Review: Under The Dome; Stephen King

Ridiculous and bleak, but entertaining (3.5 stars)

Source- personal copy

Published in 2009 by Scribner

I read the Kindle edition (thank goodness!) The paperback edition is 1092 pages.
 

**Chunkster Alert!** 

Given that I was already half-way through reading Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, I’m not quite sure what prompted me to begin another chunkster. Other than the fact that I was at work, and sometimes it’s far less conspicuous to read a Kindle at your desk, as opposed to a not very discreet paperback being propped up against your keyboard and all. 

Ahem. 

So, Under The Dome is a book that’s quite a few years old now. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, particularly as I’ve had designs on watching the recent TV series based on the novel, but admittedly the size of the paperback put me off. I read The Stand last year and that took me forever and was soooo heavy to lug about. Fortuitously, the Kindle edition was going cheap on Amazon. I love it when that happens. Book serendipity! 

Again, I did have second third thoughts when I caught sight of the mahoosive cast of characters listed at the front of the book. It’s longer than the one in Crime and Punishment, which left me groaning a few weeks ago. Still, I ploughed on regardless and I’m actually pretty glad I read it, all in all. It’s not King’s best book but it was a good way to pass a few hours days. 

Inexplicably, a small town in Maine is suddenly surrounded by an invisible force field. With no explanation from the outside world and the military’s attempts to bring down the dome proving futile, the inhabitants of Chester’s Mill must try to survive. In less than a week, chaos reigns; the ecological effects of the dome are proving to have a sinister effect on the townsfolk and a local politician (and drug lord) seems determined to use the dome for his own nefarious purposes… 

As is standard King, this book was pretty graphically violent from the outset, even though admittedly the plot is not too dissimilar from The Simpson’s Movie. King however, started this back in the 1970’s though, so there. There were some spectacularly grim deaths in the first few chapters alone and this theme continued for much of the book. Like with The Stand, King also has no qualms about killing off some pretty significant characters that have had a big impact on the plot. Under The Dome, no one is safe. 

The characters themselves are a pretty mixed bunch though all share one constant: you will either love them or loathe them. Barring one character whose actions towards the end of the book redeems his earlier behaviour somewhat, there are no questionable characters- they are either divided into good or bad and are either sane or insane. This is interesting in that all the way through the novel you are basically waiting for the bad, crazy guys to get their comeuppance, which was probably the main reason that I finished this story. Some characters too are a bit stereotyped, though that’s neither here nor there, really. It’s small-town Maine and that’s sort of what I was expecting.

Politician Jim Rennie is basically a parody character, a used car salesman who now he has power is determined to cling onto it with his chubby, greasy little fingers. Fat, egoistical and a drug lord to boot, he has Chester’s Mill in his pocket, which whilst I found entertaining enough to read about, wasn’t especially believable in places, yet in others was almost frighteningly so. How can a town full of thousands of people let themselves be dictated to by one horrible little man? Surely they aren’t all sheep? 

Apparently so. Or, the majority of them anyways. 

I get the feeling that King was trying to say something else when he wrote this book. Like possibly it is a metaphor for something (or someone) else, but never mind. The storytelling is sound, though admittedly longwinded and the scene setting is strong, with just the right combination of mystery and paranormal to keep the reader engaged with the plot. It’s not wet-your-knickers scary, yet there is something slightly chilling about Rennie’s rise to power and just how easily he can manipulate the unsuspecting townsfolk. This book contains no monsters, just ordinary people committing monstrous, too-horrific-to-comprehend acts. 

I think one of my main contentions with this book (aside from the clichéd, cartoonish characterisations that is) was basically the fact that there isn’t very much explanation given to the dome itself. The cause and wrap-up is done very quickly, which after a gazillion pages was sort of a disappointment. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed King’s 11/22/63, which was a brilliant piece of science fiction, I have to say that this one was much weaker in comparison. I think in future I’m going to stick to what King does best: good old-fashioned, creep yourself out horror. The kinds of novels that keep you awake at night and do make you wet your knickers. 

Still, if you have some time to spare (a sizeable amount given the size of this beastie) and want some entertaining, switch-your-brain-off sort of reading that is somewhat sci-fi lite, I have to say that you could do a lot worse than this. It’s a solid 3.5 stars from me, though probably would have been 4 if it had just lost a little bit of the length and quite possibly, some of its bleakness too. This could have been epic*, but instead for me is merely so-so. 

*if Spider-Pig had been in there, indeed this would have been epic.

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