“Each thing I do, I rush through, so I can do something else.”
Lately, I’ve been doing more book reviews than doing any of my own writing. That’s what happens to me when I read too much – also why I desperately try to strike a balance between reading time and writing time, but clearly one or the other always takes precedence.
I might have not read Insomnia – that is not to say never, just not at this point. But I had some free time and no books one day and I decided to search for some on my Google Drive – I almost always have a few unread ones in there. The choices I had that particular day were Casual Vacancy, A Suitable Boy and Insomnia. I did start the other two, but it was this one that I stuck with. I’ll leave the other two for some other day.
A strange coincidence has been occurring ever since I started reading Insomnia – it’s a story of a man, Ralph Roberts, who wakes up earlier every night than the night before. I began reading this story in the last week of December and since then I have been waking up at 3.49 am every night (and dropping off to sleep, unlike Ralph, thank God!) Clearly, my biological clock and my mind are in this together to play a prank on me. Hopefully, this will stop from tonight!
Another thing is – and maybe this is just me convincing myself this is a coincidence – this was the only Stephen King book I had on my Google Drive, and it is coincidentally a sort of prequel to The Dark Tower, the series for which I went on autopilot. The kind of prequel that you must read after the sequel, if you know what I mean. I don’t know why this fact (that it was the only King book I had on my drive) so fascinating to me, but it is.
Now that you’ve had about enough of my rambling, I should probably begin the review.
Genre: Fantasy, Kinda Gory, Could Be Scary, May Cause Insomnia To Reader
Summary: (I find it hard to write a spoiler-free review for this one, because there’s so much I want to tell you, but I will try my best) Ralph Roberts, a man in his 70s, begins to suffer from insomnia following the death of his wife Carolyn, waking up earlier each night than the night before. One day, at the local grocery store, a young woman, Helen Deepneau, whom he and his late wife were friends with, enters with her infant daughter, Natalie, after having been badly beaten up by her husband, Ed, also a friend of Ralph’s. Helen is terrified and tells Ralph not to dial 911, but he disregards this and gets help anyway. It is revealed that Ed beat her up because she signed a petition allowing Susan Day, a feminist activist, to give a speech in their town. Ed is convinced that WomanCare, the local women’s clinic is forcing women to have abortions and the stolen foetuses are used to serve the Crimson King. Ralph remembers that he has seen Ed’s crazy side even before Carolyn’s death. He realizes he has seen Helen with bruises on her even before this incident. As a result of his insomnia, begins to see auras around people (kinda like what I’ve described here in an otherwise very different story). He also sees two “bald doctors” who seem to be present in places where someone has died. A third bald doctor appears, who is later revealed to be an agent of “The Random”, who kills people for sport, for no reason whatsoever. Ralph later realizes that his friend, Lois Chasse, is also suffering from insomnia and can see the auras. The first two bald doctors reveal to the two of them that they must prevent an attack on the Civic Centre the night Susan Day makes her appearance, to save the life of someone who will protect the Tower (yup, the same tower). The attack is planned (of course) by pro-lifers, headed by Ed Deepneau, who is being controlled by the Crimson King.
This is about how much I can tell you without spoiling anything for you.
First of all, personally I believe between Insomnia, Rose Madder and Dolores Claiborne, (and maybe other works that I haven’t yet read) Stephen King has spoken more about domestic violence and women’s rights than most women authors have (because, I hate to admit, most women authors are still writing love stories where men with creepy stalker tendencies are heroes). But the sad thing is, this novel, though set in the early 90s, reminds you not much has changed even today – only last month there was an attack on a Planned Parenthood centre and several pro-lifers applauded it (my mind kept going back to that incident every time I read about the crazies in this book).
This political scenario provides a realistic backdrop for the otherwise bizarre sequence of events. Another thing is, this book asks you a variant of the question that keeps cropping up: What if Hitler had never been born (or killed, or never rose to power etc etc etc) (also see: 11/22/63) The good thing is, this story reached a concrete conclusion. My one peeve with King books has always been that he builds something so large that he struggles with how to handle it, and the plot topples on itself like a stack of china. This was taken care of in this volume, though it was not without entirely out of bizarroville. But it was a fun ride through bizarroville nonetheless. There were parts that made almost absolutely no sense, but I can live with that.
Some elements share a common thread with other works of his, just the few that I’ve read. Also, in some places I found bits of the plot predictable (if not the larger scheme of things). As for language, King’s metaphors are a delight to read, but there were very few in this one – I missed them. An issue I found was that, I was somehow not convinced of Ralph’s age – his age was repeatedly mentioned, as well as his slow movements, but in my mind, I could not picture Ralph as a man in his 70s at all. Maybe 50s, maybe even 40s! But not 70s. Conveniently, in the later part of the book, with the auras… ok, I won’t tell you. But all the characters are well etched out, so that’s a plus. While the concept of auras was very interesting, the bit of about the balloon string made it comical (balloon string: a string above a person’s aura that determines their health, life span etc). Plus, towards the end of the book, they sounded less like auras and more like Edward’s glittery skin (sorry, Sai King).
All in all a good read, of which I (predictably) liked the backdrop more than the story itself. It is a bit gory, but not necessarily scary (the first appearance of the bald docs scared me a bit though – it was eery) What is scary though is the awareness of mortality that sets in after you read this book. It’s a heavy book, but if you can invest the time to read it, you must. And if you plan to, read it after The Dark Tower, for some extra punches.
Get it here: Amazon
*Favourite quote from the book at the start of the review.