Thursday, 23 June 2011

Book #49 Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Dolores Claiborne

I have been asking a variety of people to recommend me books and particularly their favourite books so I can, if I haven't already read them, include them in the blog. This was my friend Jimmy's pick, and he has insisted I read Dolores Claiborne to the point of harassment, I faithfully promised I would, and now, eventually, have fulfilled that promise.

My problem I suppose, and the reason I delayed reading it is from certain prejudices I hold against Stephen King. I'm not a horror fan, I think the real world is scary enough, I know a lot of people who read King read him because they want to be scared, but frankly it doesn't take a whole lot to scare me.
In my university years, a group of us watched shark B-movie thriller 'Deep Blue Sea', I jumped so often that afterwards my friends said watching me watch Deep Blue Sea was more fun than watching the actual film. Another problem with Stephen King is that many of his books have entered popular culture in such a way that you already "know" their story. How many people don't know the ending of Carrie? How many people don't know what Misery is about, or The Shining, or know that when you say a dog is like 'Cujo' that you mean he resembles King's canine? It's almost like you don't need to read the books, even if you haven't seen the adaptations.

I'm a little bit prejudiced too against his output, he has in his 38 year career written 49 novels, more than one a year, it seems a case (maybe) of quantity over quality, the unfortunate consequence of popularity being high demand for new material...despite not being a fan, or really a regular reader, I had somewhat labelled him in my mind as a 'churns them out on a conveyer belt for the cash' writer. Perhaps I have no right to say so having read so little of his work, but one of my best friends who has read nearly all of his books assures me that the quality of his recent work pales in comparison to his early novels.

Prior to Dolores Claiborne, I had read 'The Green Mile' (later a Tom Hanks vehicle) and 'Different Seasons' - a non horror short story collection which gave birth to the films: The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil and Stand By Me. My overall verdict was that each film adaptation was better than the writing it came from, and I'm pretty much somebody who says the book always beats the film (with certain exceptions like The Godfather, and, somewhat controversially, The Lord Of The Rings)

It was many years later that I started the Dark Tower Series, a series of seven books with a legion of ardent fans. It begins with The Gunslinger, a dark post apocalyptic novel which is beyond a doubt a fantastic book. If a book, or its imagery lives in your mind long afterward then it is a fantastic book. Unfortunately, I was less impressed with the second and third novels The Drawing Of The Three, and  The Waste Lands, and the fourth book Wizard and Glass lost me entirely, on the grounds that I felt it was over-blown and given that from the first three novels we already knew much about the fall of Gilead,  I felt that venturing into Roland's past was to tell a story with an already established outcome.
Stylistically, I felt that the flashbacks should perhaps have been punctuated by the ongoing journey story with the four main leads, as it would have prevented the book from dragging as much.

I haven't entirely written Stephen King off, the book I hear people most praise is The Stand, and I have that book ready and willing to be read. I came to Dolores Claiborne (through Jimmy)  first though, and with no real idea of what to expect.

The book is written in monologue form, its protagonist Dolores, is being interviewed by the police regarding the death of her employer, and the words are entirely "her own". There is no descriptive prose and it features no dialogue from the three people in the room with her. Dolores is the storyteller, they, are her audience.

The narrative voice succeeds well, an elderly housekeeper who though not particularly educated is wily, bitchy, and has a don't-give-a-fuck attitude. The kind of cantankerous old biddy you wouldn't want to cross. It sounds authentic and effortless, as though King has a good ear for picking up the rhythm of the older woman who likes to tell a good story.

The story itself is pretty simple, told in the present and the past Dolores talks of the difficulties of working for a demanding and bitchy boss, and of how the two came to be kindred spirits in more ways than one. The story flicks between the two, when Dolores first began working for Vera as a pregnant young wife, and her days as her carer and companion at the end of her life.  It is really two stories as well..the story of how demanding it is to be a carer and the story of how suffocating a bad marriage to a bad husband can be. Despite this, the story holds few surprises, the problems in Dolores's marriage are the usual cliches and Vera's early characterisation as the wealthy domineering boss is cliched too.
What is quite heartwarming is the way in which these two women become the glue that holds the other together, and the way in which they keep each others secrets.

It's a short book, and an easy read. I enjoyed it, but I don't think it's a extraordinary book. I'm glad I read it, it has a potboiler quality that sort of drags you in. It's a page turner, but it doesn't make waves with any originality, except for perhaps in the very well executed use of the monologue form.

Can't decide between a 6/7 out of 10


  1. Oh Roz,
    Just when we were getting along so well! I love all genres of literature and have studied at Uni everything from the classics to modern fiction but I do have a great love for Mr King's work. I have actually read every novel he has written. I find him to be a great watcher of people, a great wit, very perseptive of the human condition and what makes us tick and also more than just a horror writer. I find the majority of his books are not about horror at all but about relationships, the horror is incidental. Please give him another try, I suggest The Stand or the rarely talked about Rose Madder. I forgive you for your former comments ;)

  2. Hi Helen!!!,

    I think, in addition to my former comments, I have, by and large been afraid to read King, through fearing reading scary things. My best friend brought Geralds Game on holiday once, and summarized the goings-on, I'm really squeamish about stuff like that. Like i say, I havent written off King, but I have always only read his non horror work, and I was frustrated enough with Wizard and Glass to quit the Dark Tower even though I GENUINELY LOVED The Gunslinger, so only thats impressed me, but I am honest enough to say that though only The Gunslinger has impressed me I have only read 7 of his 49 books and can therefore not dismiss him being not informed enough to do so. :)

  3. The Gunslinger is a lovely piece of work, I agree, and you are right about Gerald's game, it is quite a disturbing book. I'm glad you havent written him off, there are some really surprising stories in his works and The Dark Tower books reveal a fascinating and heart wrenching tale at the end - cant wait to hear your opinions on his other works :)

  4. The next King I will read will be The Stand but I don't know whether to put it off for another little while to put distance between it and Justin Cronin's The Passage which I read fairly recently and which in it's write-ups was compared heavily to The Stand. Though The Stand obviously is the earlier book I don't want my opinion of it to be overly coloured by my recent impressions of The Passage having read that first. The Passage is great by the way if you like King type books, my friend who is the big Stephen King fan LOVED The Passage. I really wish in some ways I had finished The Dark Tower, and have said that I might go back to it one day, but that would involve re-reading and completing Wizard and Glass which just seemed very predictable to me. So many books....

  5. I'll try that one you suggested - thanks Roz :)