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A mammoth read but so worth it...,
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This review is from: It (Paperback)
OK, first thing's first... this is a hefty old book, even for an author not well known for his brevity and conciseness. Indeed, reknowned for producing literary housebricks, Mr King has, at some 1,400 pages, excelled himself with this offering. on a superficial level a book of this size is actually rather tricky and even tiring to hold so if you suffer from arthritis this may be a bit of a struggle for you. Considering its content, this enormous book is packed with padding. In fact it is literally bullked out on an epic scale with pages, chapters!, of exposition, characterisation, extraneous detail, flash-backs, flash-forwards, flash-sideways, irrelevant waffle and tangential sidelines. Perhaps half of this book seems to have little to do with the central plot and does little or nothing to move the story forward...
...but it works! I am no particular fan of big books: they have their place (summer hols on the beach, or long winter evenings in bed, for instance) but I can get as much out of a short book as a long one. Nevertheless, while many passages seem (in fact they often ARE) disconnected from the main storyline, they all count in their own way, in painting a much bigger and gloriously detailed picture. What is more, IT is exceptionally well written and every passage is a joy to read. Consider chapter 6.5, in which one of the characters (Mike Hanlon) describes his father's yearly ritual of starting up the farm's old Model A Ford in time for the Spring's farm work. The passage is too long to quote, but here is a flavour...
"When it was running, and Mike was sitting in the passenger seat, smelling hot oil and blue exhaust, excited by the keen breeze that washed in through the glassless hole where the windshield had once been, he would think 'Spring's here again. We're all waking up.' And in his soul he would raise a silent cheer... He felt love for everything around him, and most of all for his dad, who would grin over at him and holler: 'Hold on Mikey! We gone wind this baby up! We gone make some birds run for cover!'"
This passage is so evocative - of childhood, spring and the bond between father and his young son - that it hurts, it is almost literature. And, of course, that is really what IT is about. On the surface it is a horror story about a group of young friends who discover, and take on a terrible evil that lurks beneath the streets of their home town, but underneath it is actually about youth, friendship, nostalgia, growing up and the vast distances between children and adults and between adults and their childhood. The horror comes, not from scary monsters, gore and heads coming off (although King is of course a master of the genre) but from our realisation as adults that we have lost - forgotten - so many of the joys and adventures of our childhood. Whether King intended this or not (I would guess that he dd - it's a recurring theme), that is the level on which IT speaks to me (and I've read the book many times now).
It's worth noting that the story is set in a small American city in the late 1950's (with flashforwards to the mid '80's). One might wonder what relevance this story has to a British reader in the 21st century. Nevertheless it does speak to me, a 40-something who spent his childhood summers having (admittedly less horrific) adventures in nearby woods and fields. Perhaps future readers, weaned on virtual, electronic "fun" rather than the real thing may not empathise so well: what a shame that will be.
The book is far from perfect, with little inconsistencies (and one or two big ones) but despite this, and despite its great size, IT is probably one of Stephen King's best works. It's a story that you can lose yourself in. I read most of his books many years ago and then got rid of them at a car-boot. IT was the book that introduced me to King back then, so I suppose it's fitting that it's the first one on my rediscovery.
One last observation. as well as the traditional (and subtextual) horror that King deals in, something he does particularly well is to lull the reader into a false sense of security and then slap you in the face with something nasty. Witness this passage, where he describes another central character's father who seems like a jolly nice guy, a good and loving father and a "pleasant-looking man with a rather thin face. He wore steel-rimmed specatcles, was developing a bald spot at the back of his head, and would die of cancer of the larynx in 1973."