Stephen King – Insomnia

Stephen King is most famous for his horror novels, but he does venture into less scary territory at times. At least, that’s how I consider those novels not aiming to be scary but are simply fantastic in nature with some dark themes. Overall the boundaries between horror and fantasy can be hard to distinguish at times. When I picked up Insomnia (1994) I was not sure if I would like it. The reason I got it was because of the Dark Tower series, a dark epic fantasy that is one of my all-time favorites. King wrote several novels outside of the actual series that were related to the Dark Tower series, even with characters of those novels popping up in the Dark Tower novels. As such Insomnia was claimed to be one of those novels. So before I started to read it I wondered how much it would be related and if it would be too much horror to my taste.

Let’s not waste time on that answer. Insomnia is very much related to the Dark Tower series. One who hasn’t read one or more of the novels of the series would not understand the references made and consider them strange or mysterious. For those who have it will provide some interesting new insight, albeit limited, on the Dark Tower universe, which in itself is complex and full with possibilities.

Insomnia is also hardly a horror novel and should be more considered a low fantasy story where fantastic events take place in an average American town.

The setting, as is quite common for King’s style, puts the reader in a everyman’s environment. King’s characters are just regular people, nothing special and with habits and behavior you recognize at once. It is this trait that makes King’s works so popular and powerful. In this case we get a view of the elderly community and how did cope with daily life after retirement. One might think it to be a peculiar and perhaps boring setting, and for the early start it is, but steadily he adds strange elements until we get into the actual story. Next to the elderly scene he adds a second more controversial theme which plays an important role for the events in the story. These two themes, the elderly one and the controversial one, make this novel more than just a fantastic tale, but gives it depth and room for thought for the reader.

The plot itself is more straightforward than complicated after the central mysteries start resolving during the development of the story, but far from predictable. King takes his time to tell the story; with almost 700 pages this is a very long novel. It could have been a much shorter and faster novel with ease, but as many characters belong to the elderly, and the main character himself is elderly, their world is slower and the story should reflect that. Even so, the story is certainly not too slow. It is mainly the beginning which takes some time before the so-called ‘action’ starts. King keeps a good pace, but it is certainly not fast. The words are not wasted. Every detail has its importance.

Insomnia is a must-read novel for any Dark Tower-fan and certainly a strong and enjoyable read. It is not of the same quality as the Dark Tower novels, but contains many interesting additional ideas that make it more than worthwhile. The two themes that form the make-up of the story give it a greater depth and as usual King’s characterization is maybe not remarkable but very genuine. Recommended.

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