Book review on Rose Madder – a Stephen King novel

I have an obsession with horror/thriller flicks/novels – a fact proven to be both time-consuming (considering how much of a couch potato i can be when movies of the said genre come on) and unhealthy (considering how un-mainstream this is). Nonetheless, as a half-biased reader, I’d like to offer my own opinion on one of the most recent novels I’ve read – Rose Madder.(despite being an unprofessional critic)

Rose Madder – a rosy color (a flushed,pink shade) that most know by, is a 1995 novel that I haven’t discovered till the fateful day my brother fished it out of the bottom of a nameless stall amid the countless booths set up in the book fair. Seeing as I have never read it – he kindly purchased it and got reimbursed for HKD$59.90 (very cheap for a Stephen King novel) while I began to flick through the pages.

Having read many of Stephen King’s novels/short story collections, I knew what was coming: A innocuous commencement with hints dropping left and right, a building-up that keeps you on the edge, the anticlimax that makes you skid off the seat (I assure you it’s a common occurrence), then the ominous ending that gives you chills (or not, some do have marvelous endings) – and after reading this, it contradicted everything I knew (or at least I thought I knew) about his horror novels.

First of all, King’s piece was a tad to straight-forward with the gore. The beginning was just a thrust-in-your-face horrific: the stranded lady Rosie Daniels got beaten up by her husband, Norman Daniels, resulting in a very bloody miscarriage. Norman turns out to be her first love, a well-praised policeman/golden boy, whilst also being a psychopath who has a fetish of biting and raping women. As the plot carries on, we can blatantly see how much of a misogynist Norman is, beating his wife ruthlessly, biting prostitutes (a witness in the case), often objectifying and murdering women he encounters on various occasions.

I was not accustomed to this style of writing that even King himself stated was a bit, ‘stiff, try-too-hard’ – sure, it was a lot to take in with a lot of blood and gore, but it was also unlike King to be overtly descriptive of the ‘bloody’ scenes. In one of the ending scenes as Norman stuck a letter-opener into the throat of a cop – it is written,’the wound in his throat gaped open around the blade like the gill of a fish and more blood squirted onto the collar of his shirt.’, which is definitely not the best line of prose I can come across at 3 a.m. in the early morning.

Secondly, the reference to the Greek mythology felt forced, a bit too far-fetched. Although I was not a huge fanatic for fantasies and myths – for better deciphering of Rose Madder, I began browsing site after site for information that furthers my understanding on the matter. At the end of the day, the coherence between the story and the myth is disappointing – Erinyes was meant to be somewhat of a menacing yet blind bull-like creature in the novel, and in the fantasies itself he should have hairs like snakes (Medusa-sque) and dog heads (and a bunch of animal parts blended and mashed together). The stepping-into the picture with the woman portion of the novel (which took at least a good 200 pages) was unfortunately unconvincing, perhaps due to my paucity of imagination of dilapidated monument and a goddess-like figure. Aside from the latter parts of the chapter with the goddess-like Rosie (the mythical one) biting into Norman, which certainly has a sting in it (pun intended) and is an irony itself, the fantasy that Rosie can step into a portrait to a mythical place is haplessly puzzling to me.

Having said that, I’d also like to say that it was a very courageous move for King to incorporate these elements into his tales – a very rare and fresh take on how I perceive his works and also showcases his creativity to twist Greek myths around to his own flavor. Regardless of the alien style of writing King employed in the said story, I can also see King’s lyrical writing coming through in certain parts of the novel, which particularly enjoyed – the wordplay, the smooth transitions, the detailing, the ambiance setting were all impeccable. Leaving the myths and legends behind, the referencing back-and-forth in the novel were intriguing – the iconic scenes where Rosie gazes upon the drop of blood on the bed, the transitioning between Norman’s and Rosie’s perspectives were all quintessential.

Rose Madder is surely not the best work of King, but definitely not the worst – it’s a fact that there are cringe worthy parts, but I can also see parts of King’s writing shining through the piece. I will give it a solid 7/10 (I am an unprofessional critic, really) considering the efforts and brave attempt to try something new like Greek myths, but it is definitely an enjoyable read personally.



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