Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King

4 stars

Plain speaking Dolores Claiborne was once the long-suffering wife of Joe St George, as well as the long suffering live-in housekeeper/carer for Vera Donovan, the wealthiest woman on Long Tall Island. But Dolores is no longer either of these things and, as she sits down to talk to the police following Vera’s death, we learn how that came to be.

Having married young, Dolores has repented at leisure ever since. When it comes to his wife Joe St George is free with his fists, but cowardly enough to back off when she stands her ground. He’s also twisted enough to start bestowing more than fatherly affection on his fourteen-year old daughter (his defence? “She’ll be fifteen next month”!), and underestimate what a mother will do when she’s desperate enough.

But this is more than just the story of a woman pushed to extremes by an abusive husband. It’s also the story of the unexpected but deep bond, if not friendship, forged between two women and the indignities and horrors of old age, as Dolores’ employer goes from being a formidable, high-ridin’ bitch (whom I adored) to a bed-ridden and senile old lady, stewing in her own faeces and terrorised by hallucinations.

Told in monologue as Dolores narrates her story to what passes for the law on Long Tall Island, I found this an incredibly atmospheric and effective book with the only downside being the flash of the supernatural that occurs during the eclipse. Whilst I love King’s supernatural books, when the story being told is more rooted in the real, unless it’s happening in someone’s imagination I find that his insistence on bringing a little of the unreal into play snaps me out of the spell somewhat. Still, that’s a minor niggle in a book that was otherwise incredibly compelling and that, at times, felt all too real.

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