Misery may well be best known for the terrifying and Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates, as a fan turned psychopath in the book’s film adaptation, but the novel is just as worthy of attention, if not more.
Featuring even more shocking behaviour and horrific moments than the film, Misery is well worth picking up. The novel tells the story of Paul Sheldon, a writer who gets in a car crash, and is rescued by one of his biggest fans, Annie Wilkes. When she discovers his plans for the next book in her favourite series, Wilkes becomes enraged, and forces him to write a different novel, while holding him captive. What follows is an impressive thriller, full of taut, tense storytelling, a compelling narrative, and enough excitement to keep you turning the pages from start to finish. The novel culminates in a standoff between characters, which remains in your mind long after you’ve finished the book, with a haunting ending for both characters. Misery was first released in 1987, yet the narrative couldn’t be more relevant, what with the ever growing prevalence of celebrity culture and the growth of fandom.
This novel is one of King’s best, largely because of the truly terrifying character of Wilkes. King may have created some memorable monsters, but Wilkes is one which continues to strike a chord whenever I think about King’s work. She is the ultimate crazed fan, and her actions are all the more terrifying because she is human – she is motivated by her deep and fearsome love for the fictional world created by Sheldon, yet there is also something deeply disturbed within her psyche. Wilkes is obviously far cry from your traditional fan, what with her predilection for violence and troubled history, but there is something within her characterisation as a fan of Sheldon’s work which resonates with the dark side of modern fan behaviour. King very cleverly predicted (perhaps based on his own experience with fans) the odd mix of slavish devotion and entitlement for things to go exactly the way that they want, which seems to make up the psyche of extreme fans.
Misery is a fantastic demonstration of the psychological thriller. Wilkes’ transition from slightly odd fan to complete psychopath is presented with perfect pace, as King laces the novel with a trickle of hints in the beginning, which soon turns into a deluge. She starts with washing his mouth out with soap, which transitions into neglect, then to some of her more extreme actions at the end of the novel. The final confrontation between Sheldon and Wilkes is thrilling, and just when you think that more couldn’t possibly happen, it does.
This novel is an example of Stephen King hitting the perfect mix between horror and thriller – there are some truly visceral moments of gore and horrific actions by people, but what really makes the novel stand out is its thriller tone. Anyone looking for a thriller to follow the recent spate of thrillers in the vein of Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train, would be satisfied by looking backwards to one of King’s best works.
Misery is published by Viking publishers, and is written by Stephen King. You can watch a trailer for its filmatic version below.