Stephen King’s The Outsider

I always feel frustrated when people tell me they don’t like the kind of books Stephen King writes, because invariably they don’t know what “kind of books” he actually does write.

He has written horror, yes, but throughout his productive 35-year career he’s also written fantasy, speculative fiction, crime  fiction and thrillers. Some works, such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and the Dark Tower series, are closer to literature, albeit with usually some hint of the supernatural (he can’t stop being fun altogether). As a writer he defies easy classification and smug dismissal.

Recent examples: Sleeping Beauties, with his son Owen King was nominally apocalyptic fantasy, but the epic was set firmly in hyperreal small-town America, like the earlier Under the Dome (which the TV series utterly failed to do justice to).

By contrast, Mr Mercedes marked a confident move into crime fiction, bringing the King characterisation and suspense into a straightforward, if horror-tinged, murder mystery (the Hulu TV series for this did a lot better). Finders Keepers loosely carried on this genre, storyline and characters, as does The Outsider; at least at first.

The official blurb:

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

I won’t say how this novel begins to depart from the pattern set by Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers. That way spoilers lie. Suffice to say it is set some years afterwards and, while borrowing a character or two, is a standalone story. Another glossy, fat, happily page-turning read that requires you only to surrender disbelief and enjoy.

And enjoy I did. If you read and liked the first two, I would definitely recommend it, but I do warn that like Finders Keepers, it doesn’t quite live up to Mr Mercedes. So if you’re new to Stephen King’s crime fiction, do start with that one instead.

 

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New trailer for Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is out

I overuse exclamation marks. That is the only reason why I have not added ten exclamation marks to this headline. Be assured, I am thinking them.

To me, this looks like it’s going to be way better than the first Fantastic Beasts. Maybe I just like maximum mayhem.

Why you should read the world’s longest novel

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke, 2004)

Mr Norrell … stood on the lawn and stared up at stars he had never seen before. He did not feel as though he were inside a Pillar of Darkness in the middle of Yorkshire; he felt more as if the rest of the world had fallen away and he and Strange were left alone upon a solitary island or promontory. The idea distressed him a great deal less than one might have supposed. He had never much cared for the world and he bore its loss philosophically.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Simply the… biggest. Cool cover, huh?

Since How to Cure a Bibliomaniac ended I’m not blogging every book I read, but after the sheer length of time I spent reading this I felt it only right that I should receive a medal, I mean give it an entry.

I should probably acknowledge though that it is not quite the world’s longest novel. My now finely honed collection (one set of shelves! Woo! And, er, one crateful standing in front of it) still contains one longer, Isobelle Carmody’s doorstop The Stone Key which lords it over Clarke’s 800-odd page tone with a whopping 1000 pages. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also nearly 800, though a shade shorter than Clarke’s.

I know I’m harping on about how long this is, but frankly, there was a (now) amusing period in which I was convinced that no matter how many 15-minute blocs I dedicated, it grew gleefully a few pages longer each night while I slept and kept me stuck interminably at 200 pages in. I kept dropping it with a thud on my knees and saying tragically to the Ministry of an evening, “THIS BOOK IS SO BLOODY LONG.” Not helpful was the limited time I had to give, maybe 15-30 minutes each night, so it sure did take a while to read.

OK, enough on the form, here is content.

It is 1806. The heyday of English magic is widely regarded as over. Several hundred years has passed since the time England’s magician King and his numerous magician subjects who mingled matter-of-factly with regular folk. The door between Faerie and England once lay wide open and English roads tangled with fairy roads leading to weird and sometimes terrifying places. Now magic has become an area of historical and theoretical study rather than a practical profession and any man who calls himself magician is in fact a theologian.

Imagine the surprise and delight of this theological society and of society at large when they uncover in the Yorkshire countryside one man who is truly a real live magician, with a spectacular library of rare and long-forgotten magical books, who proves his talents in spectacular fashion then travels to London to lay his gifts at the feet of the government and generally be adored. This is Gilbert Norrell and quickly he is famous.

But Norrell is also mean-spirited and possessive. He wants to be the only magician in England and he certainly doesn’t want to share his priceless library. With the help of his servants he tricks and bullies anyone else who might like to give magic a go into giving it up before they have fairly started, outsmarting them into signing contracts saying that they will cease and desist, even convincing the government to outlaw the hocus-pocus-sellers on the street corners and run them out of town. He does all this despite the knowledge none of them pose any sort of real competition.

But the younger, more charming and far more adventurous Jonathan Strange slips through the net and disarms him. Against all odds he becomes Norrell’s pupil. Together they serve the government in matters at home and abroad – Strange travels with the army in the Napoleonic wars for several years, moving the countryside about to confuse the enemy, creating illusions to frighten the other soldiers. They prove themselves indispensable to the government and the people. Norrell even lets Strange read one or two of his books and they get on all right for a while.

But Strange is a strong and opinionated pupil, wanting to throw wide open the doors between the ancient magical world and the modern one and summon all kinds of magic and magical creatures – not just the ones sanctioned by Norrell. Master and pupil, once friends and colleagues, become bitter enemies.

