“I’ll holler you home”

Almost halfway through, Lisey’s Story is still “just” a book about two married people parted by death. Lisey Landon is tending to her mentally ill sister and going through her late writer husband’s things when she gets an unwelcome visit from a “fan”. No, it’s not Misery revisited. Intimate and daringly slow-moving it seems to be what some critics surely have rushed to dub “King’s serious book”. It is, to be sure, one of King’s many serious novels, but not as realistic as one might be lulled into thinking, if that is to be regarded as an intrinsic part of gravity.

The descent into bloody madness comes late but suddenly, merely hinted at throughout the first half of the book. King pulls no punches here, as he describes a family haunted by the seemingly inevitable fate of insanity (which comes in two flavours, different but equally frightening), nor does he remain in the world of established fact (who would have guessed?).

It’s also to a certain extent about the secret language of relationships and the penchant of writers for collecting words and phrases that ring true or perhaps just interesting to them – summed up in a phrase which King himself might well have caught in i similar fashion: “Catches from the word pool”.

As challenging as “Gerald’s Game” but more sympathetic, could be one description. Echoes of “Rose Madder” can also be heard. It also begs the question: has King ever written about a happy writer?

I must confess that I found one particular part of this moving story tough to stomach. No, I won’t say which one – it may be your absolute favourite section and there’s no use in spoiling that for you. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I can safely express my admiration for the rest of it.

Lisey’s Story, which incidentally revisits his fictional town of Castle Rock, is pure King. If anyone should have the poor sense to hail this as a step in an entirely new direction and a higher echelon of seriousness, just ignore them, they’ve obviously just been skimming through his previous books. But perhaps this is even more personal and sad than usual. Some scenes make for truly gruelling reading, but the tenderness in the story – sometimes present even in the midst of violence and madness – makes it a deeply rewarding read.