Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

‘Carrie’ is one of Stephen King’s most iconic works. It was released in 1974 and since, as modern pop-culture has latched onto it, even people who haven’t read or seen ‘Carrie’, know what happened to her. Or, at least to an extent.

The novel tells the story of Carrie White, in the fallout of what the records call Prom Night, a horrific psychic phenomenon that lead to a bloody massacre. The story shifts from essays analysing Carrie’s life, to testimonies from survivors, to the narrative of what happened from Carrie’s perspective.

Carrie White was a fat, modest, religious girl who is relentlessly bullied by her peers. It opens with a deeply traumatic experience, her first period beginning in the communal shower after gym class. Due to her mother’s strict religious upbringing, Carrie was oblivious to what menstruation entailed and believed it only occurred in sinners, and therefore was under the impression she was bleeding out and dying. All whilst being pelted with sanitary products by her peers in the changing rooms.

This disturbing opening scene indicates how skewed Carrie’s view on the world actually is, compared to her supposedly sinful classmates as their senior prom draws nearer, and while Carrie’s school punishes the students for how they behaved in response to Carrie’s period, some are less willing to take the punishment than others.

The story in my opinion was a bit jumpy and jittery but I appreciated it in a sense. This is because this pacing reflects the panic and erratic actions that take place in such a horrific event. Nothing is constant, everything is panicked and changing and racing about. Toward the end, after the disaster begins, you see the fallout through a variety of survivors’ eyes, when all you really want to know is where Carrie is and what she’s doing. Just like those characters would want to know where their children are, or where the emergency services are in a time of crisis. It was frustrating but exhilarating.

I felt great empathy for a lot of the characters in the story, particularly Sue, who tells her story through Carrie’s and how she feels a sense of responsibility for what had happened. Had she not caved into peer pressure and thrown tampons at Carrie in the locker room, she wouldn’t have felt the obligation to make it up to her, and she could have hoped the guilt would coerce someone else to act instead. Perhaps, she could have died on Prom Night with the boy she loved, the boy she asked to ask Carrie to the prom instead, to make it up to her. Or perhaps, she wouldn’t have gone at all.

And, of course, had Carrie skipped the prom, hundreds of people would have survived the night. And despite the blood on Carrie’s hands, it was Sue that she called out to. It was gut-wrenching.

Despite how strong my feelings were about the novel and the characters, I probably wouldn’t read it again, not because it was a bad book, but because of how deeply unsettling it was. It was an evocative and emotional read, and as someone who has experienced bullying in the past, I could not and cannot help but find it incredibly hard to read.

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