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Salem's Lot - Stephen King
Member Name: sandemp
Salem's Lot - Stephen King
Advantages: Fantastic story, believeable characters, 'real' vampires
Disadvantages: Some might find it a bit dated
Author Ben Mears is haunted by memories of growing up in Salem's Lot, with an incident at the Marsten House being the focus of his nightmares. In an attempt to exorcise his demons, Ben has returned to the lot to write a book and finally put the Marsten House to bed. On arriving in town, Ben attempts to rent the long-empty haunted house, only to discover that it has already been sold.....and this is not the only strange occurrence in town, one child has gone missing and another has a strange, wasting, bloodless illness. What's happening in Salem's Lot, are vampires real and can Ben and his friends survive the night?
I first read this under the duvet at the tender age of fourteen and have re-read it many, many times over the last two decades, which should give you an idea of just how much I love this book. Although only his second publication, Salem's Lot is King at his very best. There's just so much I love about this book, from the descriptive prose, to the way it gave me nightmares after reading it for the first time. This was the book that first ignited my fascination with horror novels and is the one against which all others are judged (by me at least).
I love the way that King brings each of the characters to life, whether they are major or minor players in the story. I love the way that all of the characters are just so believable, with none of the heroes being too perfect and invulnerable. Yes some of them are caricatures, but they are caricatures of people that you would see in any small town, which adds to the sense of foreboding throughout the book. Anyone who has lived in a small town will be able to recognise someone they know, whether it be the priest that likes the bottle a little too much, or the local gossip. Because the characters are so familiar it makes caring about what happens to them extremely easy, which again pulls me into the story.
I also love the way that the story develops, almost as soon as I start reading I find myself hooked and the pace picks up relentlessly until I reach the last page. This is a book that I genuinely find hard to put down once I start reading it, there's not one point where I don't want to know what happens next, (even though have read it countless times, I already know what happens next). And I'm never tempted to skim, flick a few pages ahead or (god forbid) take a peaky look at the final page. Out of all the hundreds of books I've read, in all the different genres, Salem's Lot is by far my favourite, and while others may find it strange, for me this book and the characters within it are almost like old friends.
It's no spoiler, to tell you that this is a book about vampires, my copy has a picture of a vampire on the front. But to me this is about far more than just the vampire (who is fantastically written, with just the right amount of mystery about him). For me the vampire is only a part of the horror, it's hard to explain, but it was the realisation of how easily a town could die that hit me, even at the tender age of fourteen. The mark of a good horror is when it's not so fantastical that it can no longer plant the little seed of possibility into your mind. As a sane, adult, I know that vampires don't exist, but Salem's Lot is so well written that I am able to suspend belief for the time that I'm reading.
In a world that seems full of books and films about 'good' vampires who have human emotions and can walk in daylight, Salem's Lot is a completely different kettle of fish. In this book, the rules governing vampires are of the old-fashioned variety, which means this is a far scarier read. Looking back, fourteen was probably a little too young to read it for the first time, especially as I have a very vivid imagination. There are a few points within the pages where deaths are very vividly described, but funnily enough I didn't find them as disturbing as the book as a whole. It was the premise of how easily a town could be taken over by the un-dead that really disturbed my sleep, not the descriptions of the un-dead rising.
And so down to the crux of the matter, would I recommend Salem's Lot and if so who to? The answer is of course a resounding yes, in my eyes this is the ultimate horror novel, and by far the best of King's works. Although some of the background is a little dated (this was first published in 1975), it's still very easy to immerse yourself in the story. But as to the question of who I would recommend the book to, well I will say that fourteen is probably too young, but any horror fan of about sixteen and over should definitely add this to their reading list (why haven't you read it already). And if you're a Twilight fan, then why not read a book, where the vampires aren't all lovey-dovey. As with all of King's books, I would also recommend this to anyone who has read his Dark Tower series. In fact, I would say that in this case this is required reading, as it fills in the back story of a very important character in the later books.
So, I'm giving Salem's Lot a blood-sucking five stars out of five, simply because it is not only my favourite King novel, but it is also my all-time favourite horror novel.
Summary: The horror novel against which all horrors should be judged