When I read ‘Carrie‘ and ‘11.22.63‘ a couple of years ago, I said I would like to read more of Stephen King’s other fiction in between his first novel and what was his most recent novel at the time. Originally published in 1987, ‘Misery’ tells the story of Paul Sheldon, a writer who is attempting to move away from his popular series of historical romances featuring Misery Chastain towards serious literary fiction. After being badly injured in a car accident, Paul is “rescued” by Annie Wilkes, a nurse who also happens to be his “Number One Fan”. However, Annie is devastated to learn that Paul will be killing off her favourite character and forces him to write a new novel where Misery is brought back to life. Or else.
King has now published more than fifty novels and ‘Misery’ remains one of his most famous and well-respected – at least somewhere in the top ten along with ‘The Shining’, ‘It’ ‘Carrie’, ‘The Stand’ and ‘Pet Sematary’ – and deservedly so. At the heart of the story is a fairly simple but effective concept which isn’t overdone and explores a number of other themes including addiction, obsession and the craft of writing novels. Although King is well-known for writing a number of very long books, ‘Misery’ is the perfect length and even though the story takes place over a number of months, King maintains the suspense well throughout.
Most authors would consider the threat of writer’s block or scathing reviews to be the most terrifying things that could happen to them but the torment suffered by Paul at the hands of Annie Wilkes may force them to reconsider their priorities. That said, while ‘Misery’ certainly features a fair amount of violence, it’s also a thriller which has broader appeal beyond the horror genre which King is famously associated with. The creepiness of Annie’s character and the psychological effect this has on Paul is written very effectively and there are even some glimpses of dark humour as he tries to fathom her unpredictable behaviour.
‘Misery’ is more subtle and less violent than I had expected but still very chilling. As King has managed to publish four more novels in the two years since I read ‘11.22.63’ – despite claiming a few years ago that he can no longer write at the same pace as he used to – it seems unlikely that I will ever read anything close to his complete bibliography. However, having recently watched Stanley Kubrick’s famous film adaptation of ‘The Shining’, it’s likely that when I do revisit King’s work, his third novel will be next on my list.