All You Need Is Lovecraft

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372 pages | Hard­back / ebook Au­thor: Stephen King Pub­lisher: Hod­der & Stoughton

The “F” word is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from Stephen King’s lat­est novel. No, not the four- let­ter one. A con­sid­er­ably longer one, coined by Mary Shel­ley.

Re­vival’s nar­ra­tor, Jamie Mor­ton, is another in a long line of King pro­tag­o­nists with a cre­ative ca­reer; in this case he’s a rock gui­tarist. Not a par­tic­u­larly ac­com­plished one all told, though he man­ages to make a liv­ing on the pe­riph­eries of the business from the ’ 60s right up to 2014.

Yes, this another one of those decades- span­ning fic­tional bi­ogra­phies laced through with su­per­nat­u­ral spook­i­ness. The kind of book that King adores writ­ing. So, of course, we get that patented King- style sepia- tinted, nostal­gia-gog­gled child­hood; then there are the teenage years, with Jamie dis­cov­er­ing sex and guitars; then the drugs and flares; then ret­ri­bu­tion and self- re­al­i­sa­tion; then the moan­ing about aching joints and wak­ing up for a pee.

All the while, King shows off his ex­ten­sive rock re­search, and weaves in the tale of an elec­tric­ity- ob­sessed ex- Rev­erend whose life keeps in­ter­sect­ing with Jamie’s. The older Jamie grows, the more ec­cen­tric the for­mer man of the cloth be­comes, at one point be­com­ing a carny huck­ster cre­at­ing “light­ning por­traits”, then cre­at­ing his own heal­ing min­istry, un­til the whole thing scales up to the point that you can’t be­lieve Jamie isn’t us­ing that ( longer) F word.

Ul­ti­mately, though, King’s in­spi­ra­tion for the fan­tasy el­e­ments of the plot turns out to have been in­flu­enced less by Shel­ley and more by Lovecraft. Old HP is even hon­oured with a namecheck.

This, though, is the main prob­lem with Re­vival, and one it shares with one of King’s most fa­mous nov­els, It. When nine- tenths of a book is writ­ten in a fairly nat­u­ral­is­tic tone, the sud­den gear change to one of cos­mic, apoc­a­lyp­tic goth­dom at the fi­nale feels like a cheap, gaudy par­lour trick; a puff of smoke and a clash of cym­bals.

Awk­ward it may be in part, but the char­ac­ters are great, the pac­ing and plot­ting is more eco­nom­i­cal than many re­cent King nov­els, and his mus­ings on the en­nui of white, mid­dle- class Amer­ica in the late 20th cen­tury are as well ob­served as ever. It’s another thor­oughly im­mer­sive yarn – un­til that mis­judged end­ing.

It’s odd, though, that King starts a novel that’s mainly con­cerned with rock mu­sic and re­li­gion with an ex­tended metaphor about scriptwrit­ing. The devil may have all the best tunes, but King seems to be think­ing more about the best movie deals. Dave Golder

A psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tion in the book is called Cos­grove Hall – though none of the res­i­dents thinks they’re Count Duck­ula.

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