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Insomnia review
Prepare to Lose Sleep


    “It was life, often unsatisfying, frequently cruel, usually boring, sometimes beautiful, once in a while exhilarating.”

Thinking back not too long ago, it occurred to me that there aren't many - if any exceptions at all - authors whose names appear larger on their novel covers than the title of the piece. Yet whenever you see Stephen King's pieces, the name is large, bold and proud. This - admittedly - was my first King book to read, and it's safe to say I wish I'd picked up his novels years before just now - a bit like discovering your new favourite band way too late. The way in which he writes is so refreshing, and he has an excellent way of making objects (real or imaginary in his science fiction realm) come to life with what seems like little effort. You may think Insomnia was a strange choice for me because it isn't one that people would recommend to a Stephen King virgin - either because fans haven't read it or wouldn't consider if up there with his very best - but nonetheless, this novel is up there with the best I've ever had the privilege of reading. His creativity makes words jump from each page, creating an unfamiliar environment around you, and there are times when you'll find it very arduous to put the book down. Pardon the poor pun, but you'll lose plenty of sleep over this book; either from thinking of the haunting fictional world presented to you, or simply because you can't put the damn thing down.

I bought this book with no background information; all I knew was, I was going to buy a King book. I will hold my hands up and say the cover and name were what drew me in initially, but I can't say I regret the decision whatsoever. Insomnia is about a 70-year-old man named Ralph Roberts who lives in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. From the off we are introduced to his hardship, as his wife is suffering from a brain haemorrhage. King's ability to create tangible objects out of the imaginary is shown right from the off; he portrays Ralph's suffering with the ominous ticking of 'the deathclock', which ticks inside Carolyn's (Ralph's wife) brain. The prologue of the book portrays Ralph as an old and frail character, who finds great struggle in just a walk towards the airport and back to his home on a hot afternoon (don't get me wrong; I'd be impressed with myself if I could do that at 70), but this is not the Ralph we grow to recognise. During this short introduction, we are introduced to Ralph's peers, who all develop their own distinctive personalities quite credibility throughout. Bill McGovern (Ralph's neighbour) is a very witty and intelligent, but awfully cynical character who you'll grow to sympathise; a lot of Ralph's peers are very lonely ones and that's understandable at the age they're at. Other big characters include Lois Chasse, the woman Ralph grows closer to after his wife's passing; neighbours Ed and Helen Deepneau - the former turning from a very nice neighbour to an obsessive wife-beater overnight (without spoiling anything, you'll grow to enjoy how his character develops); Dorrance Marstellar who comes across as a typical senile old man for the majority, and many other bit-part (but enjoyable and important) characters as well as creatures from other realms.

It isn't long before Carolyn's passing, which brings the novel to its main plot. The change in pattern as well as his demeanor means Ralph loses more and more sleep each night. At first, he was waking at 6am, and as time goes by, it goes down to 2:15am. Unable to find a remedy from the pharmacy or from old folk solutions, Ralph begins to hallucinate during his tired stints, entering the world of beautiful auras. The auras follow people around and their colours portray the health and mood of the particular person in view; bright and red meant you were naturally healthy; grey to black meant your time on this Earth was short. As expected, Ralph begins to think he's going crazy, but as time progresses he realises, although it's a curse that has cut deep into his sleep and life, it has its gifts too - Ralph begins to read the thoughts of others, as well as predict near future events before they occur.