But when Norrell is tempted into an act of magic, an impressive but foolish and ignorant feat in an attempt to stop death snatching away love, he unleashes an evil that will have consequences for him, for Strange – for the whole of England and beyond.

You think I have gone on too long like a modern movie trailer and told you the whole story, so there’s no point shelling out $20 to go to the cinema. But in fact I have just outlined the introductory premise. You’re only a few hundred pages in. Ha! No spoilers here.

This is a thoroughly English book and I mean that in a most complimentary way. It is almost Dickensian, full of detail and a definite comedy of manners. It is, as I have mentioned, also set in the 1800s, featuring cameos from Lord Byron, Napoleon and Wellington, with much chronicling of earlier centuries through extensive footnoting.

Despite knowing it is fiction, my hatred of pre-1900s history discovered in high school and strengthened in university extends into historical fiction. So I find it a hard slog to read what feels like a history, no matter how convincingly and deliberately this format is used, when I have been banking on straight fantasy. I have to force myself to read the footnotes despite an abominable temptation to skip them and in some cases my reading of them is shamefully close to skimming. But I read them all and so should you. You’ll need them.

To be brutally honest, and I concede this could be the hater in me talking, I think this novel need not go quite so far into the Napoleonic wars as involving Jonathan Strange. It feels somewhat like a sidebar, one that just goes for too long. You could probably cut out a good 200 pages and make them a spin-off novel, which makes me sound terribly Grinchy. In fairness, perhaps someone who likes historical fiction and has more than 15 minutes a night up their sleeve will probably lap it up. Perhaps the book is to be applauded for keeping someone like me involved enough to keep going in the first place.

But wait! What light through yonder window breaks? About halfway through, on a rainy weekend day I am able to settle in for a few hours, I begin to appreciate the fullness of the portraits of Norrell and Strange, and the depth of the tale, so tightly packed with asides and footnotes and backgrounders, now slowly unfurling, its darkness gathering.

And it bewitches me. The central trunk supporting its many branches, many leaves, is a story of love and risk, of an otherworldly danger that lies in wait for people to stumble into its trap – and pay the ultimate price. As widely as the net is cast across the real world and the magical one always just beneath, it is this central story, this central danger that finally gives it urgency, a sense of what is at stake.

Quite after I have stopped expecting it, compulsion floods in. At last I feel that glorious feeling, the one I live for, of being glued to a lovely fat novel.

This is a truly outstanding book, the more so because it is Clarke’s first – according to Wikipedia she took 10 years to write it and this surprises me not a whit. It nearly took me 10 to read it. (only kidding, I’ll stop).

Approaching the end I am savouring each page, gleefully anticipating each twist, acknowledging that every little note sounded, every scene drawn has had its place as this violent and utterly fantastic adventure hurtles to its conclusion.

“Closing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell after 800 pages, my only regret was that it wasn’t twice the length,” Neil Gaiman wrote in his review.

A bit masochistic of him, perhaps, but I think we all get the point now. Go read it.

Postscript: oooooh. Have just seen this has been made THIS year into a BBC miniseries with an IMDB rating of 8.4. I knew I was right to read this book 11 years after its publication… 

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 7: Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman, 2005)

Books remaining: 19. Weeks left in which to read them: 37 (bad). 

Anansi Boys cover

Annoyingly water-damaged, pretty book.

There wasn’t much to choose from for G – my only other unread (ha! typo undead) options were Peter Goldsworthy’s Everything I Knew – worthy, but meh – Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach, which looked cool but was so skinny it felt like cheating, and Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. This came a close second but seemed a little dark for how I was feeling so I went with the reliably brilliant, AND happy, Neil Gaiman.

He authored American Gods and Neverwhere, both great, though I liked American Gods best. This, another Gods-themed novel, is blurbed (now a word):

Anansi Gods - blurb

Can’t go wrong, see?

After the endless, though awesome, wrenching of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I needed something just lovely, and the logic seemed sound that something this big, bright and blue would have to be.

I feel as though I can’t be the first to compare Neil Gaiman to Terry Pratchett, though I scarcely dare to. For those of you who have lived under a rock for their entire lives, Terry Pratchett is author of the Discworld fantasy-humour series, and several others just as brilliant, and he is adored worldwide.

Anyway, a little scared to make the comparison, as feel that whole internet will crash accusatorily Ialso now a word) down upon my head, breathing fire and shouting that I am wrong or, alternatively, that everyone already knew this. Well, I will resist the urge to Google it before I publish and just bravely sally forth with my likening. It’s just the sheer gladness of it, the inventiveness, big-thinking plot twists in almost-real worlds, flashing and ready humour tempered by plenty of warmth.

The story of all the mad things that happen to Charlie is anchored by the narrative running underneath, in which he is slowly uncovering a long-squashed sense of self-worth. As inevitably (and quite rightly) happens with stories about uncovering self-worth, he also finds out who he really loves in life, and who loves him.

This is a lighthearted read with a kernel of seriousness at its heart. It’s quotable and causes numerous giggles of the out-loud variety. I doubt Neil Gaiman can do any wrong; at least, he certainly hasn’t here. This is the sort of book that’s too good NOT to pass on to a friend immediately after reading, secure in the knowledge that you have done them a service.

