Happy Halloween! In the lead up to today, I thought I’d get stuck into some classic horror with Stephen King’s Carrie. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read Carrie before, even though it’s Stephen King’s debut and I consider him to be amongst my favourite authors, so I thought now would be the right time to rectify that.
The book opens with that powerful shower scene; it’s one that stuck in my head after watching the film as a young teenager, and it’s even more intense in the book. Sixteen-year- old Carrie gets her first period, and she doesn’t understand what it is. She thinks she’s dying, and instead of someone quietly taking her aside for a chat, the other school girls taunt her, showering her with sanitary towels and tampons. It’s not nice.
Even if you’ve seen the film, it doesn’t spoil the book. We know from the first page that Carrie has telekinetic powers and shortly after that it’s obvious that Something Bad goes down on Prom Night. The main story is interspersed with clippings from articles, books and biographies which look back on the main event. They add a more objective, outsider’s view of the events which are unfolding. Some examine the science of telekinesis, some offer the thoughts of those who grew up around Carrie and others just hint at the events to come.
The main story is told in the present. It’s 1970s High School, and its brutal. You can’t help but feel sorry for Carrie, who really had no chance with her unconventional upbringing. Her father is dead, her mother is fanatically religious – every inch of their house is plastered with Jesus figures, crucifixes and other religious paraphernalia and her mother is always keen to remind her of the importance of living a pure life. Her mother considers pretty much everything to be evil. From periods and pregnancy, to television and makeup. And definitely going with boys to prom night. Isolated, with no other role model to turn to, Carrie grows up with her mother’s values ingrained into her, but as she begins to become a young adult she starts to question those values she grew up with.
Things are bad for Carrie at home, and they’re no better at school.Whilst this book is primarily a horror, there is a strong human element conveyed through the theme of bullying, which adds to the tense atmosphere. Carrie has no friends – even the teachers struggle to know how to act around her – and so she is entirely isolated, with no real relationships in her life except for the extremely fragile one she has with her mother. This book breeds claustrophobia and paranoia – I was trapped in Carrie’s weird world and, whilst I didn’t really want to be there, I couldn’t help but keep reading.
While Carrie is struggling with all of this, she’s also discovering the strength of her own power, which has always been latent within her but scientists speculate only truly came to fruition when she started menstruation. She begins to wonder if things could change – and if Prom Night is the night to make a stand. What will happen when this extraordinarily powerful girl is pushed to her limits by those around her?
King also carries the theme of blood throughout the book. From the period shower scene, to the decapitation of pigs, to the final showdown at the prom, blood is everywhere; the characters smell it, taste it and relish in it.
According to The Guardian, King describes this book as “a cookie baked by a first grader – tasty enough, but kind of lumpy and burned on the bottom”. I can see what he means – this isn’t as refined as some of his later books; it’s more raw and, in some ways, more brutal. It’s in parts gory and horrifying, with the theme of blood carried throughout, but in equal parts it tells a story of a damaged child, of the dangers of bullying and humiliation. It’s that combination supernatural horror and real, relatable characters which make King’s books so special.