Man vs Bookshelf: Lisey’s Story

This entry is part 3 of 62 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

So here it is. Book two of 210 in my Man vs Bookshelf challenge: Lisey’s Story.

As you’ll know from the introduction and last entry, I had intended Lisey’s Story to be my first read.

Then I wussed out.

I was afraid I wouldn’t finish Lisey in a week (no pun) and would be behind as soon as I started. A nightmare scenario.

To combat this fear I turned to Horowitz Horror, a short read I knew I could blast through in a couple of days. As I did.

That done, it was time to turn to Lisey’s Story, a 647-page beast.

As it turned out, it took me only six days to read anyway, but that’s beside the point.

Point is, what did I think?

I’ll get to that but, first off, let’s discuss my relationship with the book’s legendary writer. Stephen King.


Stephen and Me

As a teenage reader there was one name I always knew was missing from my bookshelf: Stephen King.

I loved horror. But at some point, it becomes criminal to say such a thing and not be able to follow it up with your favourite King. (Henry Tudor, FYI, is not an answer anyone is looking for.)

And I did try to get into him. I remember that. I picked up my first King at the local library – The Dark Half – and was sure I was on my way. There was one problem.

I didn’t finish it.

Not even close.

The truth was as a younger reader I wasn’t ready for the heavy, expansive writing style. The books that focused more on character development and less on a plot that rattled along, as I’d been used to.

So even when someone gave me Lisey’s Story and Duma Key, I couldn’t get through them. I made it halfway through the latter and didn’t even bother with the former.

But, of course, our reading tastes develop over the years. Towards my later teens, I read ‘Carrie’, ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘The Shining’ and enjoyed at least the first and last of those. Then I started on the Stand and stopped once again. (Let me off, it’s bloody long)

Since then I have read ‘The Long Walk’ and the first four Dark Towers novels and enjoyed them all. But it was only this year (2017) that I got into a King in a big way, and startled rattling through them.

Since January I’ve read ‘The Stand’, ‘It’, ‘Christine’, ‘Bag of Bones’ and ‘From a Buick 8’ and have enjoyed them all.

I had finally caught the bug, and so, when I started this challenge, a King novel was always going to come early on.

And with book two, it was here.


Lisey’s Story

Enter Lisey and her story.

Confession first. I’ve had Lisey’s Story a long time. If not a decade then creeping fast towards it.

But, like so many of the books on my shelves, I’ve never actually read it.

Why?

Well, I didn’t think it looked any good. Not from the blurb and, in all honesty, not from the first 200 plus pages.

But I persevered – because of this challenge, more than anything – and boy, was I rewarded.

If Goodreads used a ten point scale (which they should), I would have given Lisey’s Story a 9. It’s in my top three King books with ‘It’ and the fourth Dark Tower book, ‘Wizard and Glass’. Although this may change throughout the challenge.

In the end, I gave it a 4/5.

Not too shabby for a book I didn’t think I’d like.

The Story

In essence, Lisey’s Story is the tale of Lisey Landon coming to terms with the death of her husband, Scott, who is (as is customary in a King book) a famous author.

That’s pretty much it, and the great thing is, while you might think 647 pages is too many to deliver on a simple concept. It isn’t.

One of my biggest criticisms of King in the past has been that his books often contain (or are stuffed with) ‘extras’. Subplots that don’t relate to the main plot. Character backstories for cameos. The kind of stuff you could skip without it detracting from the novel as a whole.

Not so with Lisey’s Story. Here we have a story where every page is essential. Every line adds to the story. And, in the end, every strand of every subplot is pulled together, so you can see that it was all necessary.

I didn’t see that at the beginning. It leads you into believing the story will be about the professor who has hired a madman to claim Scott’s unpublished papers.

I fell for that and was frustrated. King introduces these unpublished papers and the man who wants them almost from page one. But it’s not until around page 100 that Lisey receives a threatening phone call from the madman. Then not until page 219 that she finds a dead cat in her mailbox and a letter from the maniac.

By page 318, when the madman finally shows up at Lisey’s place, however, it’s starting to make sense.

