on 28 October 2004
Stephen King is approaching the end of the path leading to the Dark Tower. This sixth and last but one volume is phenomenal. It is the story of Susannah, who has been hijacked by some primitive spirit, who has been impregnated with a child during a rape in some stone circle, when she moves towards her delivery. It has to happen in New York in 1999. Susannah is thus taken by force, or nearly, to the Big Apple that looks like a big blood pie. The other members of her gunslinger ka-tet are following, plus the priest from Salem's Lot. And all of them are back in New York or in Maine, at different times and at in different places with different missions. Mia, the evil spirit, leads a game that she does not control. Her leadership is thus vain and blind. She is the prey and the prisoner of the Crimson King who wants her child, not really hers in fact, to achieve his destructive project against the beams that support the Dark Tower and the whole world. But the book is phenomenal because it brings together a great number of lines from other books by Stephen King. It is a real multiple crossroads and roundabout of a good dozen of his previous novels. This gives some perspective to his whole writing history. So many books have dealt with the theme of the bad guy who is trying to destroy the world. Evil versus good. But the good side is no choirboy : they are also able, the gunslingers, to kill innocent people if necessary. They are some kind of levelling machine that flattens everything and everyone that stands in their way. There is no stopping them. The chase is irresistible. Stephen King seems to want to give the key to his whole writing career and work. But Stephen King also goes one iota further in his obsession about the relationship between himself and his characters. He becomes an essential character in the book itself. He is the one who has started the whole shindick a long time ago and then he does not know any more if he is the creator of his characters or if he is only the receiver of news from beyond sent by his characters who, once propelled on the road to the Dark Tower, have assumed their existence the way they wanted. In other words he compares himself with the god of this multiple layer universe of his, this Gan who created the world from his navel. He too creates his characters and their adventures from his navel, not from his brain, so he says at least. But this is a fundamental question about creative activities : what creates what ? The artist creates his art, or art creates the artist ? It is impossible to answer such a question because it goes far beyond itself and brings forward the further question : what makes a creative act creative ? Is it because it reflects the world and makes us think about it ? Is it because it goes beyond all limits and taboos coming from the world and drowns us in this permanent tresspassing ambition ? Is it because he follows his deepest unconscious, his deepest impulses and bombards us with the bullets of the dark side of our souls and bodies ? What we can say is that King is a genius as for suspending our disbelief and that is an essential element about his success. He wraps the most incredible events in such a fascinating packaging that we cannot believe what we see and yet we cannot disbelive it. We are mesmerized by the style, by the story-telling and we navigate from one place to another, from one time to the next or the previous one, from one soul to all the others, from one being to the most human and humane or monstrous and frightening creatures without ever being sated, asking for more and more and more, enjoying the pleasure we find in believing, at least for a while, what is unbelievable from the very start. And this journey in the virtual world of the darkest mind in the universe is the supreme experience that makes us reach the deepest truth about humanity. Truth is never what we see because it can only be what we do not perceive and do not want to accept. Truth is a limitless dream beyond the obvious that does not require any faith but only the eyes and the desire to see the invisible. Truth is necessarily beyond any stimulus our senses can give us, at least our five basic senses, because we forgot there is a sixth one : imagination. King forces us to cultivate the garden of our imagination like no one ellse has ever done it, even Shakespeare.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
on 10 June 2004
Stephen King's Song of Susannah is the sixth in his epic Dark Tower series. It follows directly from the end of Wolves of the Calla. As the villagers deal with the aftermath of their battle, Eddie plans to follow Susannah/Mia, and one of the beams that holds the Dark Tower in place finally snaps.
The strength of the narrative is how the characters have divided loyalties: to find Calvin Tower and persuade him to sell the lot containing the Rose to the 'Tet-corporation' and protect the Tower, or deal with the affair of the heart and find Susannah.
However, this conflict means the narrative is split three ways: there is little interaction between the groups and the story becomes three separate narratives, with Susannah, not surprisingly, the primary focus. The story mostly takes place our world in 1975 and 1999. Roland and Eddie leave the story around page 314, while Jake and Callahan really only have forty pages to themselves. Each of these three threads ends with a sense of anticipation for the final novel.
