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TonyTalbot

TonyTalbot

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Nicholas Nickleby
Charles Dickens, Mark Ford

4/5 "Bag of Bones", Stephen King

Bag of Bones - Stephen King

Mike Noonan last sees his wife alive after she runs a routine errand. As he struggles to come to terms with her death, his writing career and life falls apart, and he closes himself off from the world.

An idea for a vacation at his summer home by a lake restarts his life after four years and leads to some surprising places and revelations, particularly when he stumbles into the middle of a custody battle over a small girl…

When things start going bump (and when bells start ringing) in Mike’s home, he realises fairly quickly he’s living in a haunted house…with more than one ghost. That bubbles along under the surface for most of the story, but the real plot is the custody battle between the woman living in almost poverty down the road in a double-wide trailer and one of the richest men in the country.

A pleasingly old-fashioned ghost story from King – the ghosts are fairly benign to begin with, and the horror only kicks in towards the climax of the book, which is told in a breathless rush of a few chapters.

It’s more of a character driven story than most of King’s work, and Mike feels very real and solid for it. King also goes down the route of Mike being an unreliable narrator, an unusual device for him. So much so that an alternative explanation of what’s going on could be made: Mike could simply be psychotic and imagining most of it. There’s an element of uncertainty there that livens things up. Like most of us, Mike considers himself a hero in his own story, but King drops hints both broad and subtle that he wasn’t at times as wonderful as he would like to think.

There’s none of the usual bloat of King’s work – he doesn’t spend a chapter talking about characters only peripherally related to the story, for instance, and the plot doesn’t slacken even through the custody battle.

The horror is low key, the supernatural quite tame, the characters nicely developed, and the whole thing hums along smoothly without dragging. If I was looking to start someone on King’s work, I would pick this one.