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A Lazy Story
on 23 January 2015
In nearly 18 months in my current job, I have taken lunch away from my desk only once, preferring instead to spend my free time surfing the web. The one exception was earlier this year when Stephen King's "Cell" was newly published and I was so eager to read it that I preferred the book to the internet. When "Lisey's Story" was published, I expected to do the same again. Instead the opposite was true; this time, the internet held a greater attraction than the next page of a new Stephen King novel, which doesn't happen very often. Not to me, at any rate.
Lisey Landon is the widow of Scott Landon; a successful and award winning novelist. Finally, a couple of years after his death, Lisey decides it's time to clear out his study. As she expected, there are hundreds of memories of her husband in there. What she didn't expect is that her memories would come to life and it would appear that she is haunted by Scott's ghost.
At the same time, Lisey has a couple of other things to contend with. A local college professor, who teaches a course on Scott Landon, appears to have sent somebody to encourage her to leave Scott's workings to him, with force if necessary. Worse still, her sister, who has a fairly long history of mental problems, is experiencing some more of them. But surrounding all this is Scott, who haunts her every waking and sleeping moment and encourages events that Lisey had thought were long forgotten to return to the front of her mind. To the extent, in some cases, that she's virtually reliving them. All the while, she keeps discovering that her dead husband does have a way of reaching her from the grave and sending her on a treasure hunt.
Right from the start, there is something lacking about "Lisey's Story". It's a trademark of King that he takes a while to get going, often filling pages with unnecessary back story. This time around, the back story is of vital importance to the plot, but it still feels somehow unnecessary.
Indeed, instead of the slow start, it feels as if King is trying to fit too much in at once and it all feels just a little bit confused and messy.
Things do improve later on, but the whole thing reads as if it was written in the same way as the "treasure" hunt that Lisey is sent on from beyond the grave. There are parts that feel like they're hunting around for a clue as to where to go next and there are parts that made me wonder if King himself really knew what was going to happen next.
For the long term King fan, all of his hallmarks are here. There are references back to characters from his previous novels and his habit of having characters' mental asides appearing between the lines continues. But his knack of telling a story, always his great strength, seems to have deserted him here. I thought that something called "Lisey's Story" could well end up in a similar vein to "Dolores Claiborne", with a character recounting their life and telling it like a story. This is where King's strengths can be found, but this didn't end up that way.
It has seemed fairly obvious in recent years that King has been running out of original ideas. "From a Buick 8" took many of the same ideas as "Christine", while the latter parts of "The Dark Tower" borrowed from "Salem's Lot" and "The Stand". Even "Cell", possibly his most original fiction work to date, was essentially a retelling of the old zombie story, albeit with a slightly original twist.
Here, King seems to be rehashing his work of a decade ago, "Bag of Bones". Many of the elements appear in both books, with the basic idea of someone being assisted by the ghost of their dead spouse being a main feature. This is where the similarity ends, however, as while "Bag of Bones" was one of his better written works, as well as one of his most compelling, certainly of recent times, "Lisey's Story" is just a bit of a mess.
Part of the beauty of "Bag of Bones" is that you really wanted Mike Noonan to come out ahead. There was someone you could really get behind. "Lisey's Story" has none of that. The characters don't seem terribly well drawn and the whole thing seemed strangely devoid of emotion. I got no sense that Lisey was being troubled by these memories, or that she felt any fear when she was being threatened to give up Scott's old papers. All the characters felt as limp and as lifeless as the zombies from "Cell".
Having been a fan for so long, I usually read through any new King novel in a rush and can tell before I'm half way through if I'm enjoying it or not. This time, the opposite was true. Only sheer cussedness kept me reading it, despite the fact that the view out of the window of a London Underground train frequently seemed more appealing. By half way through the book, I wasn't sure if I was enjoying it and even now, having reached the end and had a chance to digest what I've read, I'm still not sure.
There are King books I've loved and some, albeit in much smaller numbers, that I've hated. I've rarely come across one that was so lacking I have virtually no feeling about it at all. This, perhaps, is the one way in which "Lisey's Story" in unique.
At this point in time, "Lisey's Story" is the only Stephen King book I have only read once. I can't see that changing in a hurry, as I can't see a point at which reading it again will ever appeal to me.
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