Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Carrie

This entry is part 92 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

And so it begins — the final leg.

When I picked up Carrie, I had just twenty-seven books remaining. The seven Harry Potter books, four David Wellington Vampire novels, the first eight in the Darren Shan Zom-B series, and eight books by Stephen King-the first seven he published under his name and his non-fiction, On Writing.

It’s the King books that gave me nightmares, not due to quality, but due to length.

See, I’d decided I wanted to get this challenge finished before the birth of my first child and, to achieve such a lofty aim, I need to read two books a week for the rest of the challenge.

For most of the books I have, that’ll be fine. Even with the four larger Harry Potter books, I think I’ll be able to manage it.

But after Carrie, Stephen King forgot about restraint, writing long book after long book until he reached his seventh, Cujo, and slowed down again. Though that is still twice as long as Carrie.

Amid these King novels, too, is The Stand. A monster at 1,200 pages – it feels as though it was written purely to cause me grief when it came to this challenge.

That’s right; I’m accusing King of writing one of his three most famous books purely to annoy me, a guy who wasn’t born when he wrote it.

But I will not let him defeat me.

So, last week, when I should have been writing this blog, I sat down and arranged the remaining books in this challenge, playing around with the order until I reached a state where I felt I could finish two books a week.

I achieved this by pairing the monster HP books and longer King books with shorter works such as the short HP books and the Zom-B novels.

When it came to the Stand, I did fear I would be unable to do it. But by arranging things so that I finish two short books within the first couple of days of a week and reading another short book after, I was able to give myself ten days to complete The Stand.

Even then, it will be a struggle, but I have read it before, so this should help, if I can get over the devastation of taking longer than seven days to read it. Something I have not yet failed to achieve in over 180 books for this challenge.

Still, we forge on, gliding towards the end, and until then, the blogs keep coming.

Stephen King

I’m not going to sit here and talk about my thoughts on Stephen King. I know I spent a long time writing about it while doing my second ever review – Lisey’s story, and then again when I did the Dark Tower review.

So, rather than retreading old ground, you can find those reviews linked below, and in the meantime, we’ll get on with today’s review.


Speaking as a wannabe writer, Carrie is the dream novel, in terms of what it represented for King.

Written in a trailer home on his wife’s typewriter, with King a high school English teacher so hard up for cash he removed his phone line to save on costs.

Thus, when the book sold he had to be informed by telegram that he earned a $2,500 advance. A month later the paperback rights were sold for $400,000 (split between King and his hardback publisher).

When Doubleday released said hardback, it sold just 13,000 copies. The paperback, unveiled a year later, sold over a million and is still in print now, forty years later.

It transformed King’s life from dirt poor to wealthy within the space of a couple of years. Having never been dirt poor myself I cannot imagine what that would be like, but the thought of going from someone no one would know, to an author people all over the world were talking about, well, that’s the dream.

The story of the book’s genesis is well known, especially if you are an aspiring author hoping to make something of yourself, as I am.

At the time of its conception, he was writing and selling a few short stories, but had not had a novel published when someone said: “you write all those macho things, but you can’t write about women.”

Unable to resist what must have been an incredibly enticing challenge, King conceived of a story set in a girl’s shower room “, and the girl would be telekinetic. The other girls would pelt her with sanitary napkins when she got her period. The period would release the right hormones, and she would rain down destruction on them.”

He wrote the shower scene intending to make it a short story. But reading it back, he hated it and threw the pages away (something I might have done a hundred times if we still used typewriters).

That might have been the end of the beginning of Stephen King, pushing back his inevitable rise to fame for at least a little while.

Then came Tabitha, King’s wife.

While clearing the bin, she found the pages and insisted King finished the story, pushing him on through his doubts over the quality of the story, and when it turned from a short to a novella to a novel.

Stephen King’s world changed because of his capitulation to his wife. A lesson I will never learn.

So, this is an incredibly important novel for King, and for genre fiction, which took a huge boost because of King’s desire to focus on character rather than plot.

But is it any good?

Let’s say right off that may and this book did not get off on the right foot.


Because Carrie is an epistolary novel and that is something I have never been able to get behind.

Well, it’s half an epistolary novel. Comprising many newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, made up non-fictional book excerpts and interviews.

This is not a slight on the quality of such segments but they are just not for me, and as such, I tended to skip them.

Luckily for me, these elements were weaved in with a proper narrative, told as you might expect someone to tell a story.

These elements I read thoroughly, and I do not regret doing so.

Carrie is the story of a girl who has suffered her entire life. Her parents were ultra-religious to the point they believed any sexual intercourse was a sin.

Of course, Carrie was born of said sin, and this is something her abusive mother is never able to reconcile.

Her upbringing has left her adrift, making her a prime target for being ignored or being bullied, a situation she desperately wants to ascend out of and never quite manages to.

Right from the beginning, King shows us who this girl is in a powerful set-piece scene. The aforementioned shower scene.

Here Carrie experiences her first period, but her mother has never explained to her what periods are and, as such, she is mortified, believing she is bleeding to death.

Her classmates, rather than helping her, begin to pelt her with tampons while chanting at her to “plug it up”.

Even the otherwise kind Sue Snell joins in due to mob mentality.

It is from here that the story begins to steam roller. This one scene leads to the biggest, baddest bully being banned from prom, and the kind Sue Snell feeling guilty and getting her popular boyfriend to take Carrie to said prom.

It also sees Carrie’s telekinetic abilities come to the fore, and start to grow stronger, while her first period brings her into conflict with her mother yet again.

These four aspects create the momentum that drives the story forward at wicked pace.

Jumping between the perspectives of several characters, King pulls the story forward from all sides at once as Carrie develops her abilities, Sue plans her repentance and Chris plans her revenge.

The ending, which takes place at said prom, is handled beautifully, as King proves he is the master of both suspense and momentum, even this early in his career.

It all centres around Carrie’s final humiliation, her horrifying response to it, and her final progression through town as she takes on her chief tormentors, her mother, and the couple who set her up for a fall at the prom.

But King does not take us through these events in one smooth motion. He hints at what is to come, masterfully laying out the disaster ahead while jumping around between several narrative points, creeping toward Carrie’s humiliation.

When we arrive at the point we know Carrie is about to face the worst moment of her life, he pulls away, taking us around town before bouncing back to the moment itself.

It is delayed gratification, and it works because of King’s deft touch. He makes us wait, without ever making us feel cheated out of what we are waiting for. He builds up the suspense and emotion to prepare for a heart-pounding finale that brings everything together in one brilliant set piece, before dragging us along with Carrie on her final journey.

King himself has said people often accuse him of “diarrhoea of the word processor” and I reckon there is something to such a claim. Not in Carrie, though. At just over 60,000 words it is about as short as a novel can be without veering towards lengthy novella territory, and even then it feels like fewer words. Feels like one short, heart-pounding and heart-breaking narrative.

It may not be my favourite of King’s novels, and some of the devices in it I do not enjoy, but right from his first mass-market published effort, you can see everything that has made him one of the most celebrated authors of all time.

Next Time

Next up we’re back with Stephen King as we take on his second book – the vampire fuelled Salem’s Lot.

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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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