February 9, 2016

Book Review || Misery by Stephen King

I know it is hard to believe me when I say I am a horror fiction fan if I am not a fan of Stephen King, as though the two facts cannot exist separately, but I have read only a single other King novel aside from 'Misery' - 'The Shining', and while that novel intrigued me, it did not inspire me to rush to the store to purchase his entire oeuvre. 'Misery', on the other hand, is known to be unlike any of his other work, focusing entirely on being a psychological thriller rather than a supernatural one. This is perhaps why I enjoyed it so.

Paul Sheldon is a writer who has just managed to escape the rut of historical romance by writing what he believes may be a literature prize-winning novel. His drunken celebrations, however, lead him to a snowy car crash, a mangled body, and a rescue by a crazed nurse, who just happens to be his 'number one fan'. Disgusted with his new book, she forces him to destroy it and to bring the heroine of his commercial success back to life. The novel drops Sheldon into a terrifying world that hangs on the thread of Annie Wilkes' mental health, a thread readers learn tangles and untangles unpredictably, putting Paul's own sanity at risk.

I felt that 'Misery' seemed a very personal novel for King as a novelist himself. Sheldon, as a writer, speaks often about the work of writing, the torture that an empty page, a lack of inspiration, can bring to someone who sees, feels and remembers so much, as well as the euphoria of capturing an idea that fits perfectly into the plot and theme. Sheldon is physically restrained and tortured by Annie in much the way he is psychologically restrained and tortured by his craft.

Sheldon is, of course, the point of view from which we read the book, and so his terror of Annie becomes our own. Some believe that this novel will not inspire the kind of deep-seated fear that they have come to expect of King's writing, but I disagree: readers, when reading a supernatural horror, come to a subconscious agreement with the author that everything exists only on the page they are reading. While they may be compelled to continue reading, 'the gotta' that Sheldon speaks of is only so the story can be resolved - the horror dissolved - and we can return to our daily lives and sleep peacefully in our beds. But this novel's representation of terror is cloying: Annie Wilkes could really be out there. Her madness was not supernatural and exists in reality and to me this makes it all the more frightening. Of course we can see all sorts of possibilities for escape in our times, such as cellphone GPS tracking, but the novel is set in the days when the only fast communication was the post or the telephone. Of course, Paul has access to neither. He is entirely alone except for a woman who swings between sanity and depression.

King's representation of Paul's disbelief, fear, confidence, shock, and eventual resignation is stark and affective, and the terror of Annie Wilkes is not only the certainty of her madness and the uncertainty of when it shall strike, but the breaking down of Paul's spirit, the claustrophobic subconscious restraint she places on him using his own horror, his very helplessness and physical impairment.

But perhaps the most frightening thing of all: Paul did his best work while under her spell, suggesting that the best inspiration cannot take place without a little sacrifice.

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