Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Paperback: 242 pages
Publication Date: 31/05/2007
It’s easy to underestimate the incredible impact that Stephen King has had on contemporary culture over the last four decades. You just need to look at a roll call of some [and these really are just the tip of the iceberg] of the films that have been adapted from his prose to get a sense of his influence: The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, The Running Man . . . and the one that is pertinent to this review, Carrie.
Published in 1974, Carrie was King’s first novel and within just two years had been adapted by Brian De Palma into the film that has become staple Halloween viewing for countless generations of teenagers [I’ve certainly seen it multiple times over the years!]. But, until now, I’d never read the book.
The first thing that I should point out, after having finished the novel, is that certain elements of it – in particular its setting – feel very dated. But, its core themes of High School bullying and revenge still have an incredible power, even now. Written using an epistolary structure, Carrie blends a mixture of fictional media – newspaper clippings, magazine articles and excerpts from books – with the main narrative. A narrative that centers on the eponymous protagonist, sixteen-year-old Carrietta “Carrie” White, and her frankly horrific life in the town of Chamberlain, Maine.
Beaten and abused at home by her mother [a fundamentalist Christian zealot], Carrie’s school life is no better. But, after one particularly unsavoury bout of locker-room bullying, one of her classmates [Sue Snell] decides to exculpate some of her guilt by convincing her boyfriend [Tommy Ross] to take Carrie to the upcoming prom. However, just when Carrie begins to hope that her peers might accept her after years of pariah status, things go devastatingly wrong. And the telekinetic powers that she has kept in check bubble to the surface as she takes revenge on the people and town that have mocked her all her life . . .
This transformation would make Carrie, in most horror novels/films, the stereotypical ‘monster’ of the piece [for, with her deadly power, she possesses something that makes her a danger to the norm]. However, King cleverly avoids this through his sympathetic portrayal of Carrie – of all of the characters in the book, she is one of the only people that the reader feels any sympathy for, or empathy with.
Instead, the ‘monsters’ of the novel are individuals like Christine Hargensen and Billy Nolan, for what they do to Carrie. This in turn, means that the horror is not so much about Carrie’s telekinesis and the rampage that she embarks upon, but rather the horror that arises from the human capacity for cruelty towards those who are perceived to be ‘different’. Indeed, I would go even further and claim that the true horror comes when the reader recognizes that they could just as easily be one of the characters bullying Carrie – we all have it within ourselves to be a Chris Hargensen or a Billy Nolan.