This is actually the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I may have dipped into Salem’s Lot after it was on TV as a teenager but I’ve never read a full novel. Mostly that was because I didn’t really respond to horror as a genre. Well this isn’t horror (well… but we’ll get to that) and I’d read the blurb and it sounded interesting. Plus M. had read it.
Under the Dome is about a small New England town that wakes up one morning to find that an invisible barrier has been placed all around it. The story then revolves around the efforts of the people in the town to cope with effects of being cut off from the rest of the world. They have to survive with whatever resources – including people – that they have. The book has a lot of different characters but follows about half a dozen closely. Ultimately the question becomes whether they can discover what the Dome is and whether they can get rid of it.
No wait. That’s not ultimately what the book is about. It’s the question we finally get to at the end of it, but the book is really about what happens to these people when they’re forced to survive on their own. And it ain’t pretty. It becomes a sort of Lord of the Flies for adults.
All of which I found quite interesting and fun – for the first 400 pages or so – but in the back of my mind I wanted to know more about the Dome. I decided it was one of three broad possibilities based on what genre this book was part of –
- the ‘thriller’ answer – the Dome is put there by some shadowy government agency, or foreign power. The reason why here particularly will perhaps be connected to one of the characters’ pasts.
- the SciFi answer – aliens put it there and by the end of the book we’ll meet them.
- the Supernatural answer – it’s some ghost or human with spooky powers doing it.
The trouble is that that isn’t what King was interested in telling me about. The Dome is just a macguffin to set up the trapped situation. So whilst he does finally explain where the Dome came from and why, 95% of the novel is not about that at all. Perhaps it’s a tiny bit of a spoiler to say that but if I’d known that I may not have read the book. (Although it does occur to me now that the fact the book’s called ‘Under the Dome‘ and not ‘The Dome‘ is a clue.)
I also felt that whilst the story of how they folks cope was interesting – it went on too long. An example from early on in the book is the various incidents as people discover the Dome. Mostly these are accidents as people hit the invisible barrier, whether in their cars or on foot. There a wide variety of these recounted in detail. After about 5 or 6 I had gotten the idea – it was a barrier, it caused accidents, it affected a lot of folks in the town – but King describes probably 2 or 3 times that many incidents. It’s like if you were making a movie and in it there’s a scene where a crowd turns nasty. You’d hire a lot of extras sure, and you’d film a few close ups of individuals shouting and baying for our hero’s blood (say) – but once you’d shown a few of these shots cut with wide shots of the crowd you’d have created the necessary impression. No need to labour the point.
King is very good at creating tension in the plot, so you do sort of want to know what happens next. It’s just that a lot of that was about detail and you could sort of see where it was all going.
Without being spoilery there were things about the ending that I didn’t like. It’s like at a certain point he feels he’s done what he set out to do and then thinks “how can I wrap this up quickly?” Well the way he chose was effective, even spectacular, certainly a climax for the novel, but for me personally, a little unsatisfying.
6/10 – there’s a lot of ‘under’ before you get to the ‘dome.