Under the cosh

Under the Dome

By Stephen King

The novel that critics and fans have hailed as Stephen King’s masterpiece is a heart-pounding page-turner. Under the Dome sparkles with creativity and wit, but it fizzles into oblivion at the very end.

King introduces us to the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill on the day an invisible dome descends, cutting the settlement off from the rest of the United States and the world, although these both apparently mean the same thing. Trucks and planes smash into the dome until its captives realise the extent of their problem. A great many dramas unfold under the dome as residents vie for energy, food and control.

King is a master at inventing a huge cast of characters, and sustaining interest in each of them. He relies on classic character types, which only occasionally feel contrived, and establishes an enthralling society and culture under the dome. Watching this drama unfold is the most thrilling aspect of this book – I felt compelled to go on as if under a cosh. The novel is especially engrossing as it becomes political and hits more twentieth-century political allegories than you can throw a sickle at. We have political prisoners, propaganda, media control and press freedom, riots, religious fundamentalism, capitalism, and so on. I particularly enjoyed the underdeveloped theme of resource scarcity and human impact on our environment, which is experienced very keenly under the dome. Then there is the underlying mystery of the dome itself…

And this is where King’s narrative let me down. Concentrating so much on crafting an authentic political drama, it seems that King ran out of invention when it came to the dome itself. Its existence has a reason but it is arbitrary and adds nothing to the author’s central thesis. I don’t mean to suggest that the existence of the dome should be tied into an environmental allegory or a argument for world peace but as it stands it is not working hard enough for this epic story. Perhaps that is King’s point: the dome itself is irrelevant, with the real story being the drama underneath. If that’s the case, then I’d rather have had a very simple reason and no mystery attached to it.

I loved being taken by King’s stream and learning about all his different characters, but my 900-page investment didn’t really pay off.

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