The story does carry the narrative forward - to a point. Song of Susannah answers some questions, most particularly, the surprising revelation of who the father of Susannah/Mia's baby is, and some remarkable characterisation of the internal conflict between the multiple personalities. Also, very impressive is the gradual transformation of Jake, becoming more like Roland following the death of Benny Stillman.
There are some disappointments within the story: one of the strengths of the earlier volumes was the gradual revelation through the retrospective view on the revolution and the fall of Gilead - there is none of that in this volume. Furthermore, the way that King narrates his story - having the characters recognise his conscious indebtedness to other genres is like having a magician explaining how magic tricks are done. Everything seems to have labels attached, and the information on the labels underscored (explaining the relevance of the name 'Calla Bryn Sturgis' and how many fighters were in the trench when the Wolves arrived). The use of the name 'Mordred' carries with it so much legendary baggage that it is impossible not to see the significance of the character. It seems a shallow way to present characterisation.
What is most frustrating is the significance that King places on his own importance and in-jokes. The novel is bogged down with self-conscious references to his other novels. There are some potentially distasteful references that the modern reader would understand but that the travellers from New York would not, for example, hiding Black Thirteen in the WTC and saying that it would be safe if 'a hundred and ten stories of concrete and steel' fell on top of it.
However, despite the above, it was an enjoyable novel, and it brings us closer to the end of the series. Unlike the first four novels, we only have to wait three months for the conclusion!
on 20 December 2013
I do love Stephen King, his wise-whispery narrative voice, the dark flip and twist of his imagination and sheer creativity of his metaphors, but... As Magnum Opus's go, The Dark Tower isn't a Gormenghast or a Lord of the Rings, although I really wanted it to be. It is original, yes, gripping at times, weirdly fantastical and there's absolutely nothing else like it out there. It merges a spaghetti Western hero with a quest to save existence from vampires, robots, demons and the Crimson King. Where it falters is when the narrative becomes little more than an echo-chamber for King's own experience. He's a vastly intelligent, generally self-effacing chap but he's fallen into the trap here of crossing the line between fact and fiction and as a result diminishing our experience of both. For as foreshadowed heavily in Books 5 and 4, in this story the author himself makes an appearance.
Locked inside the walls of our own skulls it is easy for any of us to lose perspective and this series is beginning to read like therapy as Eddie and Roland, separated from Susannah and Jake, head to 1970s Maine to meet - yes, you guessed it - Stephen King himself. This infinity mirror effect is fascinating, but the reasons for this are not all positive. A big part of our interest comes simply from open-mouthed disbelief that he's actually going to go through with it. The writer meets his own characters scene is a bit of a cringeworthy moment, although to give King credit he doesn't paint himself into this picture as anything other than the flawed human being he is.
The plot point that justifies King's decision to bring himself into the story is that he's effectively been channelling the Dark Tower stories for years. In fact the stop-start nature of the publication of the series through the years is also explained because dark forces have been trying to stop him all of this time. King also begins to explore here the life-changing event that was his own accident, when a van ran him over on a walk and this incident holds strong fascination for him.
A relatively short volume in King terms, Song of Susannah sees Roland's Kai-Tet split, with Susannah, Jake and Oy being through a door into New York of the 1999, whilst Eddie and Roland travel back to 1970s Maine. By the end of this tale Susannah will have given birth to the demon child she carries, we're in for some surprises there and Father Callahan, he of 'Salems Lot, will no longer be part of the Kai-Tet of 1999.
This book has the feel of an automatic bowling pin setting machine, with a clunk and whir everything's being aligned ready for the final showdown - hey this is the Gunslinger after all - in Book 7. There are some genuinely gripping moments and some great visceral horror, a return to vampires, this time with their own three-dimensional back story, but in the end the book does feel like a prologue to the final volume.
