Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Written by Stephen King

Published: 1974

Synopsis: The story of misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge, remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of all time.


What the hell do you write about the horror book that's probably been the centre of more reviews and discussions that any other horror book on the planet?

I'm a little late to the game, and I'm actually a little embarrassed that it took me 10 years of reading Stephen King to finally read his first published novel. I don't really know why it took me so long to pick up Carrie, I actually saw the film version as a 12 or 13 year old along with The Shining at a sleepover. I loved the movie, I mean seriously, Sissy Spacek is awesome sauce, but I kept reading different King books and forgetting about poor little Carrie. I finally bought a copy last year at Book Fest, and it took me another complete year to decide to finally read it! But man, I'm glad I finally did. This book is so good, and so different to the movie (yet also kinda the same...I'll get into that soon) and I can completely understand why it launched Stephen King's career.

So if you haven't heard the plot for Carrie before (ummmm, has anyone not?) here it is. Carrie White is controlled by her uber-religious mother (who makes every religion nut you've ever heard about sound sane), who dictates every facet of Carrie's existence. Understandably, this makes Carrie stand out from the other kids at school, and we all know how kids are when they come across someone different... The opening scene (which is also the opening scene in the movie) has the girls (led by the nastiest girl of the lot, Chris) surrounding Carrie and pelting her with tampons when she gets her first period in the shower and chanting nasty things at her. This event is the catalyst for pretty much everything in the book, from all-around nice girl Sue's decision to arrange for her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom to assuage her feelings of guilt for being involved, to inciting Chris's rage when she's punished (unjustly in her eyes) for tampon-gate, causing a chain reaction of events that hurtles the entire town towards destruction.

Oh, and did I forget to mention the telekinesis? Much like the wizards in the Harry Potter world (was anyone expecting a HP reference in a King review?!), Carrie inadvertently caused light bulbs to blow, or things to fall off desks when she feels a spike in emotion, but as she begins to hone this skill, she remembers/realises that it's actually something she's been able to do all her life. The telekinesis provides Carrie with a sense of control over her life that was missing before, but this sort of power in the hands of a tormented teenager is never going to end somewhere good, which is definitely true of Carrie.

There is no denying that Carrie is a sympathetic figure, as her confidence grows as she arrives at the prom (thanks to her date and her new-found control over her telekinesis) you realise that in a different world she might have been one of the "cool" or "popular" girls. She's still a little awkward and reserved, but far from being the plain and weird girl that she's originally painted as, she's funny (a real wicked sense of humour actually), beautiful, and seems to hold people's attention and affection well. But because she grew up with her mother's weird mandates shadowing her she never had a chance to make friends. They all wrote her off the second she said something strange because that's what they all expected of the girl with the religious freak for a mum. The small pockets of happiness that occur make the whole thing all the more sad, because it just seems so ridiculous that this poor girl felt so trapped and tormented for so long just because of a few labels plastered on her at such an early age. In this sense it actually acts as quite a powerful anti-bullying message - I imagine less kids would be inclined to pick on the strange girl in class if they thought she'd be able to slice them in two with a table!

What I found amazing about the book (other than the engrossing story), is how distinct and intact Stephen King's voice is in it. I had expected the book to be quite different in style and tone from his more recent books, and while there has been definite growth and skill in King's writing over the million decades he's been writing, there are traits that exist in Carrie which are signature stylistic devices he still uses today. It blows me away that he had his voice so figured out at such an early stage, I think most writers would be pretty damn envious of this! I also really liked the format which this book was written in. It mostly followed Carrie (with a few looks into Sue, Chris and other characters) but interspersed were excerpts from books and articles that were written after the Carrie White Event and the investigation which was launched after it. Some of these excerpts were used to describe how other kids or people in town saw Carrie and to deliver the facts, while others focused on Carrie's telekinesis and the "science" behind it. I can imagine that some people wouldn't like these aspects of the story telling, but I really liked them. It removed the mystery and climax to an extent (it matter-of-factly referred to the final event very early on) but because I'd seen the film I knew what was coming anyway. If you went into this book expecting a standard horror story that builds and builds and builds until it finally explodes, then these intrusions would probably annoy the hell out of you. But I think they worked because this book isn't really about that build of horror for horror's sake. It's a book about a girl pushed to the edge, who finally can't take it anymore and loses control. Yes there are supernatural elements with the telekinesis, and it definitely fits within the horror genre, but the focus of the story is Carrie, and these little excerpts help keep the attention squarely on her. You may think differently (which is totally OK) but that's how I felt about them.

So yes, Carrie was amazing and I really loved reading it and I'm still kicking myself for taking so long to read it! If this book is sitting on your bookcase or TBR list (like it was for me) get it down and get stuck into it! It's amazing and a damn short read, so you have no excuse to leave it for later! I loved the movie, Brian De Palma is a fantastic filmmaker, but the movie is a much more contained version of the book. It focuses more of the mother/daughter relationship and lacks the full extent of the torment that Carrie encounters and then dishes out after the horrors at the prom. But anyway, watch the film, read the book, then watch the film and read the book again because they're awesome and Stephen King is awesome.