Review: Under The Dome by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)


Under the Dome is a big book in both pages and in terms of scope but one that takes place in one town, Chester’s Mill. And it’s probably true to say that that King is going to be testing himself to the limit with this book.

The title of Under the Dome describes the events that happen in Chester’s Mill perfectly as the town is literally cut off from the outside world when the dome drops down. This barrier is see-thru and during the opening scenes a lot of people, birds and animals die finding out about its appearance.

This is the first strength of King’s writing. He doesn’t just kill them. He gives them flesh and bone first so that you can feel their bodies breaking and their personalities dying as they impact the barrier.

Now I don’t usually go in for character lists at the start of books mostly because the cast is usually small enough to remember and if the writer is good enough then he places them for me when he they appear.

King does give his characters the breath of life but when you’re dealing with 2000 potential residents to focus on seeing some of the key townsfolk and their connections and roles in the front to refer to is quite handy.

And King is dealing with all those trapped in the dome though we don’t follow all of them. Who we do focus in on are those key people that are involved in a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ struggle that is slowly revealed as it becomes clearer that this town is on its own. And it isn’t turning into a place where some of them are welcome.

And to paraphrase Julie Shumway, Owner/Editor of the Local Newspaper, ‘If I thought the’d be an actual crisis I’d never had voted for Town Official Jim Rennie, Second Selectman.

But the town did vote for him and Jim Rennie is a man that likes to be in control and a crisis just like this is just what he needs to show the town how much they need him. The US Government throws a spanner into Rennie’s plans for power by asking Dale Barbara, cook at Sweetbriar Rose to be their man on the inside.

But this more about power. It’s about people under pressure, how they react and how easily we can be manipulated.

The reason that it’s so long as a novel is that not only is King dealing with a rather large cast but also he’s spending time with lots of them building up their stories layer by layer. Detail by Detail. Until they all start coming together.

If there is one thing that signifies King and his writing it’s details. There is a lot of information here. But it’s not overwhelming. I’m sure he could have cut some of it but I wouldn’t know where to start. And some of those seemingly minor points have great significance further on.

And it all comes down to significant little moments that snowball out of everyones control but Jims’s and no matter how illogical some of connections are. The populous take it in. They believe so easily. And that’s what scared me the most. How easily we can fall into chaos. How tentative our values are and how when we feel desperate to survive we make selfish choices.

There are some clever ideas explored here as well like what if a town was cut off by a permeable barrier that only let some but air through trapping what was left inside. What would happen as that air was being used and polluted? What would happen to power and food? What would people do to cope?  How many would take their own lives when it becomes clear that they might not escape? Would we be thinking about what is good for everyone or just ourselves? How would the people at the top control us? Who would they recruit in their own private army?

The reason that this took me so long to read is the sense of reality slipping that comes from reading it. There are probable with it. There is an outside influence to the existence of the Dome. And that influence fits with Kings previous works. And he probably could have played that up more as they control events on the inside.

But that lightness of external influence probably helps because of the brutality and honesty of what King describes. It’s not often that books makes me question my fellow humans or worms its way in that I’m distracted and can’t think of much else.

There is definitely demands made by King on the reader, the first being the 900 pages. You then have to surrender to the inevitable. That lots of people are going to die and mostly for no other reason than given the choice most of those who are suppose to support us in a crisis have no idea how to do it and will in the end just save themselves.

And for all those reasons Under the Dome might be my read of the year.

Title: Under the Dome
Author: Stephen King
Edition: Hardback
Publication: Out Now
Review Copy

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