Book Review: Insomnia – Stephen King

Insomnia

I’ve just finished Stephen King’s Insomnia, and my first coherent thought on the matter is:

Damn, he writes a good story.

(To clarify, it wasn’t actually my first thought – that was something along the lines of ‘well, I didn’t see that coming,’ but it sounds better like this, so if you could cut me some slack for some creative wrangling in the hope of writing a better review, that would be lovely).

This did not, of course, come as a surprise. Whether it’s horror, adventure, or the delightful pieces that fall somewhere in the middle, such as his short story collection entitled Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King knows how to spin a good yarn. When I pick up one of his books, I know that what I read, regardless of genre, target audience, or even somewhat dubious cover art – there’s always that one cover that just doesn’t work – will be of excellent quality.

To take a case in point: Insomnia.

I’m still not entirely sure how to categorise it. There are elements of distinct horror, featuring predominantly in undoubtedly vivid visual imagery, but the novel as a whole reads almost like an adventure story, with two heroic characters prevailing bravely against the forces of evil. Nonetheless, they don’t truly ‘prevail’ as much as they endure, and as heroes, neither character meets the standard type. To coin what I’m sure must be a cliché by now, they are more truly two ordinary people forced into extraordinary circumstances.

That is why I enjoyed it, of course. Ralph and Lois are just two regular people. You and I, perhaps, give or take a couple years and the requisite genitalia. At the beginning of the novel, they aren’t in possession of any unusual abilities, and they’re not particularly unusual, either. They’re just people. It’s difficult not to relate to them, in a general sense, and equally difficult not to sympathise with their suffering. Arguably, protagonists need this quality to work as protagonists, because it is very difficult to read a book featuring main characters that you find nauseating on a good day.

This, I maintain, is part of what makes a Stephen King book special: it draws you in, not only to experience the story and the world he created, but into its characters, too. Into their lives, their hopes, their dreams and their nightmares. The reader is privy to it all, and not once does it feel anything less than real. Ralph Roberts is the kind of man I’m sure I’ve spoken to before, and Lois Chasse the kind of woman I’d like to know. They feel two-dimensional and realistic, ultimately believable.

Now for the plot. The whole time I was reading, I tried to second-guess where it was going. Where it was leading me. Yet try as I might – and I did try – I could only anticipate tiny, unimportant, insignificant fragments. This is not to say I was constantly surprised by twists that failed to work, but, rather, that the story was refreshingly unpredictable within its set boundaries, and in possession of enough interesting reveals to keep me guessing, invested, and, arguably most importantly, reading. While complicated, it was far from incomprehensible, and the distinct feeling that I was learning what was happening with Ralph not unwelcome as an artfully employed method of imparting necessary information.

Lastly, Stephen King managed to not only produce an intriguing narrative with an expertly paced plotline and believable, realistic characters, but also something of an investigation into human nature that didn’t seem even the slightest bit out of place. The reader cannot help but contrast the decisions made by Ralph and Lois – decisions made out of empathy, love, and loyalty – with the decisions made by Clotho and Lachesis: rational choices decided upon in reference to a wider context and far-reaching concerns, and wonder about the kind of beings we would be if we lived far longer.

Insomnia encourages the reader to look deeper, to think, at length, about the truth of human nature and abstract concepts such as love, duty and compassion, and this, I think, is why I will read any book with Stephen King’s name on it. King has the ability to punch straight to the heart of things, to capture the very essence of mankind’s existence without ever failing to produce a strong, arresting narrative, and that is why they are always worth reading.

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TV Review: Constantine

The latest installment of Constantine was an impressively meaty episode that featured multiple interesting threads as well a surprise plot twist left-field enough to impress that left me with the grim certainty that should that be the last we see of Constantine, a show that has suffered from the beginning from gloomily negative predictions despite generally positive reviews and reasonable ratings given the time slot and other new shows starting at a similar time, we loyal viewers would lose out on some genuinely good TV.

However. As an avid watcher of A) crime dramas, and B) anything involving supernatural shenanigans of various kinds, I’m seen my fair share of series finales, and, in the main, they do at least one of two things. (Sometimes they do both. Sometimes they do neither. I’m talking generally, here). Some shows finish up the season in a haze of adrenaline-induced glory, packing in as much action, violence, and high-stakes drama as they can, secure in the knowledge that the viewer will be stunned enough to remember being stunned, and so will return to watch again in the future. Others take a different tack, leaving the viewer with far more questions than answers, and only one way to solve that problem.

Then there’s Constantine.

Disregarding the last five or ten minutes for the moment, it didn’t feel like a series finale. Despite multiple plot threads, it was bizarrely slowly paced, positively ambling along until it eventually stumbled into the shocking conclusion, and with little to suggest that the stakes had been raised at all. It was supposed to be the climax of the first season, and yet it felt much like the other episodes.

That may have been the case because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Constantine’s production. As I understand it, the series was initially intended to be much longer, and so, logically, 1×13 was not intended to be the finale. As I’ll come on to discuss, it’s a good episode in itself, well crafted and interesting, so perhaps it didn’t feel like a series finale simply because it was never intended to be, and was only turned into one on short notice. Regardless, whatever the reason behind it, as a climatic, concluding episode it didn’t quite fit.

Of course, such a conclusion would be to disregard the last ten minutes. To take the ending into account colours the rest of the episode in a markedly more favourable light, as the aforementioned slow pacing succeeded quite masterfully in lulling me into a false sense of security that left me wide open and thoroughly shocked by the concluding senses. Intended or not, it was a clever move, and I honestly cannot remember the last time I was quite so surprised. Bravo and all that.

To take a relatively wider angle on the episode, equally enjoyable was this week’s line-up. It was nice to see Zed interacting with Jim Corrigan, and while I missed Chas’s enlivening presence, he was a more than reasonable replacement. And with John Constantine at the helm, taking his enemies for a merry chase with a nod, a wink, and a barbed comment always at the ready, the combination worked. I preferred the ensemble feel to last week’s episode, but, equally, I enjoyed the way bringing Corrigan back into the group isolated John, highlighting his vulnerabilities, his strengths, and those essential personality traits that the series as a whole has been steadily revealing to us.

To conclude, although there were parts of the episode that didn’t work for me, it finished on an undoubtedly high note, and left me more than a little invested in the possibility of future episodes. Furthermore, Constantine is a show that has provided intriguing storylines, wonderfully entertaining dialogue, excellent acting performances across the board, and enough spells, blood, and general weirdness to keep itself thoroughly immersed in its chosen genre. An admirable performance from all sides, and something I would love to see more of.