Another week, another Stephen King book under my belt! And this time, it’s “Misery”.
Did I like it? Well, if I tell you that I went to bed at ten planning to read one or two chapters and ended up reading until nearly one in the morning and finishing the whole book, does that answer your question?
“Misery” is the story of Paul Sheldon, a novelist who is famous for a series of somewhat trashy period books about a character called Misery Chastain but who strives to write more literary works instead. After crashing his car in Colorado during a snowstorm, he is taken in by Annie Wilkes, his number one fan. Unfortunately for Paul, Annie’s care is not as kind as he would like and he ends up her prisoner, forced to write a new Misery novel to please her… or else.
As a reader, this book hooked me like nothing on Earth. My own struggles with mental illness meant that for me, Annie was both a terrifying antagonist and somebody to whom I could, in a strange way, relate. I know how it feels to be unable to do anything but eat terrible foods without washing properly or caring for myself. Yet none of that stopped Annie from being a terrifying presence or a true threat either.
Paul is also surprisingly appealing and the way he talks about writing and being a writer really hits home for me. The ideas of being known for something you aren’t proud of and of having to fight to find an idea are familiar ones to most writers, I think.
I can also very clearly see the unconscious analogies between Annie and King’s own drug problems. Being in Annie’s care is like being in the grip of addiction: it both hobbles Paul, yet once escaping it, he almost wants to go back for a short time because he fears that he cannot write without it.
If I have one key complaint as a reader, it’s the way Annie is portrayed. From a contemporary perspective, the idea of the villain of a story being a “scary crazy woman” is a touch uncomfortable, especially as a mentally ill woman myself. It’s a statistical fact that the mentally ill are more frequently victims than they are perpetrators, so it does help to perpetuate a negative stereotype.
To be fair, though, the book is nearly thirty years old and even in the late 1980s, information about mental health wasn’t as widely available. It wouldn’t stop me from recommending the book: I would just want to warn people sufficiently beforehand.
Finally, as a writer, I really can’t complain about the book at all. The characterisation, the sentence structures, the word choice, everything goes together to create the write atmosphere and mental images. It’s a masterclass of atmosphere and tension.
If you’re a fan of horror and you’ve never had a look at “Misery”, pick up a copy and give it a read. It’s well worth your time.
Related Post: The Thursday Review: “Dolores Claiborne” by Stephen King
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