IT is the story of a bunch of long-lost friends who go back to their home town to face something that has scared them since they were children.
“He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.”
Revisiting the past can throw up a lot of memories, and while ‘IT’ is a horror story, it covers a whole lot more. I could relate because, as an adult, ‘IT’ also took me back to when I was younger. When I was about thirteen I happened to pick up a battered copy of King’s ‘The Dark Half’ at a secondhand sale. Up until that point, as a reader, I’d always read ‘adult’ books but mostly westerns, spy stories and adventures.
But discovering Stephen King’s work opened up my eyes to a whole different genre. From that point on, and even now, I couldn’t help but be interested in the macabre. So, as a teenager, I devoured a vast majority of King’s backlog. The Stand, Salems Lot, Firestarter and even the lesser-known Insomnia – flashed before my eyes and disappeared into my mind.
As I got older, however, things changed and I moved away from King’s work. I got to that age where socialising becomes more important and, save for the odd novel, my reading fell to the side. I’m pleased to say that as I hit my early twenties my passion for books fully came back, but I never returned to King.
IT was one of his works that I hadn’t read and after seeing a teaser for the upcoming movie I mentioned it, and so my girlfriend kindly got me a beautiful copy. Thus I committed to 1000+ pages of King once more. Travelling back in time to revisit an author, and an imagination, that had gripped me so tightly in its thrall as a teenager.
The book unfolds like a weird and very lucid nightmare. An endless stream of interupted thoughts and unusual occurances whirl around the characters’ heads. All the while followed by a niggling sense of inevitability as they’re brought towards their fate.
“Swear to me swear to me that if it isn’t dead you’ll all come back.”
A series of child murders have been happening in a small American city and a bunch of 11 year old outcasts who call themselves ‘the losers’ have their suspicions that the killer isn’t mortal. Of course none of the adults will believe them…or even raise a hand to help them. The theme of isolation becomes more and more relevant as things go on – which is great writing, because isolation is often the root of fear – imagine how you’d feel if you were seeing things that no one else could see? As if life wasn’t tough enough they’re also constantly threatened by the local bully, who ends up becoming one of the most fucked-up ‘human’ characters that King has ever created.
As children ‘the losers’ are able to defeat the weird entity that is ‘IT’ and, soon afterwards, all but one of them moves well away from the area. The local bully’s friends are killed and he ends up being sent to the local asylum. By the way, if you’re interested as to why there are so many pictures of clowns whenever you see anything about IT, this is because the entity is able to manifest as your biggest fear…which, for children, can often be a clown.
“Oh Christ, he groaned to himself, if this is the stuff adults have to think about I never want to grow up”
Fast forward some twenty-five years and ‘the losers’, all now successful in their own ways, are called back to the town. Murders are taking place again and they feel that they have unfinished business.
I warn you now, this isn’t one for the faint-hearted. Sure, that sounds obvious as it’s a horror novel, but there are more themes here than just a nasty looking clown. Everything from abusive parenting to domestic abuse is covered in some depth – and there are a couple of scenes where the minors have sex, which I didn’t expect and didn’t feel were at all necessary to the narrative.
For me, overall, this was a triumphant return to the world of King. It thrilled me, it had me rooting for the characters and it took me back to what it was like to be a child. What it was like to believe that there are weird things in the woods, and what it was like to run from bullies and to think that some kid giving you shit in school was the most important thing ever.
IT, itself, is a fascinating villain and not one that I ever hope to run into in my day-to-day humdrum. What I liked as well is that, as scary as It was, It still felt beatable – which gave a sense of hope that is often never found in these books. An unbeatable bad guy is a cliche we could do with taking a break from.
“Kill you all!” The clown was laughing and screaming. “Try to stop me and I’ll kill you all! Drive you crazy and then kill you all! You can’t stop me!”
When this was first released, most reviewers were on King’s case about the length. I get that, and as an independent reviewer, it troubled me too – the book comes to around 1,300 pages. I’m not so sure that it needed them all. There were pages and pages of exposition, and reflections on all sorts of topics – everything from checking out a book at the library to how larger people are often light on their feet. A few times I had to fight my inner-editor to make sure that I didn’t allow myself to skim-read certain paragraphs and pages.
I understand that characterisation is important, particularly for the seven or eight main characters. But so many pages were spent delving into the backgrounds of some really unimportant people. For example I read all about one of the character’s school life – his IQ, his parents, how he killed his younger brother (not relevant to the story) only to see him get killed by IT some two or three pages later. All well-written, sure – but as we know it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day as it is – so when we pick up a book we want it to be at least a little concise and nuanced at times. Occasionally brevity can often be the key to great writing (he says after writing a huge review).
“once you get into cosmological shit like this, you got to throw away the instruction manual”
All in all, you should read ‘It’ if you like the genre or if you want something different from your Gillian Flynns and Steig Larssons. It’s out there. It’s a raving, lucid nightmare of childhood fears, adult anxieties and some hairy fucking moments.
4/5 – if it weren’t for the extra 300/400 pages and some of the strange sexual scenes it would have hit the 5. It has definitely made me want to go back and search out some of the King stories that I never got round to reading back in my heyday…