Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘11.22.63’ by Stephen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history?
WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 

11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, on a fascinating journey back to the world of 1958 – from a world in 2011 of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

Review

I bought this eBook quite some time ago when I got a Waterstones gift card for my birthday – I do love a bit of time-travel so I was convinced that I would eventually get to it.  But then one day when I was at work, I got a text from Hanna telling me that I HAD to read this book!  Inevitably, I started reading not long after.


I’m not sure what I expected.  I don’t have a lot of experience of King’s work, largely because I imagine his to be the kind of books that would leave me shaking in a corner and gibbering to myself.  Whatever I was expecting, I wasn’t prepared for 11.22.63 to be so…sensitive.  Sure, there was action and a fair dose of the sinister but there were also devastatingly believable romance and genuinely heart-warming friendships.  Clearly there is a lot more to Stephen King as a writer than I had been giving him credit for.  

As with much historical fiction, I was wary about straying into a period – you either find yourself learning about a whole new period or you end up bemused.  Thankfully, King has assumed no prior knowledge.  His research has obviously been painstakingly carried out and the detail is astounding.  Woven skilfully into Jake’s story are a plethora of historical and political points and anecdotes that enhance the story, rather than diverting from it.  I genuinely feel as though I know a lot more about the period leading up to President Kennedy’s assassination.  It would have been easy to have Jake feign ignorance on the basis that he isn’t from the 50s or 60s but King doesn’t once take the easy road and I have a great deal more respect for him as an author than I did before.

With all the detail floating around, you might think that you’re in for a bit of a stodgy ride.  Not so.  Jake’s story and the stories of those he meets are very personal, moving and gripping and I came to care very much what happened to each and every one of them.  Even the prologue-type section made my heart hurt and brought tears to my eyes. Jake meets a heck of a lot of people on his sojourn into the past and every single one has a place in the overall story.  The kind of characters that you miss when you’ve finished the book.

I think what I was aware of most when I started reading 11.22.63 was how time-travel stories are difficult ones to get right – there are countless things that can go horribly wrong and/or seem ridiculous.  As much time as went into researching the history must have gone into thinking through the implications of Jake’s time travelling.  It’s hard to gush openly about why I thought it was so clever and how much I loved reading about it without getting spoilery so I’ll just say that it’s smart and well done and I didn’t do any eye rolling or thinking of “Pfft – how silly”.

Incidentally, little experience though I have, I’m fairly sure that there are some “rewards” for King’s more loyal fan base.  Some way through the story, Jake finds himself in Derry, a town that has been plagued by a spate of murders seemingly perpetrated by someone or something lurking in the sewers.  I am not (nor will I ever be) an expert on King’s horror novels but I’m fairly sure that there are quite a few references to events from It.  So if you like King and like books where you get to feel like part of the in-crowd, you’ll like this.  But actually, if you like King that much, you’ll probably already have read this…so really this is just to prove that I was awake enough to spot the neat blending than anything else…*shrugs*

Overall:  There is nothing in this book that is out of place.  Nothing at all.  I can only imagine how much work must have gone into writing it but the effect is something really quite extraordinary.  740 pages without one moment where I wanted to hurry things along or one detail that I wasn’t convinced fit?  Masterful.

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Date finished:  20 December 2012
Format:  eBook (740 pages are HEAVY!)
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Science fiction/fantasy; historical fiction
Published (in the UK): by Hodder & Stoughton Limited in November 2011