I am absolutely in awe!
5 golden, colossal, awe-struck stars for Stephen King’s It, of course. Obviously it is worthy of being an all-time favourite.
I usually read classic novels (my last review on here was of Middlemarch!) and do not like horror at all so this was a complete surprise for me.
There are so many ways in which I absolutely adored this book.
IT was published in 1986; it is Stephen King’s 22nd book (including books that are not full-length novels); it is over 1000 pages long, most editions being around 1100-1200 (my edition being 1166 pages); especially with the recent release of the new film, it is being spoken about all over the place! It is one of the most definitive Stephen King novels: it is so often recognised as one of his absolute best and most famous and is generally the one that most people think of.
This book follows a town called Derry, Maine. As Stephen King’s books are often interlinked, Derry is often where a lot of Stephen King’s books are set. Derry has a very morbid history with a lot of mortalities, particularly for children. Throughout the entirety of the history in this town, every 27 years, a group of children have either gone missing or been found dead in succession.
The book is split up into two timelines: the first timeline is set in 1957-1958 and it follows a group of (I want to say 11 year old) children who, after spending a fair chunk of the novel getting to know one another and getting used to their group of seven, finally refer to themselves as “The Losers Club”. The seven children consist of Bill Denbrough – the leader of the group whose younger brother George of course features in the famous paper boat scene at the beginning – Ben Hanscom, an overweight but loyal and friendly boy; Richie Tozier, the crackpot-joker of the group; Beverly Marsh, the only girl; Mike Hanlon, a boy whose family is often discriminated for being black; Eddie Kaspbrak, an asthmatic and mentally very young but still sweet and innocent boy, and Stanley Uris, a logical, Jewish boy.
In 1957-1958, the 27-year cycle has come around again and various children have been killed. These seven eventually realise that the town is targeted by an mysterious, malicious entity or THING (hence the reason they call it IT – they do not know precisely what IT is) which usually takes on the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. However, when not in the form of Pennywise, IT can take on the shape of a child’s deepest fears. (Eventually, at the end of the book, we do get a vague idea of ITs true form which I will not give away!)
Other, non-Loser-Club characters include Henry Bowers, who is the typical town bully who gradually gets more and more unstable and psychopathic as the book goes on; we also have Beverly’s abusive, unreliable father and IT itself.
The second timeline is (you guessed it) set 27 years later and IT has returned to the town. The children have grown up and moved away yet Mike has stayed in the town. Upon realising IT has returned, he is given no other option than to contact the others in The Losers Club and inform them. Their adult selves return and are forced to confront their traumatic experiences and face IT once and for all.
One thing I found the most fascinating about this book was the structure.
Part 1 consists only of three chapters (around the first 150 pages of the novel) and jumps back and forth between the two timelines between chapters in order to illustrate that IT has returned 27 years later.
Then we have chunks of the novel to follow which are devoted entirely to either the children or adults (they are not just told one after the other in complete chronological order; they are told in parallel) and then in the final few chapters, the novel jumps back and forth CONSTANTLY between the two timelines as they both reach their dramatic conclusions.
Whilst not following the norm, I found that structure of the novel so interesting and very suited towards the theme of memory.
Memory is a significant theme in this book because one of the things the adults have to face is finding the previously-lost memory of their past experience. They have forgotten a lot, obviously, since they were 11 and Mike expresses to them the importance of not being hit with the memory too quickly or they will simply not handle the pain of the trauma. But by structuring the novel out of the strict chronological order, it means that the reader is subsequently finding out more as the adults are finding out more because we have not read those scenes in the book yet: subsequently, we do not “remember” them either and we are finding out more as the characters are.
I thought this book was outstanding, ground-breaking, fluidly written, and so authentic. It has, of course, become one of my favourite novels of all time and even though I am in January at the time of writing, I know that it will be without a shadow of doubt one of my favourite books of 2018.
This was a bit of a shock for me to find out because this is an American horror novel, aka the sort of book that would make me recoil usually. I do not like horror generally in films or books, nor do I like action films or books. I love books that have loads of character development, really slow pacing, such a readable writing style and are generally sophisticated pieces of literature (rather than just the occasional fun trash book).
My main criticism of horror novels and why I typically hate them so much is this:
They always feel a bit cheap and a bit rubbish overall. They can be a fun escape but at the end of the day, they will lack any characters who you will grow fond of at the end; the plot ends up being a bit daft, and the novel in general will end up being trash in terms of novel authenticity.
However, with IT, that was not the case at all. Yes, you could term this as a horror novel and yes, there are moments which will send chills down you but it still ticks all of the boxes:
The characters are phenomenally developed and fleshed out – by the end of the book, you will be so fond of all of them – and all of them are so believable; the writing style is so immersive and readable to the point where you can get sucked in for ages purely because of the prose, and despite the horror premise, the novel itself is so, so impressive as a piece of art in itself. It does not feel like cheap trash; it absolutely is its own, sophisticated book and it has completely owned its place in the shelf of high quality literature with the themes it tackles such as friendship, memory, the connection of friendship to adulthood, and above all, determination, belief and perseverance against odds.
So whilst you could just consider this as a “clowns-running-after-children” book, 1) it is far more complicated and thought-out than that so you will get far more than just a random, batty clown and 2) the book was so much more than that in terms of sophistication.
