Sunday 5 September 2010

REVIEW: Pet Sematary, by Stephen King (4.5*)

(Hodder, 2007)

Firstly, I'll hold my hands up and admit that this was my first Stephen King novel. I'll also admit that I'd worked myself into such a nervous frenzy about the whole thing, given King's reputation for delivering serious frights, that I actually put the book down after 100 pages and decided I wasn't reading any more. Well, I changed my mind in the sunny light of the next morning, and I'm so glad I did. It was excellent!

It opens with Louis Creed, a doctor, and his young family moving to a new house and meeting their neighbours, Jud and Norma Crandall. The Crandalls help them settle in, showing them the children's 'Pet Sematary' on the hillside behind their home, providing evenings of beer and conversation, and warning them about the dangers of the main road, where the huge Orinco trucks have claimed many pets over the years.

Things start to go awry when a young man is hit by a car and horrendously maimed, dying in Louis's arms in his university surgery. He begins to dream about the boy and the Pet Sematary, though he dismisses them as mere nightmares. A few months later his daughter's cat is hit by a truck and killed - and Jud finally shows him the town's dark secret: the Native American burial ground beyond the Pet Sematary where a terrible power lurks, watching, waiting, enticing...

Now, to me this all sounded terrifying. And at certain points it is, but not really in the gruesomely horrific way I had expected and feared. Of course it has its moments, but King is a master of weaving mind games, playing reality against hallucination and the world of dreams, using our deepest fears and the terror of what is NOT seen to elicit the chills and thrills for which he is famous. The same principle which makes the old psychological thrillers more haunting then their modern gore-splattered counterparts.

In fact, though it has occasional moments of genuine horror, I actually found this book deeply sad and very insightful. Its overarching theme is death - the fear of death, the acceptance of death, the nature and experience of grief, and the futility of humanity's attempt to cling to life even when nature is screaming for us to let go. The writing was beautiful - much more lyrical and evocative than I had expected - and I turned the last page with a deep chill of delicious dread and a profound sense of having read something far more worthwhile than I could have hoped. Looks like I'll be reading more Stephen King after all!

  • "But time passes, and time welds one state of human feeling into another until they become something like a rainbow.  Strong grief becomes a softer, more mellow grief; mellow grief becomes mourning; mourning at last becomes remembrance..."
  • "He could smell the clear tang of pine-resin, and he could hear that strange crump-crump of the needles underfoot - a sound that is really more feeling than sound."
Source: I borrowed this book from an incoming bag of books at the bookshop.