It’s hard to write about a novel that’s been read and loved for over 40 years. Anything I can say has been said before, but, after finishing Carrie by Stephen King last week, I still feel the urge to shout about it.
Published in 1974 by Doubleday, Carrie is the unsettling story of a young girl who develops powerful (and eventually dangerous) telekinetic abilities. The novel starts as Carrie becomes hysterical at the sight of her own menstrual blood in the shower after gym class, believing she is bleeding to death. In this iconic scene, Carrie’s classmates bully her relentlessly, leaving her traumatised and triggering her powers. From here onwards, the novel uses reports, articles and third person narration to piece together the story that has been set in motion by this crucial first scene.
Most people are familiar with Carrie’s outcome. Through its many film adaptations (and even a stage musical!), the story of Carrie has become a cult classic. The image of the beautiful, smiling prom queen covered in blood is now iconic. But despite this, you can’t help but wish you could change it all and create an ending where Carrie doesn’t end up as the butt of a cruel prom joke. This is because Carrie’s struggle is familiar and we root for her. She’s suffocated by an overbearing and cruel parent and ostracised by classmates. Everyone can relate on some level to the loneliness and isolation she deals with in her day-to-day life. She is a hopeless character until the most handsome boy in school asks her out and, for one shining moment, she sees how good her life could be. The novel is a tribute and a warning. Treat people with kindness, keep cruel thoughts to yourself, protect yourself from magical girls with a thirst for revenge.
As expected, the novel is executed very well; King’s writing is succinct yet chilling. He gets the point across without going into arduous description, making Carrie a book that is highly readable and very easy to get through. The technique used to tell the story allows us to jump between the perspectives of survivors and academics, writing about their experiences and theories respectively, as well as showing the true events through the third person narration. This works well to add variety and a sense of realism to the narrative, as well as keep the pace high. I liked how it showed how a tragic event such as the Black Prom might have been reported on by the media at the time, as well as how different characters might have been perceived. For example, Sue Snell, one of my favourite characters, is effectively blamed because she asked her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to prom out of guilt for her past actions. We read extracts from a fictionalised novel called My Name is Sue Snell which the character wrote in an attempt to clear her name. It was interesting to see how she looked back on the events as a survivor, and how it impacted her entire life.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Carrie is the first fiction novel by Stephen King I’ve read, having previously read (and loved) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I can’t say what made me pick it up from the library; perhaps it was a subconscious need to read more widely. But I definitely don’t regret doing so. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. It is an absolute classic and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a scary tale with substance.