Christine by Stephen King
My rating: 7/10
One Sentence Verdict: A great mix of skin-creeping horror and teenage angst, King’s classic tale of a killer car continues to enthral readers many years after its first release
Shamefully, I’ve not actually read much Stephen King. I have a vague recollection of reading Carrie a few years ago, but more vivid is the memory of watching the film (yes, of course the original!), and the only other one I’ve read, or part read, is Cell, which I’ve picked up a handful of times but always gotten to the same point of the book before getting utterly bored of it and leaving it again. The mobile-phone signal which turns a population into zombies leaves me quite cold, I’m afraid. And not in the way which is desired when writing horror books.
I’m sure, if I tried a few more of his titles, I’d appreciate Stephen King’s writing a lot more. I’ve seen his house in Bangor, Maine, and whilst I enjoy a good horror film as much as the next person, though less so now than when I was a young teenager, I’m not really obsessed with reading or watching horror. This deficiency in having not read much from the master of horror writing makes itself felt nearly every time I peruse a second-hand bookshop, and so when I saw Christine in a book depot the other day, I was determined to at least give it a go. And I’m glad I did!
The book is split into three parts; the first is narrated in the first person by Dennis, the now twenty-one year old best friend of Arnie Cunningham, a boy who buys a beaten up old car, determined to restore it, but in the process becomes dangerously obsessed with the vehicle which seems to have taken on a life of its own. The other two parts of the book are told in the third person.
The titular car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury nicknamed “Christine” by its, or her, shady and sneering owner, Roland D. LeBay, is in a sorry state in the late 1970s when Arnie buys it, discouraged to no avail by Dennis, at that time seventeen years old. Arnie’s purchase is an unwelcome shock to his parents, who have always done their best to make him a malleable boy with college aspirations and barely any thoughts of his own. Dennis dislikes the car from the start, and so does nearly every rational-minded person who comes into contact with it, especially Arnie’s new girlfriend, Leigh.
As Arnie restores the Plymouth to its former glory, he too changes almost beyond recognition. The death of LeBay, the seller of the car, a few days after its purchase, leads Dennis to discover the gory and disturbing story behind the car, and soon Christine starts showing her true colours. Bullies who threatened Arnie and trashed the car once he’d completed his restoration work are killed, apparently in horrible car accidents, whilst Arnie always has a rock-solid alibi. After a while, it becomes clear that Christine is repairing herself, and there is more than a touch of the supernatural about the car.
The angry, mean spirit of LeBay remains clinging to the car, and its gruesome story drags itself further and further into Arnie, Dennis and Leigh’s lives as the death toll mounts up. The story comes to a head when Dennis and Leigh finally confront the demonic car, with tragic consequences.
I was reluctant to put the book down; it’s the kind of read which easily sucks you in. The characters are high-schoolers, and therefore easy for young people in any decade to relate to, and the book is quite fast-paced. King’s great triumph is in the life and colour he gives to the most minor of characters, and of course to Christine herself.
Although I didn’t find it particularly chilling or really that scary (this may be down to my general dissociation with horror films or books), I did enjoy the book. I would recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in horror, and some who don’t, as long as they do like a good story.