Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Cell

There are those of us who feared that Stephen King had lost his touch. It's not that his more recent books had been bad, they simply weren't up to earlier works. It seemed to us that he would never write another novel like The Stand or 'Salem's Lot. Fortunately, Cell, published last year, proved us wrong.

A review by George R. R. Martin stated that if a writer could write the Great American Zombie Novel, it would be Stephen King. But Cell is about as much a zombie novel as 28 Days Later, a film it greatly resembles, is a zombie movie. While Cell does owe a great deal to George Romero's Dead movies, it also owes a great deal to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, and even, to a small degree, Jack Finney's Body Snatchers and H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. It also bears a slight resemblance to King's earlier apocalyptic novel, The Stand. It would seem that with Cell that King has drawn upon a number of sources and made them all his own.

Cell centres around graphic novel artist Clay Riddell, who struggles to reunite with his family after an enigmatic signal (referred to as "the Pulse" in the novel) turns everyone who was on a cell phone at the time into something else entirely (the "zombies" many reviewers of this book have referred to) and leaving civilisation in ruins. Like many of King's earlier works, Cell cuts straight to the action and rarely does the action let up afterwards. The beginning alone is among the most frightening things King has ever written. And unlike many movies imitating Romero, King is not content to simply leave the world in ruins and infested by so called "zombies." King takes the novel's premise and runs with it, developing it to its logical conclusion. Although influenced by earlier works, with Cell King has created something original, imaginative, and all his own.

Many have complained that Cell resembles King's earlier work, The Stand. Cell does resemble The Stand in that both deal with an apocalypse. That having been said, the two are also quite different. The Stand is rife with Judaeo-Christian symbolism, something Cell lacks. At its core The Stand is essentially about a battle between Good and Evil. On the other hand, Cell is essentially a tale of survival set in a world that has gone totally downhill. It is perhaps for this reason that Cell lacks much of the optimism of The Stand. At its heart, Cell is a darker, more pessimistic, gamier novel than The Stand is.

Cell is a terrifying novel by a master of the horror genre. Once one picks up the novel, he or she might well find it very difficult to put down. I can honestly say that King has written one of the scarier novels of his career. It is perhaps worth noting, as noted at the end of the book, that Stephen King does not own a cell phone...

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