Because, while the time spent with Lisey’s catatonic sister and her memories of her relationship with Scott had seemed pointless at first, we were now starting to see. It was all starting to come together, and as it did, the story began to take off.

Scott, having foreseen his death, was looking out for his wife, and from the midway point it begins to come together, and you realise all of it was relevant. The memories she is unfolding allow her to save her sister, as she had once saved her husband. Saving her sister gives her the help she needs to defeat the madman – who we now realise is a deranged fan of Scott who wants to hurt her more than he wants to help the professor with his little problem. And in the end, all that comes together to help Lisey achieve what mattered most all along.

Getting over Scott.

This is what makes brilliant storytelling. The way all those storylines converge in a way you never saw coming. This is what makes the last 300 pages of the book so gripping. King drags you along in his wake and makes those last 300 pages seem like 50. You can’t believe the way you’ve shot through them.

That kind of trick is hard to pull off – I know, I’ve tried – and you can see what a master storyteller King is in the way he handles it so brilliantly.

Memory

Having read ‘It’ not so long ago, I know how King can use the power of memory to build suspense.

In Lisey’s Story, he uses it again, and to even greater effect.

Here, we have three storylines unfolding at once where memory is concerned. There is Lisey in the present, with Scott leading her from beyond the grave to start facing her repressed memories.

There are those memories, which detail some of the darker moments in Lisey’s relationship with Scott.

And finally, there is Scott’s childhood, told by him to the Lisey in the past.

What we end up with is like Inception for memory. At one point Lisey is remembering a time when she sat with Scott who was in a catatonic state. Within this memory, Lisey is remembering a story Scott told her from his childhood and, as he tells her this, we, the reader, are taken further, to experience it first hand.

Confused?

Yeah, I’m not surprised. But within the narrative, King switches deftly between the different levels of memory. He takes us between present Lisey and two past Lisey’s as well as Scott telling a story and Scott in the past. But we never get lost. King, with all his writing mastery, makes sure of that.

Done so well, it makes for the perfect device for carrying the narrative forward. Right to the end of the novel.

And speaking of endings…

Endings

I read recently that King doesn’t like endings, and having read ‘It’ and ‘From a Buick 8’ I can see that.

But here, what we have works perfectly.

In Scott’s past, his story comes to a close with his father’s murder and his departure from the only home he’s ever known. In Lisey’s past, Scott dies with her at his side.

These events are not surprises. Scott is two years dead at the start of the book, so we knew he was gone. And Scott had told Lisey some 300 pages ago about the death of his father.

Yet, when we get to read about these events first hand its perfect. Both stories are heartbreaking for Lisey and for us. The last piece of the memories that have been unravelling throughout.

Finally, in the present, we experience the last memory of Lisey and Scott together. While the final story from his childhood is new to her. The final piece of the puzzle, it turns out, to help her move on. Not just from Scott, but from his other world and the malevolent force there that has marked her.

This, along with her finally clearing out his study (the study she started off trying to clear but being unable to), is the perfect way to end the novel.

Scott and Lisey’s Story.

Fantasy

One more thing.

I’ve written this review and (aside from one allusion right at the end) have not mentioned any fantasy.

But, of course, this is a King book, so it is present (otherwise it would be a Bachman book). There is another world (Scott calls it Boo’ya Moon), and there is a big monster (Scott’s Long Boy). That’s not to mention the dark curse of Scott’s family which manifests itself as a monstrous possession (referred to in story as “the bad gunky”.

All these things do feature and are key parts of the plot, but they aren’t the point. They exist only to move the plot forward, and the plot, as I said, is about Lisey and Scott.

So read this story. Give it a real go. But understand that. This isn’t ‘It’ or ‘Salem’s Lot’. There is no focus on destroying some big evil.

It as, at it’s core, about a woman, getting over the death of her husband.

And that feels just as it should be.


Next time

By the time this blog lands I guess I will almost have finished my next book. And it is:

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (Writing as Ian Flemming)

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Horowitz HorrorMan vs Bookshelf: Devil May Care >>
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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

Posted by Mark Ayre

International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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