Under the Dome – Stephen King

Now then, this is another retro read for me as I first read this years ago, but since then I’ve read it countless times. It’s such a behemoth of a book I will go through phases of just restarting it as soon as I finish it, as it’s long enough to do that without getting bored.

I would probably call it one of my very favourite books but I really couldn’t fully explain to you why.

Here is my attempt:

Under the Dome is a long book. As I’ve mentioned before, I like long books. I find that they have more depth than a lot of shorter books as the writer simply has more space to develop their characters and storylines. I completely understand the criticism that this one may be a bit too long. There are a lot of characters and a lot of storylines so it can be easy to get lost.

The story ‘centres’ on Dale Barbara, an ex army man who is leaving the town of Chester’s Mill when the town lines are suddenly closed off by an unseen barrier. King himself has recognised the similarities with The Simpson’s Movie though he definitely had the idea first. If you strip it right down, the story is a simple one: Dale and his pals try to find a way out of their town. Of course, there’s an awful lot more to it than that. The town is in the clutches of the second selectman (a concept that, as an English girl, I don’t really understand), Big Jim Rennie, a power hungry used car salesman with a lot of secrets to hide. Rennie has a son, Junior, who is also terrorizing the town in his own way, and the barrier itself brings about a whole bunch of complications of its own.

Sounds like a lot, a lot more information than I usually like to reveal but I haven’t actually told you anything you wouldn’t get from the blurb or the first couple of chapters.

What I love about this book is the way King explores humanity in the most extreme of circumstances. It’s a bit over the top and there is a very distinct line between the good guys and the bad guys here, but King weaves a very rich tapestry of storylines so that you get the sensation you spend the narrative swooping through Chester’s Mill ‘checking in’ with its residents.

As with a lot of King’s books, the characters could be accused of being somewhat one-dimensional. While you get to know a handful of them fairly well, you just get glimpses of their backstory, though I like to think of it as emulating the relationship you may have with people in your own village or town – you see them around, recognise their face and know their name, but you don’t really know much abut them.

I’ve read this and listened to it several times. The audiobook edition I have is read by Raul Esparza and I like it. His Big Jim Rennie is wonderfully detestable – indeed the baddies becomes extra bad in his voice.

I can’t really do a review of Under the Dome without addressing two issues: the first is the tv show. I was so excited when I learned this was being made a few years ago. I think I was on holiday when it actually came out so I had the first couple of episodes to binge on when I got back. I’m sorry but I was so disappointed. There are so many differences between the book and the show and some of them are just unforgivable. I’m not stupid, I know that tv needs to be politically correct, showing a healthy cross-section of society and all that, but that’s just not what the book is. The book makes a point of the lack of racial and religious diversity in Chester’s Mill and that’s part of what makes it so… unsettling. Of course, the other big issue is that one big thing in the book is the criticism of the church, again, I get it, this can’t really happen on tv but I loved that element and was sad that it was gone. There are also rape and murder scenes that just didn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t watched it all. In fact I think I only ever watched the first five episodes or so but I simply couldn’t watch anymore. It could have got significantly better but from the look of the set up, I just don’t know.

The second issue is the ending. I hate the ending. It’s the same as Lost, which, incidentally, gets a shout out in Under the Dome, in that I loved Lost and was completely devoted to it, but the ending was just not what I expected. Could I come up with a better one? No. Did it ruin it for me completely? Not at all. But do I sort of stop watching half way through season six when I re-watch? Yes I do.

Under the Dome is the same. I won’t ruin it but the ending is something of a disappointment. I don’t mean the climax, I mean the very very ending, the denouement, where the problem is solved. It’s just a bit weak and convenient when compared to the rest of it that is so unforgiving.

Ultimately however, I love it. I probably shouldn’t and I’ve never spoken to anybody else who loves it as much as I do, but who cares? This is a story about people and the depths that people will go to for power and to protect themselves. To use the book’s own simile, it’s like watching ants while standing over them with a magnifying glass. It’s definitely not for everybody, you need a lot of patience and a certain amount of forgiveness but if it sounds like your cup of tea, I strongly suggest you give it a go.

Currently reading: 
Book: Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh
Audio: The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King

One thought on “Under the Dome – Stephen King

  1. I’ve noticed that King’s recent works tend to stray away from his typical horror – not to say this book wouldn’t have it’s own definition of horror – but after reading Misery and The Shining, approaching titles like these is done with apprehension, based on above, and the fact it does seem quite long; and I’ve found sometimes his style can come off as info-dumping. I’d love to read more of his works, this being one of them, and if it hadn’t been for your encouragement, then I might’ve actually given it a miss!


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