Title: Under the Dome
Author: Stephen King
Page Count/Review Word Count: 882
I picked up Under the Dome pretty much immediately after finishing The Tommyknockers, another Stephen King novel which deals with a similar subject. Both books focus on what’s happening in a small town, both books take up a decent chunk of time if you want to read them, and both books come recommended from me. Please don’t make me choose between them.
In this book, we’re introduced to Dale Barbara, an ex-army type who’s ended up working as a small-town cook and who found himself getting into a little bit of trouble with local law enforcement. Barbara – or Barbie, as he’s known to his friends – is just about to leave town when disaster strikes.
As you might have guessed from the title, Under the Dome tells the story of what happens when a gigantic invisible dome comes down over the top of a small town in King’s home state of Maine. Barbie finds himself trapped inside, along with the rest of the town’s residents, and after a number of horrific incidents – including a plane crashing straight into the side of the dome and a woman being instantaneously decapitated – they begin to realise that they’re going to be stuck under the dome for a long time.
The army mobilises itself and promises to do its best to free the residents, but they’re trying to deal with something that they’ve never seen before. Meanwhile, beneath the dome, things are starting to get out of control – even after just a few short days, we begin to see the same thing that we see in Lord of the Flies, and I was actually reminded me of William Golding’s classic novel when I was reading this.
But in many ways, Under the Dome is so much more – there’s a larger cast of characters, for one thing, and it’s set in our modern age. In fact, because I haven’t been reading King’s books in chronological order, I was somewhat surprised to find him writing about the internet – I’m so used to reading books from before I was born that it was almost a shock to my system to find him incorporating elements of our society that I’m more familiar with.
It’s also interesting how he plays with expectations and makes the reader feel contradictory feelings about some of the characters. For example, Jim Rennie – Chester’s Mill’s Second Selectman – acts as the main antagonist, but you have to feel for him, in some ways, because he’s almost defined by his surroundings and his upbringing. And then there’s The Chef, who cooks up crystal meth and starts having biblical delusions – I don’t want to spoil the story line by telling you what happens, but by the end of the book I’d decided that he was a bad-ass, and I was prepared to overlook his shortcomings because of the choices that he made and the actions that he took, however misguided they might have been.
My main (and pretty much only) gripe with this book was the ending; after all of the build-up, it felt a little disappointing. In fact, I had a short chat with Missy, a YouTuber who runs a channel called Binge Reader, a fellow blogger who’s also read the book, and she agreed with me. The problem is that the denouement seems to be a little too easy, and almost like it was added as an afterthought; it also feels a little bit like King has tried to end the story with a moral, which turns the whole thing into a parable.
Still, despite that, it’s a rollocking read that keeps you hooked until the end, which is quite a feat when you consider the length of it. Dale Barbara and his friends form a sort of extended family that you end up becoming a part of, and it’s sad to say goodbye to them at the end of the novel. Even after almost 900 pages, I felt like I could have read some more, but it’s also true that it ended where it needed to end.
Overall then, I’d definitely recommend Under the Dome if you’re a fan of longer books – in terms of the time commitment, it’s similar to reading one of the Game of Thrones novels, but unlike the Game of Thrones series, it feels fast when you’re reading it. This is due, in part, to the way that the book is laid out – it comes separated into a number of chapters, each of which includes a number of smaller sub-chapters that help you to see the town of Chester’s Mill as a whole.
I’m not quite ready to call it a masterpiece, but it is a very good book with a lot of thought behind it, and King’s dedication to world-building is immediately apparent when you realise how many different characters are included. The characterisation is great, the story line is fun and full of twists and turns, and overall it’s just a good, solid read. Plus there’s a television adaptation for you to check out, too – I must admit that I haven’t seen it, but the book itself is so cinematic that it’s hardly a surprise. So what are you waiting for?