Misery (Stephen King)
Misery is one of those well-known books that I somehow didn’t manage to get around to reading until very recently, nor had I seen the 1990 movie. Of course, I was aware of the basic plot, and the infamous ‘hobbling’ scene, but it was, perhaps criminally, not among the King books or movies that I had experienced thus far. I remedied that by finally sitting down to read the book recently (another that had been sitting on my shelf for a while, hence my motivation to start my ‘To Read List‘…) I have to say, I really was gripped by this one, and can see why it is one of King’s most higly regarded novels. The plot was already appealing to me being a writer myself, and King obviously relates the plight of the writer very well (this is why The Dark Half, one I had read a few years prior, is one of my favourites as well). King does a great job emphasising the sheer hopelessness of the author Paul Sheldon’s situation, trapped against his will in the house of his ‘biggest fan’ (who unfortunately for Paul just happens to be an ever-so-slightly unhinged former nurse-turned brutal murderer).
The concept of an obsessed fan forcing the author to undo the death of a character so beloved to them is a great one, and is perhaps even more chilling to read if you are a writer yourself. Notably, I have to say that I actually found the scene where Annie forces Paul to burn his manuscript very hard to read – perhaps more so than any involving physical torture or mutilation – and yes, even the part where she relieves him of a foot! (notably toned down in the film, but still effective). Despite the threat against his life, I found myself willing him to defy her and not to do it – no author should be forced into the situation of burning a finished manuscript to a crisp! He certainly feels the pain of having to do this as well, and it’s quite amusing that I considered this her biggest transgression considering the atrocious acts you discover she has committed over the course of her life. But I feel like this was perhaps King’s intention – while Paul’s situation is dire throughout the book, in his first-person narration he still manages to be flippant and sarcastic about the whole thing (mainly in his head, of course!) The climax of the book, where Paul finally gains the upper hand and escapes, is extremely satisfying (and intense!) to read as well, as he finally gains control of his own life again. I did find it interesting as well that during the point he is mostly resigned to his fate, he is nonetheless extremly productive in his writing. Under duress as he maybe, it still makes the point that a focused creativity is possible when the distraction of that pesky old outside world isn’t there!
Paul’s inner monologue is obviously lost in the movie, but I still found it an enjoyable watch. It takes some artistic liberties – fleshing out the local sherrif as a character when the book is more or less completely confined to Paul and Annie in the house – but it still works well, and I enjoyed the good natured marital ribbing between himself and his wife (making his brutal end at the hands of Annie all the more tragic). James Caan does a good job as Paul, but I do feel like it’s a role that could have been done by just about anyone. Kathy Bates truly makes the role of Annie her own, though, and she was certainly well deserving of the Oscar she won for this film. I was familar with some of her work previously, mainly in her roles in various seasons of American Horror Story, where she is always fantastic (bar the odd dodgy accent here and there), and knew before even watching the film that she’d be a good fit for the character. I was not disappointed with how the film handled the exhilirating climax either.
Overall, both the book and the movie were worthwhile to experience for me, and I salute Mr. King for creating such a claustrophobic and hopeless atmosphere, that keeps you rooting for the protagonist and yet still find the antagonist delightful in her quirkiness and derangement. King somehow manages this effortlessly.
So now I am reading The Green Mile, having already seen the film (but I expect I will rewatch it again after completing the book), so I’m on a bit of a King-fix at the moment, you might say. Stay tuned for the review on that very soon 🙂
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