's better books. There are a huge number of characters, but the way he introduces them, and pairs them, is really effective. It establishes them in your head. He'll pick something trivial or peculiar about them and it helps you to remember.

"The book holds the attention for close to 1,000 pages. It flows well, and there's a good story in there, but perhaps the sense of inevitability wasn't present."

Other members of the club picked up on that idea of inevitability contained within the story.

"Horror depends on people making wrong decisions and genuine mistakes," says Ruth Jardine.

"Some of the decisions and mistakes in this book are too obvious or clumsy to really conjure that sense of horror. King is a better writer than to be relying on light contrivances."

As to the question of whether or not they'd recommend it to other sci-fi readers, Barry Meggs replies: "King isn't a sci-fi writer. He writes fantasy, perhaps, but not sci-fi. The little nuts and bolts are missing to make this a real classic of sci-fi writing. I'd give it a solid B+."

Dermot Ryan says he'd give Under the Dome a D in terms of enjoyment, and a C+ for King's execution of the story. Jer Hogan says he'd give the book an A, as would Ruth Jardine, who added: "I'm new to the book club and a novice of sci-fi, but I'd be confident enough to recommend it. It's a good holiday read.

"In one sense it isn't sci-fi; it's more about people and how they deal with an extreme situation."

next month's irish independent book club choice

Tenderwire by Claire Kilroy. If your book club would like to take part in our monthly book-club feature, or if you are reading next month's choice along with us and would like us to include your thoughts on the book, please contact dcashin@independent.ie or Irish Independent Book Club, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1.

Declan Cashin

Buy 'Under the dome' from Eason

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