Some of the characters in this just warm your heart up: one of my personal favourites was Richie Tozier. I felt that he was one of the characters with the most depth to him. I will be honest: the first time he came into the story, I found him a trifle annoying and did not especially warm to him. However, by the end of the book, I practically loved him! You really do feel like he has some emotional depth underneath all the crackpot jokes and accents; he does show subtle signs of caring about his friends despite that and THAT is the sign of a superbly developed character.
Another character I really warmed towards was Ben; he was so wonderful to read about and there were moments when you just feel so sorry for him. Of course, there was also the fantastic Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh who were simply fantastic and heartwarming to read about too. You feel so fond of all of them by the end of the novel and that is something which is annoyingly not present in most horror novels.
The writing style, additionally, just swept you up. This was my first Stephen King book and I could tell immediately the talent he had with words. The way in which, particularly towards the end of the novel, he could trigger so much fondness in me and make me want to support and invest myself in this story and these characters that do not actually exist…simply by words on a page…was truly extraordinary. An impressive, well-flowing and very accessible writing style.
The ending to the novel is incredibly different from the ending of both the miniseries and the new 2017 film. I can completely understand why because I feel that the ending is almost too mental to be able to translate on screen without getting more than a few raised eyebrows from the viewers.
As far as I can see, the ending has attracted quite a lot of controversy from readers. There are some people who feel that the ending is a bit too much for them in terms of plausibility and boundaries; some people who also think it is just downright MAD what happens in the final few chapters.
(All I will say is this: The Ritual of Chüd. If you have read this book, you will know exactly what I am talking about!)
My thoughts are these: yes, the ending will take you by surprise and will be absolutely nothing like what you expect at all. However…
Stephen King has my full support with the ending to this book. Why? By that point, I was so invested in the book and characters that I did not slate the ending for it being ridiculous but rather admired and fell in love with it for it being so unique. Because of how much Stephen King had captured me up until that point, I simply could not imagine the book ending in any other way whatsoever.
I loved the ending to this book, primarily for it being so unique. By that point in time, this book could commit no crimes. The ending is such a perfect and poignant conclusion and whilst somewhat bonkers – and subsequently controversial – I would change nothing about it.
In fact, the ending further supported the theme of friendship and the power of friendship: how one’s belief, determination against odds, and goodbye-fear attitude can still prove to be worth something despite how ridiculous that sounds. Additionally, there is a lot of subtext in the ending. Without spoiling too much, I loved how complex the ending was, how complex the origin of IT was, and how there was a lot of background subtext related to Stephen King’s version of The Creator and The Destroyer. (A version which of course is not true at all! Just a very interesting addition to this particular book.)
None of that subtext is present in either of the film adaptations. If you are a fan of the story but have not read the book and would like a better executed moral message, the book will definitely be for you.
There was one thing I did not like about this book however. This did NOT hold me back from giving it five full stars as it was such a small issue. My issue was with the “Derry Interludes”.
In between each major, chunky “part” of the book, there is a “Derry Interlude” written by Mike Hanlon in which he goes into the history of Derry. He may talk about previous cases in which IT has caused disasters or simply talk about the general history. Most of the time, I found these sections very interesting. The very last interlude, in particular, I found very necessary and nothing short of powerful. The reason was because it focused on the adults in the aftermath of the final showdown.
However, there were a few times when the story would REALLY be at an important stage and then all of a sudden, along would come another “Derry Interlude” with Mike Hanlon rambling on about some incident in the past which frankly I did not care about. I really dislike it when as a reader, I invest myself so much in a specific moment in a book and then suddenly the author snatches us away from that moment and bores us with some page-filling drivel. I think it is boring; I think it is disjointed writing; I think it is a classic recipe to annoy your readers and for them to lose their emotional investment in the story.
I am writing this because there was one moment in particular when my jaw dropped.
“Stephen, are you really taking me on a random tangent NOW?” I ended up ploughing and half-skimming through that section (thankfully, it was only around 20 pages) before getting back to the important parts of the book.
So I was not particularly impressed when he punctured the main story with these “Derry Interludes” and as an additional point, some of them are just not as engaging as the rest of the book.
(As I have said, this does not apply to ALL of the Derry Interludes! There is more than one I can think of which were completely necessary. The Black Spot Fire, for example! No spoilers.)
That is my only quibble with this book. Other than that, I would not edit this book down at all. I adored how long it was; it would not be the same book for me at all if I had not had that feeling of really being able to get my teeth stuck into it. That way, it just gave me extra time to enjoy the characters and experience the story slowly and more fully.
I was particularly elated when I hit the 1000 page mark and even more so when I finished the book: The First 1000+ Page Long Book I Have Ever Finished!
Woohoo, I am so glad it was this book.
In general, by the end of the novel, I was so fond of the whole thing that it was such an experience finishing the last few pages. That rarely happens: it is rarely so that I am so connected to a book that finishing it is such an event but with IT, that was the case. You will remain invested in this novel even after you have finished it.
I feel that this review is long enough already and rambles enough already so I do not feel like I need to say anything more.
I whole-heartedly recommend this masterpiece to anybody, even if you hate horror as I do: I think this book is excellent regardless. 5 out of 5 stars all the way but this is definitely one of those situations in which it is a 5+ stars. Give it 100 stars, as I have occasionally said in a few other reviews!
Recommend, recommend, recommend. I adore it so much; it was so wonderful.