Stephen King - 11.22.63 (3 stars)

The horror writer's time-travelling thriller fails to take full advantage of its premise

Stephen King - 11.22.63

(Hodder & Stoughton)

There is no doubting Stephen King’s abiding knack for a gripping yarn, but the American author’s latest novel could be doing with a few more thrills. That’s not to say that the plot is lacklustre or lacking in scale, taking a 35-year-old modern-day Maine protagonist named Jake Epping and relocating him to the late 1950s/early 1960s, via a diner-cum-time-travel ‘rabbit-hole’. There he is recast as George Amberson, who is charged with preventing the assassination of John F Kennedy.

There are several narrative distractions en route, as our central character tries to alter the histories of the people around him while he (inevitably) falls in love, but therein lies the disappointment: faced with the freedom of revisiting and ‘resetting’ the past repeatedly, would a character truly only do good? Would he or she not take advantage of such moral autonomy? Our hero’s extravagance stops at root beer.

The book’s alliance of temporal gymnastics and presidential assassination thriller variously echoes The Time Traveler’s Wife (but with less sci-fi existentialism) and The Day of the Jackal (but with less economic, meticulous suspense). It touches on potentially intriguing notions like the butterfly effect, coincidence, conspiracy theories and the parallels between the present and past, but King’s observations are too brief to inspire.

The creator of Misery and The Dark Half retains a supernatural skill for investing language with a sense of terror – the term ‘Jimla’ becomes such a word here – but it hints at a dreadfulness that never prevails, and even for a horror-phobe, this comes as something of an anti-climax. 11.22.63 would have benefited from a bit more of a chill down its spine.

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