As you dig deeper, you realise that Ralph Roberts does not have insomnia at all; him and his friend Lois Chasse (who developed - little to Ralph's knowledge - the same problem months before Ralph) have been selected for an excruciating task from higher entities. There are 3 entities just above Ralph and Lois's level; Lachesis, Clotho (both members of the Purpose) and Atropos (the evil entity, part of the Random). Lachesis and Clotho have selected both Ralph and Lois to prevent future events from happening; over the course of the novel, there is a lot of controversy and campaigning about abortion. There are pro-lifers, who are completely against what they believe is murder, and of course, the pro-abortionists, who believe that the women have the right to do as they wish with their bodies. All through this controversy - and sometimes violence - a campaign has been made for Susan Day (prominent feminist and motivational speaker not to be mistaken for the actress of the same name) to come and speak in Derry against the pro-lifers. While this is all spurring, Ed Deepneau has been selected by the Random (Atropos) to piss on everyone's parade (without ruining the plot) at the Susan Day ceremony. So Ralph's 'objective' throughout is to change fate and create a new chapter in Derry; of course there's a lot more that goes on but that's the basis of it. You might feel like there's a lot to take in there and you might miss out or have to re-read a hell of a lot - on the contrary, Stephen King portrays it in such a gripping way that you'll cling onto every word and feel engaged in the events of the novel yourself.

As aforementioned, King's ability to create such a clear and vivid image of the imaginary is breath-taking. When the auras are introduced to you, every scene is played through your head perfectly with characters auras passing by in cars, balloon-strings hovering above peoples' heads portraying their 'health bar' if you will and of course the entities that appear throughout. For the majority of the first half of the novel, everything will appear normal and you'll wonder why it's labelled as a science fiction novel; but when things start to unravel and Ralph steps into long-term business, there's no turning back - auras will be the very basic of it, as himself and Lois enter higher levels and communicate with entities on a higher platform than their own. The creatures are portrayed so dauntingly, that even the two good ones (Lachesis and Clotho) have an ominous presence that leave a constant feeling of apprehension in the back of your mind. There is also a dream not far into the book that leaves a very scarring image in your mind; Ralph is on a deserted beach - or at least he thought it was deserted. In the distance, he sees what he believed was a beachball at first, but as he paces closer it's his wife's head buried in the sand, as the approaching waves threaten to drown her. Without thinking, Ralph paces for his helpless wife to find that the brain tumour she'd suffered from is very visible, before it bursts like a spot and terrifying black insects begin to crawl down his wife's head onto the sand and up Ralph's legs - it's then that Ralph wakes up and it honestly feels like you've just woken from your own nightmare. Very real, and very frightening.

It's hard to pinpoint just one theme for the book, as it often swings from one to another. Loneliness is one that is very predominant for the most part - a 70-year-old's wife has past, and his peers are decaying in front of his very eyes, that much is understood. It can also get very melancholic too with thoughts of his own death, and of his other neighbourhood friends - Helen Deepneau is much younger than Ralph, and her and her daughter Natalie (who is only a baby as the story unfolds) are put in very life-threatening scenarios. And while there's loneliness and sadness, there's also a lot of anger and humour at times. Conversations between characters are very credible and a lot of a character's background can be viewed from two or three small sentences. Old Dorrance is a character you'll find a lot of time for, because while he seems crazy, there's something very peculiar about him. Then you've got Ralph's friend Trigger who's like a redneck American with poor speech and a gaping mouth - his speech is gifted to us with incorrect spellings to assume his pronunciation of each word by Mr. King - something I would love to personally thank him for. And of course, the anger comes from the situation Ralph and Lois have found themselves in - they have been selected for an arduous task they never asked for, and you can just assume how much agitation that floods them with. Each theme is portrayed perfectly, encapsulating you into the story deeper and deeper, making you wish the world - although terrifying - was real.

Insomnia is a book I'd recommend to anyone, regardless of whether I've read other King novels before or not. This is a must read for me, even if you don't have a keen interest in science fiction novels. In fact, if you don't this would be the perfect place to start because it has the perfect balance of real and imaginary (sometimes making you question what is and isn't real in the novel), so it would never feel like too much to take in. Although I've lost quite a bit of sleep over reading it, it's something I'd definitely like to do again. Insomnia is the book that has made me want to get the rest of Mr. King's bibliography, and the anticipation to begin another is killing me with excitement.


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