Lisey's Story review

A glorious tale of grief, love, ghosts and a mad bastard intent on murder.

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559 PAGES · £17.99

Author: Stephen King

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

ISBN: 0-340-89893-3

Rating: 5/5

They say that you should write
about what you know – and Stephen
King certainly does that in Lisey’s Story.
For starters, the female siblings in this
latest novel were inspired by King’s
sisters-in-law – family he knows well
and who seem to have explained all
sorts of intimate details about the
opposite sex, including the problems
faced by a female with her knickers
stuck up her arse…

But that’s not the only familiar
territory King treads for this latest novel
– there are some more serious aspects
too. Grief, for example, was a strong
theme in Bag of Bones and remains at
the forefront of this new novel, although
this time the roles are reversed and the
focus is on the grieving wife. Then
King plunders his own expertise with
Lisey’s husband, who happens to be
a famous writer, something King has
exploited before in Misery. And, as
usual, King’s beloved Maine is where
Lisey’s Story unfolds.

When we first meet Lisey, she’s
struggling to come to terms with the
death of her husband. She’s finally
decided to clear out Scott’s study, a full
two years after his funeral, but the
memories it evokes are vivid and
increasingly strange. King uses Lisey’s
flashbacks to fill out her life with Scott
and while we’re seduced into the gentle
spiral of Lisey’s situation, discovering
her innocence, emotional struggles
and low self esteem, King cleverly
reveals the corners of a wider and
darker picture: references to Scott’s
traumatic childhood and clues left for
Lisey by her husband before his death
that reveal the unearthly nature of
Boo’ya Moon…

Lisey’s attempts to follow the clues
are dogged on two fronts. Firstly, by her
older sister Amanda, whose mental
problems flare violently and result in a
catatonic state, but not before giving
Lisey a message, seemingly from Scott.
Secondly, by a series of abusive,
threatening phone calls from Zack
McCool, an obsessive fan of her
husband’s with a deranged desire for
unpublished manuscripts.

These three threads – Lisey’s family,
her stalker and her solving of the clues –
form the heart of this quietly uneasy
but touching tale. Lisey faces her bittersweet
memories of Scott with
considerable courage, and her
incidental humour is warming
(especially when she finally frees those
knickers from her arse). King takes a
good character and enhances her
believability by creating additional
layers – like Lisey’s constant practicality
and her love of colourful sayings such
as “shit-a-brick” and “burying a Quaker”
(the latter being a quaint way of saying
“having a number two”). The result is
that Lisey stands proud of the pages.
She’s more than capable of carrying the
story alone but is aided anyway by
King’s ability to entice readers
effortlessly into his story through a
series of mysteries.

Yet while the mysteries are clearly
leading somewhere, the overall
structure of the book is less obvious. It
has a fluid feel to it that probably stems
from King’s approach to story-telling,
where he takes a single scene/idea and
develops it organically with no set
destination in mind. There’s an easy ebb
and flow to the scenes as Lisey drifts
into the past and back to the present;
there’s a dark compassion in the
childhood sequences, and a sharp
violence to stalker scenes.

The combination of character
development, suspense building and
silky prose make this an exceptional
novel. It’ll have King’s fans praying even
harder that he never utters the word
“retirement” again.

Sandy Auden

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