If the question each page of a book asks its reader is; "Do you want to read on?" then there are significant sections of this series where my answer, beyond sheer stubbornness and dogged loyalty to my literary hero, would have been a firm; "You know what, no actually." It is rambling at times and the rules of the world he's created seem to be ignored way too easily for it to become totally engrossing, say, like Tolkein's Middle Earth. A good example of this is occurs here in Book 6. For a goodly part of this story, Susannah, a double amputee after a nasty accident with a railway train, actually grows legs. The only reason I can see for this is that she needs to move about in the New York of 1999 without a wheelchair, because this is a part of the plot where she is not surrounded by people who can help her. It is at moments like this that my generally very willing disbelief suspension kit clunked to a stop I'm afraid and I was tipped out of the story. Great writing though and rich in imagery of worlds other than these. I will loyally shuffle onto Book 7 now, for like Roland himself, I do want to see this bloody Dark Tower after all this time!
*** Three stars, but out of loyalty, without added admiration for Mr King it'd probably be just two.
on 15 March 2013
Well, this was...strange. I have enjoyed the Dark Tower series so far, but felt things went in quite an odd direction with this installment. Which is not so say it was bad. There was some fantastic writing here, with character development and detailed world-building and suspenseful plotting and all the good things we expect from a Stephen King novel.
But for me, the device of the author appearing in his own story was just a step too far, I found it self-indulgent and a bit cringe-worthy. I appreciate the cleverness of what King was trying to do in weaving together the real and the fantasy worlds, but it was taken too far in this book and was offputting and distracting for me. I would have liked more of the 'world' of Gilead instead. For me the most engaging part of this series has been the well-told, suspenseful and emotion-filled adventure stories set in Roland's world.
I'm still looking forward to starting the final book. This has in many ways been a wonderful series, very unusual, ambitious and rich, and I have enjoyed the journey right from the first appearance of the lone gunslinger on the edge of the desert. However it has been flawed and frustrating in places, and many of those places were found in this book!
on 11 April 2005
Pen-ultimate books in a series are often the hardest. How do you manage to ratchet up the tension for the last book without giving away your denouement or leave your fans short changed? This is none so true as to Stephen King, who in the manner of Phillip Pullman has unflinchingly upped the stakes for each Dark Tower sequel. He did this in spectacular fashion at the end of Wolves of the Calla by introducing a character from another of his books, and then having him find, well, that book. Existential crisis doesn't really do justice. How exactly was King going to follow this?
Fortunately, King manages the feat amply in Song of Susannah. After the ever-so-slightly turgid Wolves of the Calla, I don't think I was alone in wanting something a bit more fast-paced from the Dark Tower. In that respect I wasn't at all disappointed- there's a tangible sense of urgency and pinch in Song of Susannah, and you are on teeterhooks with all three threads which run through it. Whilst Susannah fights a losing battle with her alter-ego Mia as the demented mother carries her/them and their sinister baby into the lion's den, Jake and his new companion Constanti- sorry, Callahan miserably rush to what they know is a belated cavalry charge. Meanwhile, Eddie and Roland escape meeting their makers at the hands of (reincarnated) Italian gangsters, before going to meet their maker anyway. If you are any kind of Dark Tower fan, you must know that King himself stars in this book. It's very hard what to make of this. A courageous and startling burst of imagination? An embarrassing display of hubris? As the book gently starts to eat itself in the last third or so, I suppose you'll have to make up your own minds. Basically, as with all of his books, King asks us to make a leap of faith, only this time it's a lot bigger. I found that I was so gripped by what had gone before- both in this book and the Dark Tower series in general- that I was able to make it, despite my doubts. And, yes, if you step back from Song of Susannah then its clear that the Dark Tower series is impossibly long (we could have coped without Wizard and Glass and WOTC), he invests himself with a ridiculous amount of self-importance, he beats us over the head with a lot of unneccessary symbolism and in the end what we have is the Matrix crossed with a Clint Eastwood flick.
But I wonder whether you'll be thinking this when its three in the morning and you still can't put this down. End of the world? Bring it on.
on 23 July 2009
It's not exaggerating to say that I had a little weep when I saw where King was going with this series. The hints are there all the way through: the casual dropping in of his name into previous volumes; the ending of Wolves of the Calla which suggests that the author known as 'Stephen King' is to form a key part of their puzzle, their ka-tet. At the end of Wolves I found myself praying that King wasn't going to do what I thought he was going to do. When I started the next book my heart sank.
