"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Christine by Stephen King

“The thing in the street no longer looked like a human being; it looked like a scattered bundle of rags.”

Christine follows the slow degeneration of geeky 17 year old Arnie Cunningham after he purchases a beat up old ’58 Plymouth Fury named Christine. Everyone around Arnie can sense the evil emanating off of his beloved new car – everyone except for Arnie himself. But you don’t want to upset Christine, or you might just end up as little more than dog food.

When I read Christine for the first time a few years ago, it really surprised me. The idea of a demonic car driving around murdering people sounded very cheesy and a bit stupid to me, and so I avoided reading Christine for a long time. However, the novel manages to appropriately balance outlandish supernatural elements with convincing portrayals of teenage life, to the point where the ‘alive’ and murderous car doesn’t seem silly at all. Christine’s saviour is that it is about so much more than the Plymouth Fury and the evil lurking within. It focuses on the breakdown of relationships – between boyfriend and girlfriend, parents and children, and most of all between best friends. The Plymouth Fury could be replaced by any corrupting influence that might lead someone astray, such as drugs, and although you wouldn’t have the awesome and gruesome car murders, the essence of the story would remain intact. It is this realistic and relatable aspect which grounds the novel in reality and prevents it from becoming an over-the-top supernatural gore-fest.

Christine is a character focused novel, and the characters are believable and very well written. Arnie is a stereotypical geek; he has acne, he’s a member of the chess club, he lacks self confidence and is a prime target for the school bullies. He’s very sweet and lovely though, making the transformation of his character throughout the novel heart-rending. Dennis is Arnie’s best friend and our narrator for the majority of the novel. He is typical jock character – handsome, popular with women and good at sports. He is realistic and flawed, making mistakes due to his youthful exuberance. Arnie’s parents are brilliant at portraying the heartbreak over the distinct change for the worse in their bright, college-bound son.

The narration is somewhat unusual. Parts one and three are narrated by Dennis, who is recounting the events of 1978-79 four years later. Part two is a third person perspective, meaning you witness first hand Christine’s grisly murders, and are able to get inside the heads of the other characters. This might sound odd but it works very well and the switch to third person is necessary – mainly, of course, in order to witness Christine turning people into mulch; these parts are very well described and gory.

Christine is my favourite Stephen King novel and quite possibly my favourite horror novel. The writing is exceptional, the characters are authentic and although it is quite long (my copy was 749 pages but with rather large text) a good pace is maintained throughout. I’m not normally one for pervasive supernatural overtones but the delivery in Christine is pitched just right, never once overstepping the mark into the ridiculous. Furthermore, it is actually scary – when Christine sets her sights on someone, they are not going to survive; her heavy body will churn you into lumpy mincemeat (and don’t think staying indoors will save you!). If I saw a red and white ’58 Plymouth Fury in the street, I can safely say that I would swiftly turn in the opposite direction.

Rating: 10/10

My other Stephen King reviews:

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