Although this would normally come up under “June Reading” in a few weeks time, I wanted to give this book its own review. Many of the books I review each month come from the library, and they are fleeting visitors. They’re read, enjoyed (for the most part) and returned.
But there’s another class of book we all know about. The books you read and can’t let go. The ones you see in a second-hand bookshop, perhaps years after the initial reading and you just HAVE to buy. Books that you revisit like old friends, finding comfort in the familiarity, still loving the twists of the plot even though you can’t possibly be surprised by it.
After so many house moves, the books we keep on our bookshelves are all old friends. We’ve whittled down our collection again and again, and now only keep the ones we can’t imagine being without. “It” is one of those books.
(I need to point out that Mrs Dim is not a big fan of this book.)
For those who don’t know, “It” is the story of a group of childhood friends. As children, they banded together to fight an evil monster living beneath their town. They believed it was destroyed, but made a pact to return and fight again if the creature came back. Thirty years on, they are called to make good on their oath, and must go up against the creature again. But now they are adults, do they have the power they had as children?
There are many reasons why I like this book, and probably as many reasons why some people will NEVER like this book. The childhood sections are set in 1957/8, in Maine. That’s nearly twenty years before I was born, and a few thousand miles from where I spent my childhood, but the kids in the story feel familiar. They love the music of the time (secretly dancing and singing along to Rock ‘n Roll, despite the disapproval of their parents) and they play imaginative games in a wasteland area of the town called “The Barrens”. It’s not quite the life I lead in rural Hampshire in the early 80’s, but there are echoes.
The other big attraction of the book is the way it’s written. Rather than write the whole thing chronologically, beginning with the children in 1957/8, following their adventures along, and then moving ahead to the 1980’s, King chooses to mix in the two timelines. He does this because the older characters don’t remember their childhood years – not until they get the phone call from the one member of the gang who stayed in the town. All the others left and became successful in some way, but one – Mike Hanlon – stayed on and became the town Librarian. Mike remembers almost everything that happened while they were children, but the others only begin to remember when they arrive in Derry. As they remember, King shows us their memories of the events, so that the climax of both battles against It take place simultaneously – the children in 1958, and the adults thirty years later.
I’m sure the name of Stephen King means people are waiting for the horror. Well, yes, there’s plenty of that. It is a kind of ancient Boggart, to steal briefly from JK Rowling – It reaches into your mind and takes what you most fear, then becomes that thing…with a few twists of Its own. If you don’t like blood and gore, and the odd scare along the way, you won’t get along with this book, but I think that’s a pity, because Stephen King evokes a very real sense of what it’s like to be a child. There are some wonderful sections when the kids are together – even in the middle of a titanic struggle to fight this evil thing that adults can’t see, don’t believe in, they still play. They’re still children.
I’m sure there are many rebuttals that could be offered to balance up this review. Is the story ultimately satisfying? Does it feel believable (for a given value of “believable”, seeing as there’s monsters etc etc)? Is it a “good” book? Those questions are probably valid, but in this instance I’m playing my Joker and saying “I don’t care”. My love for this book may be irrational, may not be universally shared, and it may even be possible to prove it’s misplaced, but I’ll love it regardless. In a world where people get tattoos of text from Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, I think it’s entirely permissable to love a book beyond reason.