Regular readers will know that I’ve been searching for a scary read. My quest has taken in The Killer Inside Me and The Haunting of Hill House, neither of which did much in the way of scaring me. My quest then took me to the doorstep of Stephen King. King is synonymous with the horror genre so this seemed like a good bet. The book in question: The Stand.
The Stand was first published in 1978 but was re-published in 1990, as the foreword says, ‘as its author originally intended’. The newer text is an expanded version, clocking in at over 1,300 pages (King cites potential cost to the customer as the main reason for the original shorter version). I don’t often venture into books that are this long but was encouraged by the great reviews I’d seen online.
The book kicks off with the accidental release of a weaponised form of influenza from a military base. The deadly virus goes on to wipe out most of the population, so we find ourselves in familiar post-apocalyptic territory. Those fortunate enough to survive the pandemic find themselves gravitating towards one of two camps, led respectively by good or evil forces. We spend time with those on both sides, firstly as they seek out kindred spirits, and then as they work together to rebuild society and adjust to the new world. If you hadn’t guessed already, the stage is set for the age-old battle between good and evil.
So, was it scary? No. But there’s a but and it’s a big one. Having spent a lot of time with the book, I don’t regret deciding to read it for an instant. The Stand was hugely enjoyable and probably the best book I’d read in a while. You’re served up a bunch of really great, diverse and well-written characters whom you actually grow to care and root for. There are great friendships, rivalries and betrayals, and despite the post-apocalyptic world being a familiar, perhaps overfamiliar, scenario, this felt realistic rather than hackneyed.
I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen King. I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s because so many of his books have been turned into feature films or TV specials, becoming overfamiliar in the process. Nevertheless, I’m glad I took the plunge and look forward to reading more of King’s work.
I’m giving myself a break from my scary book quest. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ll likely read the fourth in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series by the end of the year, so look out for a review of that in the coming weeks.