Review: Cell; Stephen King

Perfectly creepy escapist reading (4 stars)

Source- borrowed copy

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2006

Paperback edition- 473 pages 

The horror of finding yourself with loads of time to kill and then running out of stuff to read. Yeesh

That happened to me yesterday for the first time in a very long time. I had just finished reading and reviewing a book for Lovereading (to follow on here soon) and realised that I didn’t have any other books in my bag. My Kindle is on the fritz (more about that horror in a later post) and I’d made the mistake of not bringing any other books to work. 

I should really know better. 

So, I went to the book-drop on our office floor to see what was a-lurking. Not a whole lot if I’m honest. A couple of Bernard Cornwell’s, a Penny Jordan and a copy of Angela’s Ashes that had some pages missing. I’ll pass on those, thanks. I then had the bright idea of visiting one of the other floors and in amongst the tat found an oldish Stephen King novel I was yet to read. An oldie but a goodie, by the looks of things. 

Thank you.  

Cell is essentially a pretty gory, fast-paced, apocalyptic zombie novel. It is the kind of read that has its grip on you from the get-go and doesn’t hold up until the very last chapter. Brutally violent from the outset, it is mindless, entertaining fun- containing some excellent descriptions of a terrible new world gone completely to hell. King writes the apocalypse very, very well- he should do, he’s had enough practice. 

It’s an ordinary afternoon in Boston, Massachusetts when it happens. After a seemingly innocent cell phone call, a businesswoman is turned into a slavering, raging maniac. And she’s not the only one. All around Clayton Riddell, people are going crazy- attacking one another and rampaging through the city. The cause? A pulse that is broadcast via cell phones and manages to reboot the users brains, turning them into mindless zombies. 

Riddell escapes the carnage unscathed. A non-cell phone user himself, he attaches himself to a band of people like him and is determined to get back to his young son- who has recently been gifted with his own cell for his birthday… 

Dun, dun, dun!!  

Predictable? Possibly. 

Entertaining? Absolutely. 

What I enjoy most about King’s writing is that he has no qualms about killing off his characters, even the most significant ones. There you go, getting all attached to them and BOOM. Gone in the most gross of fashions. Still, you know this book isn’t going to be cheerful, not only from its doom-laden premise but by the fact that from the outset King tells you the world is basically a gonner within two weeks. Ho hum. Factor into that some great characters, one especially who is determined to be reunited with his kid at all costs, and you just know they aren’t all going to make it out of there alive. Ain’t no point in starting to care about ‘em. 

The atmosphere is tense, the descriptions vivid and the characters decently drawn. This is also a lot more action-driven than some of his previous books and the reader is really taken along on a fast-paced journey. King always has protagonists who are ordinary men and women seemingly pulled into extraordinary situations that make you consider how you yourself would deal with that situation and this book is no different in that respect- Clayton Riddell is an affable, likeable dude just trying to make the best of a very bad deal. 

I must say that I have read and re-read a lot of King’s books now- a lot of them fairly recently- and some aspects of this did feel in places like they had been done before. The ‘Raggedy Man’ (the bad guy protagonist) for example, felt pretty reminiscent of Randall Flagg, villain in the epic The Stand. Even some of their ‘powers’ were pretty similar. Or maybe that’s just me, and I’ve just been too saturated by King titles as of late? Cell also didn’t appear as polished as some of his other works and I did grow a bit impatient with some of the crazy super-powers the zombies developed, though kudos to King for trying to do something a bit different with the genre. 

I enjoyed this novel and I suppose I appreciated the message it’s trying to convey regarding our overuse of modern technologies, though you never really find out the source of the ‘pulse’ signal, which kind of feels like a missed opportunity. It’s not my favourite King book to date admittedly, but for a few hours passing away the time was certainly an engaging, pacey read. I think it would be pretty decent listening on audio book too. If you are looking for a piece of escapist reading then this is definitely worth a look. I don’t agree that it made me consider my mobile phone use any differently though. This could never happen… could it?! 

As for me, I’m now being sensible and in the absence of any working Kindle, am making sure I have at least two paperbacks on me- at all times! 🙂


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