I’m going to pass this on, mainly because it got water-damaged in a rain storm just as I started reading it (you can see in the picture) and I just can’t stand water-damage. Also, he recently wrote another novel that has caught my fancy, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I’d like to make room for that, should someone Just Happen To Buy it For Me.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.

 

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Feel as though I have been staring at a computer screen since I was born, but I shall drag my burning eyes to the screen one last time for the sake of my followers, who no doubt are avidly waiting for every post.
So, here’s one I prepared earlier.
But you’re not going to get much fire or brimstone, I’m just going to waffle about something I love.
It makes me happy just thinking about this movie. It’s one of my favourite Disney movies, and that’s a hard choice to make. I’m just going to go ahead and say the spoilers. Everyone knows the story.
It’s got that beautiful old-style Disney animation, before things got all cute and rounded (and the newer style is damn cute, don’t get me wrong). It’s all angular and very unrealistic. The knight’s faces look as though they’ve been carved out of a tree stump, the horses’ legs are so skinny they actually disappear between their pointy fetlocks and their knees, and Maleficent looked exactly like a dragon long before she turned into one.
And no dragon-lover could be disappointed with the dragon she eventually does turn into. Even the Ministry, famous for his dragon-love, had no complaints (or, didn’t dare to voice them in the face of my overwhelming enthusiasm).
Anyway, it’s just gorgeous. The colours are gorgeous. The shapes are gorgeous. Even the gargoyles are gorgeous. And it’s not simplistic. I can’t quite describe what they do with the illustrations of the fairies’ gifts, but it’s unusual and gives you funny feelings. Sorry. I did say I was tired.
Even given what I said about the animation being the style it was before it got cute, it’s still adorable. It has a fat king and a thin king. It has rabbits who dance in boots, and three squabbling fairies. It is so cute it’s quite amazing that it manages to be so hellishly scary.
Menace pervades the entire movie (with the possible exception of the scene with the dancing rabbits). Maleficent is terrifying to look at and to listen to, especially since she is immediately shown as someone ready to sentence another to death over not being invited to their birthday party.
Apart from Maleficent, the Tchaikovsky score, taken from the ballet, is the other major factor that makes this film so dreadfully creepy. Sorry I can’t link to a convenient YouTube, but since childhood I have not shaken off the dread that steals over me when Maleficent’s yellow eyes appear in the fireplace and lure the transfixed Aurora upstairs to this simple, but utterly eerie, piece of music.
You couldn’t fault the action of the climax … though, I must note, the Prince would have been hard pressed to do all that hacking of bushes, evading of guards and killing of dragons without those handy fairies.
Finally, of all the fairy-tale Disney endings, this one is about as fairy-tale as you can get. Aurora ends up waltzing in a cloud wearing a ballgown that changes from pink to blue, for crying out loud. It’s a little girl’s wet dream (appropriate? Whatever) and it’s awesome.
Do yourself a favour, and watch the movie.

Turbo Blog

  • The Sending: The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 6 (Isobelle Carmody, 2011)

I might have to read this again from the beginning before the last and final book in the Obernewtyn series comes out. I just dont think I can wait long enough for my appetite for this series to be sated. I think I got the first book in the series nearly 20 years ago, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the writing and the plots that I enjoy it as much, if not more, now.
Of course the books have gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and could now double as weapons, or crook-stoppers, as the Ministry calls them.
I confidently predict that even those who don’t get into fantasy would love this epic post-apocalyptic series.

  •  Gabriel Iglesias’ Stand-Up Revolution (Astor Theatre, October 14, 2012)

Phwoar. This guy is not the world’s most You-Tubed comedian for nothing. If you do nothing else today, Google Fluffy and be prepared to laugh your ass off.
This show was more like a rock concert than a stand-up gig – Fluffy’s support acts were awesome, and then the main act, the lovably obese Latino himself, ran nearly an hour over. He ended up talking until his on-stage “reminder” clock ran out at 99 minutes, at which point he giggled and happily pulled its plug out.
Then, and only then, did he stop with the brand-new material and obligingly do all the fans’ most beloved routines, which they deafeningly requested then nearly sang along with everypunchline.
It was a powerful, positive, bizarrely touching event to be a part of, and I laughed until I nearly passed out.

  • Dark Shadow (2012)

Tim Burton’s latest (I think) offering would surely be a deep disappointment to any fan of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Noticeably lacking the dark, disturbing quality of his earlier work (even his relatively recent work, like Willy Wonka), the movie is stylish but shallow.
It’s not stylish enough to be watchable purely as eye candy, and it’s too shallow to be enjoyed even as B-grade fluff. Johnny Depp is peculiarly lacklustre, and even his visual gags about being an ancient vampire struggling to understand a modern-day society are barely enough to raise a snicker.
The villain is so two-dimensional and lazily thought-out she is ridiculous, without any feelings or motivations except a deeply irrational desire to be loved despite being a murderous witch.
Only bother watching this if you are so hungover you can’t get off the couch and change it to something else.