Dolores Claiborne

This is another terrific novel by Stephen King and one where he proves what a master storyteller he is. The novel is written from the viewpoint of Dolores throughout. The novel is not broken into chapters but is rather one continuous narrative. This is a difficult idea to pull off. It takes a writer of extreme skill to hold the reader’s attention when using this format. It would be easy for the author to become over indulgent and thereby lose the reader’s interest. But Stephen King has honed his considerable skills over many years and can apply himself to a variety of literary techniques.

The novel was written in the 1990s. At the beginning of the story Dolores has been called in for questioning by the local police regarding the death of her employer who was an old woman who Dolores had worked for over the course of many years as a housekeeper. The woman had died in a fall at her home but there were suspicious circumstances involved. Dolores gives her evidence to the cops but in a roundabout way. She gives a lot of backstory, explaining how she came to work for the old woman. As she does so she relates back to her married life and the husband who had disappeared mysteriously some thirty years before during an eclipse. Soon after he was discovered at the bottom of a well and Dolores had been questioned back then, too, but had been able to convince the authorities of her innocence. However, as she helps the police with their enquiries regarding this latest tragedy she goes into detail about her husband’s disappearance and a completely different picture emerges of his death.

It turns out Dolores had been abused by her husband a few years into their marriage. She eventually finds the courage to face up to him and manages to stop the abuse. However, it later turns out she is not the only member of the family who has suffered in this way. Her children had all been on the receiving end of abuse from their father, either physical or mental. At this point Dolores has had enough and is determined this must stop. She will not stand idly by while her husband ruins the lives of her children. She makes plans to take her daughter and two sons away from her husband but she is scuppered in these plans, so decides there is nothing for it but to bring about her husband’s death and make it look like an accident.

She uses the eclipse as a backdrop to what she is going to do. There will be several moments of complete darkness when the eclipse arrives and the locals will all be preoccupied with what is happening in the sky. Most of the inhabitants will be congregating by the harbour and there will be a lot of noise celebrating this once in a lifetime event. It is the perfect opportunity for Dolores to strike as there will be no threat of witnesses to what she is about to do.

The lead up to this momentous event is well described. Events do not completely go according to plan and as the reader I found this stretch of narrative gripping in the extreme. I believe anyone reading the book would feel the same way. I found myself willing Dolores on to commit the crime which she had set her heart on. Throughout the book I came to see how dreadful it must be to live with abuse in the family. It is bad enough for a wife to be maltreated in this way but for it then to pass down to the children is almost beyond comprehension. One can understand Dolores’s dilemma and fully understand why she felt there was only one cause of action left open to her.

Of course, when she admits to the murder of her husband some thirty years after the event it is only to be expected that the police will think she also did away with her employer for whatever reason. Dolores, however, is a decent woman. She was merely placed in a position where she could only see one way out when it came to her husband. This did not mean she has suddenly developed a thirst for murder.

Throughout the book King keeps the reader on his toes as he shifts from one disturbing image to another. Whilst becoming enmeshed in Dolores’s story the reader can never forget she is in the middle of a police enquiry into a woman’s death. The consensus of popular opinion has fallen upon her and she has to fight to protect her reputation. To bring about her abusive husband’s death and make it look like an accident is one thing, but to wilfully bring about the death of an old lady who had never done any harm to anyone opens up a whole new set of questions.

The pace of this story never slackens and King is on top form as he holds the reader’s sympathy for Dolores’s plight right to the very end. The way he manoeuvres the action and has Dolores answering the questions she is asked by the authorities is something to behold. You never hear directly from the police force. It is all about Dolores’s actions and her reference to what she had already been asked. This is storytelling at its finest. It proves once again exactly why Stephen King is recognised as one of the greatest writers of our generation. He deserves this reputation. I know whenever I settle down to read one of his novels I am in for a great experience and Dolores Claiborne is no exception.



Categories:Book Reviews

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