08 October 2022

Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Fairy Tale by Stephen King book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Charlie Reade is a terrific kid! Charlie's Mum died when he was ten and his Dad became an alcoholic, forcing Charlie to learn how to take care of himself. Years later, Charlie is in his teens and his Dad is newly sober, trying to adjust to their new normal when Charlie meets an old German shepherd called Radar and her owner, grumpy old recluse Howard Bowditch.

King has a knack for writing stories with wholesome and likeable young male characters meeting cantankerous old men and the relationships that develop between them. I particularly enjoyed the short story Mr Harrigan's Phone contained in the collection If It Bleeds from 2020, and if you enjoyed that, you'll love the first third of this book. 

Charlie is a well-read, upstanding high schooler when he meets the elusive and mysterious Mr Bowditch and as a consequence of their meeting, their lives begin to change. Charlie loves to watch old movies, read old books and generally feels like an old soul, with nothing to indicate he's a modern 17 year old teenager which may bother some readers. Here Charlie explores Mr Bowditch's house with Radar close behind:
"She followed me down the hall, which was dim and sort of amazing. One side was stacked with old magazines done up in bundles that were tied with hayrope. The other side was stacked with books, most of them old and with that smell that old books have. Probably not everyone likes that smell, but I do. It's musty, but good must." Page 24
Charlie begins to suspect Mr Bowditch has some pretty big secrets, and when he finds out what's in the garden shed, the real adventure starts.

The plot seemed like a meeting of The Neverending Story, The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland with a clear quest and adventure trope, replete with giant cockroaches, giants, curses, a talking horse and a sundial with magical properties. A kingdom ruled by a villain while the royal family cowers is too tempting for Charlie who wants to help. Is he the chosen one? The promised prince? My eyes started to roll a little at this point.

Thankfully, the novel is saved from devolving completely by moments of clarity like this one:
"You may say I have no reason to feel shame, that I did what I had to do to save my life and the shed's secret, but shame is like laughter. And inspiration. It doesn't knock." Page 574
These are the snippets I love uncovering in a Stephen King novel, the character insights that make me reflect on life, people and relationships, however they were few and far between in Fairy Tale.

King incorporates many myths, legends and fairytales in this novel, and readers will recognise characters inspired by their stories, such as The Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Goose Girl and Rumpelstiltskin. I'm sure there were more and devoted fans will no doubt produce a comprehensive list soon but they didn't really add any depth or layers to my reading enjoyment.

Fairy Tale feels like a fun carefree project for King of sheer indulgence; a creative exploration of stories and stories within stories with way too many tropes that written by any other author, probably wouldn't have made a splash on the new release calendar.

Notwithstanding, Stephen King is an internationally bestselling author and an auto-read for many of us, who happily read through books like Fairy Tale, in the hopes of discovering real gems like 11.22.63 and Billy Summers. Dog lovers will find much to love within these pages, and Radar is arguably the biggest and certainly the most important character in the novel.

Fairy Tale is recommended for hard core Stephen King fans, constant readers, dog lovers and the completionists of you out there. First timers are advised to start elsewhere in King's oeuvre.

My Rating:

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