Among Stephen King's large body of work, there are admittedly a few duds, but in far greater number are the really super pieces of work, the great books that will stand the test of time and, eventually, he will be deservedly remembered for. There are at least 5 which could vie for the "his best book" accolade, and Gerald's Game is one of them. It is, in a word, superb.
It is one of King's most eccentric books, in terms of the rest of his work. There is no horror here at all, at least not of the ghouly kind. Instead, we sink down into the mind of one character, trapped in a cabin for four hundred pages, and see the internal horrors that lie within it. It is a psychological novel more than anything, which would most probably appeal to fans of authors like Ruth Rendell or Ian McEwan - fans of writers whose normal subject is the human mind, its messinesses and ways of preservation, its internal conflicts and idiosyncrasies. Gerald's Game is a excellent book because King is able to keep us in the company of one single character, alone in a room, tied to a bed, for almost the entire book, and never do we experience a moment of boredom. It would be difficult to overstate the level of achievement this illustrates.
Obviously, not everyone's going to like it. There are people who will find this book boring, and will want more action, more obvious thrills and excitements. If you like subtlety, though, more focused and mental thrills which spring from a more psychological well, this book is for you. It's a marvellous exercise in form and structure, and an absolutely gripping psychological novel. I think King's best work is normally produced when he moves away from overt horror, and this is an example of that. It's a sharp, deeply engaging and gripping book that is no less terrifying than if there were vampires or ghosts involved. Read it. It's not only unique among King's work, but in almost everything else I've read as well.
on 27 June 2008
Worrying though it is to admit this, these days, without my diary, I am lost. There used to be a time when I could remember to do the things that my colleagues requested of me without a written aid: now, they don't even ask me - they just flick to the relevant page and diarise it for me to find when I get to work on any given day. I mention my inadequacy merely to make a point: although I finished Gerald's Game a month prior to writing this review, I can still remember it vividly. For someone who is clearly losing their memory, this is an achievement that deserves a tribute - a tribute not to my ability to recall something that happened less than four weeks ago, but to Stephen King, who, as a novelist, is able to write such a horrifyingly memorable story.
Briefly, "A game. A husband-and-wife game. Gerald's Game. But this time Jessie didn't want to play. Lying there, spreadeagled and handcuffed to the bedstead while he'd loomed and drooled over her, she'd felt angry and humiliated. So she'd kicked out hard. Aimed to hit him where it hurt. And now he was dead - a coronary - on the floor. Leaving Jessie alone and helpless in a lakeside holiday cabin. Miles from anywhere. No-one to hear her screams. Alone. Except for the voices in her head that had begun to chatter and argue and sneer".
How you rate this book will largely depend upon three factors: how you take to the book initially, what you think of Jessie's "back-story" and whether you are offended by the subtle presence of sexism which seems to provide the undertone to the book. Reading through reviews both here and on other websites, I noticed a polarisation of opinion when it came to discussing the direction of the book. On the one hand, you had readers who felt that the book began on a climatic note but thought that it got steadily worse as the pace slowed down. On the other hand, you have the readers who found the beginning of the book difficult to get into but felt that their persistence was ultimately rewarded further down the line. Thankfully, I fall into the second group mentioned (up until around page 40, I didn't think I was going to like Stephen King's writing style): how you rate the book will largely be determined by whether you do too.
As another reviewer has pointed out on members.tripod.com, "The novel comes from two distinct angles: the story angle and the message angle". Given the nature of the book, these two angles are inseparable: you can't have one without the other (and you probably wouldn't have enough material if you tried). Whilst the majority of readers seem to agree on the success of the "story angle", what seems to divide the opinion of others is the "message" that is being conveyed. For some, Jessie's "gimmick-instant self-therapy for survival" ([...]) is cliched and unrealistic: for others, it is rewarding and necessary. Again, I fall into the latter category. I thought that "forever flicking backwards and forwards from the past to the present (and)... in effect, watching Jessie grow up" ([...]) gave the book an incredible sense of balance and development that it would not otherwise have had. Whilst Gerald's demise is as much comedic as it is tragic, it acts as a turning point in Jessie's life - not least because of her physical isolation. Gerald's forcefulness and determination to play HIS game (and, as another reviewer pointed out, it is "his" game because he is the only one playing it) are the catalyst for Jessie's "voices" to shout above the din - to bring to the surface the repressed memories previously buried in her subconscious mind. Jessie spends the rest of the book confronting the painful memories of the "abuse" suffered at the hands of her father ("Facing the memory (of her father) turns out to be nearly as big a challenge as escaping from the bed" - [...]) and, on summoning the strength to face her "Space Cowboy" (Joubert), whose physical ugliness is the embodiment of the emotional ugliness that Jessie faced in the past, she gets revenge by spitting in his face (an action which absolves her from her previous feelings of guilt, confusion and responsibility). Whilst, I am not altogether certain as to whether I only experienced such a sense of closure when I finished this book because I am a woman (and, therefore, probably more able to relate to Jessie's plight than a man would be), what I am certain of, however, is that I have been on our heroine's emotional journey with her and, on finishing the book, felt like I, too, had experienced her victory.
