I’ve just finished reading all 850+ pages of Stephen King’s epic Under the Dome. It took me a little while to get into it, but by the end I thought it was amazing.
We had already watched, and really enjoyed, the television series of the same name. The first two seasons were terrific but in the third season the story-line went shooting off into the realm of the weird.
So I was prepared for the book to be substantially different from the television show and it was. This was not a bad thing. On the whole the book is more focused and coherent than the TV show.
King gets the story going from the first page when the small town of Chester’s Mill in Maine is suddenly cut off from the outside world by a huge, invisible and indestructible dome. A two-seater plane crashes into the dome. A woodchuck gets sliced in half. There’s a lot a death and destruction in the first few pages.
The novel is a study of human nature under the magnifying glass. Greed and stupidity abound but there are also many sparks of kindness, intelligence and generosity.
The dome is a literal and figurative crucible. It’s a metaphor for the world, and the story is in some ways a parable about the potentially catastrophic effects of human activity on the environment.
Political mis-management is rife. The corrupt second selectman Big Jim Rennie builds a totalitarian police state with frightening ease and rapidity by capitalising on people’s fears and setting Dale Barbara (Barbie) up as a scapegoat for the town’s ills.
The novel is very Stephen King. By that I mean that it’s chock-a-block with specific details, the characters are all sharply drawn and colourful, and literary and Biblical references abound. Jack Reacher, the protagonist of Lee Child’s novels, gets an honorary mention and there’s even a scene which is written as a homage to T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
King handles his large cast of characters with dexterity and I only had to refer to the dramatis personae in the front of the book occasionally to remind myself of who someone was.
It was interesting to ready in the afterword that King first tried to write this novel back in 1976 and after two weeks’ work he says he, “crept away from it with my tail between my legs.” He didn’t return to it until 2007 when he felt ready to tackle it again. There’s a lesson there in patience for all of us.
Under the Dome is a great, sprawling novel which made a big impact and will stay with me for a long time.
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