It's made worse by the fact that the first four-five books are so outstanding. I had invested so much in these characters and their situation; to be reminded - in the most egotistical way - that the whole thing was just a fiction, was like a slap in the face.
Boo hoo, is all I can say. A tragic end to one of the most promising things I've read in years.
on 10 January 2012
The sixth book in the Dark Tower series follows the ka-tet's adventures after the battle with the wolves. Sussanah, possessed by the personality Mia, has stolen black thirteen and gone through the doorway to New York in order to have her 'chap'.
Roland and Eddie team up, leaving Jake, Oy and Callahan together. Both parties must travel to different New Yorks to secure the lot and also help Susannah.
This book is written with two separate story lines following either side of the Ka-tets adventures. An interesting concept is King writing himself into the storyline, although he doesn't portray himself in a particularly attractive light, I'm not sure if I liked it.
The book ended on a major cliff hanger and I can't wait to get stuck into the next instalment.
on 21 June 2004
'Song of Susannah' is the penultimate chapter of Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' story. After the crazily (some might say)long 'Wolves of the Calla', book six is extremely refreshing in it's narrative and pace. King proves that he still has the ability to write a 'rollercoaster' novel, with twists and turns all the way, and when he's in the zone no-one can outdo him.
Obviously 'Susannah's greatest weakness is the lack of a real beginning and end, but this is to be expected. The series is going to conclude with an epic novel in it's own right (book 7 - 'The Dark Tower'), which should finally give us all 'the answers' (many new questions are raised, of course, in 'Song of Susannah').
Certain negative reviews are still missing the point about this series. It truly is one huge long book split into seven parts. There isn't meant to be an arc within each part, the story is continuous. In fact, no review can really do this book justice as we won't feel it's full effect until we've finished the final chapter.
As for King himself appearing in the saga, people are too ready to criticise this as self-indulgence. This story IS his life, the backbone of his writing career, what almost all his other books are about (some moreso than others). You think of 'The Stand' and 'It', two of his most famous books, and they are pretty much side plots to 'The Dark Tower'. Through including himself in 'Song of Susannah' he has elevated 'The Dark Tower' into something far greater than just another novel written by Stephen King. Read it and you'll see...
on 12 June 2008
King's sixth book in the "Dark Tower" series picks up immediately where "Wolves of the Calla" left off, reinserting the reader into the world of the gunslinger and his travelling companions. They resume their quest for the Dark Tower with a great opening scene, and soon cutting to the absconded Susannah and her new passenger ...
Things progress smoothly and very competently in this penultimate volume, a shorter story than many of its predeccessors and more focused for it. The writing is condensed but not neglectful of the characters or the scenarios, and has all the fluidity and poetry of the previous volumes, although sadly not to the extent of the wonderful "The Gunslinger".
The novel benefits from the sense of movement and progress, that was sadly lacking in the last two novels, "Wizard and Glass" which was almost entirely flashback, and "Wolves of the Calla" which took place entirely in one town. Now things are rolling and the excitement and urgency return to the story.
I'm not a fan of the metafictional aspects of the series, which begun in earnest last novel with the mention of "Stephen King, the authord from Maine", a plotline which is expounded upon and reaches a kind of conclusion here as well. Mixing real-life with fiction is often a bad idea, and although Stephen King appears here as a character, the novel itself doesn't appear to suffer greatly despite the cringing feeling you might get at the hubris of the author.
Still, there are some truly heart-stopping moments, such as the escalation of Susannah's troubles in the final chapter, and the moment of Jake and Pere Callahan's emergence into the New York of 1999. Despite another cliff-hanger ending, which generally drive me nuts with anger and disappointment, it's still a strong book and worthy of the collection. If you felt a little deflated after books four and five, you'll be happy to see a return to form with book six.
on 5 November 2004
This series has been unputdownable right from the start, since I casually picked up The Gunslinger in Waterstone's. It finally occurred to me yesterday why I have to keep reading it, even to the point of missing my stop of the bus, running out of clean crockery, and not noticing the pileup of laundry: the twists get weirder and more fantastic. For want of a better word, the whole thing just gets more and more...NINETEEN.
I can't wait for book 7 - winging its way as I type, my indulgent friend having it ordered it for me for my birthday (I couldn't wait for payday!).