As far as the subtle sexism goes, it must have been VERY subtle, because it totally passed me by when I was actually reading the book. It was only when I read the other reviews and thought about it in hindsight, that I realised it might actually be there. Stephen King been quoted as saying "very few men can write through the eyes of a woman" - not considering himself to be one of these few men. Indeed, some have suggested that this leads to an over-compensation in the character of Jessie. Buoyed by the philosophy that "somewhere there is always a woman who pays the price because of a man" ([...] Jessie epitomises the stereotypical independent woman who is forced to "deglove" herself on the realisation that there will be no knight in shining armour. Yet for some, Jessie's strength only exists in relation to the male weakness around her: she is only so "good" because the men around her are so "bad". Ironically, "King merely combats one form of sexism with another" (members.tripod.com), and there is a clear suggestion the sexism goes both ways. To some, Jessie is not only sexist, but is also the victim of sexism - a sexism created unintentionally by the author. Jessie's hatred of men, albeit justified, could be interpreted as being ultra-feminist. In this light, suddenly the heroine goes from being inspirational to patronised - a double-whammy which I am sure was never intended.
I always knew that one day I would read a Stephen King novel. My mother is forever telling me stories of how she used to read to me as a baby - with "IT" as a first choice book. The question that I have to ask myself is whether or not I will come back to him now I have sampled his work for myself. Without a doubt, Gerald's Game used minimalism to it's advantage: without a doubt, it creates a tremendous sense of panic when you realise it could happen to you: and, without a doubt, only a truly gifted writer could "rely upon the thoughts of just one character to carry the whole book" ([...] The question remains, then, as to whether I will read "The Cell" which is sitting on my bedroom table: The answer? Without a doubt.
on 20 February 2000
This book happens to be the first I have ever read of Mr. King's vast library, and most certainly won't be my last. Of course I've seen the movie renditions of his past works but not being able to put a book down for a second hasn't been one of my most habitual tendencies. It's an amazing read and really does play with your own thoughts (reading this novel in the privacies of my own dark bedroom late at night didn't help one bit, I couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom at some of the mind twisting moments). Very intreguing seeing what Jessie does in her situation and how she thinks and experiences all of our darkest fears, confronting them face to face. I'll cut this short, simple and straight to the point, if you ever have a chance to read this book, do it, you won't be disapointed (You'll probably never take life or freedom for granted ever again either).
-Bryan Johnston, Stephen King's newest fan
on 12 April 2010
I took this book on my holidays to Turkey recently, and I couldn't put it down, I'm sure I finished it in a day! The story is very frightening, the thing I found disturbing was, unlike some of Stephen King's stories such as Firestarter or IT, this sort of situation could possibly occur in real life. Seriously, after reading this, whether you are male or female, you will be put off bondage / sex games for life!
I feel the story flowed very well generally, however I'm not sure about the serial killer / person with jewellery bag part of the story, this just seemed like a random addition in my opinion and didn't really need to be in the story? But that's just my opinion.
You can pick this book up second hand for literally pennies, so it's definitely worth adding to your book collection.
Hopefully, they may make a film of this story one day!
on 27 March 2006
Jessie Burlingame has become ever more tired of her husband Gerald's kinky sex games, but when he suddenly dies during a session, leaving her handcuffed to a bed in a remote house, the game becomes deadly. And now Jessie finds herself caught like a spider in a web, unable to move, afraid of the monster that may lie right outside the house (or inside for that matter!). However, listening to the voices in her own head, she begins to find that not all of the monsters are "out there," some are right inside her own mind!
This is an intense book, a book about horror, but not knife-wielding killers. Instead this is a deep and intense look at the horrors that people inflict on others and on themselves. I found this to be a challenging book - hard to keep reading, but impossible to put down. It's not a happy book, but it is a fascinating and horrifying read, one that will keep you on the edge of your seat!