It by Stephen King
This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later on with next to no spell/grammar checking.
We have a long history together, It and I. Released only a few months after I was born, It was there in the background for much of my life.
I’ve seen Part 1 of the 1990 movie version when I was around 10 years old and it messed me up for months. Literal, actual months. I was terrified of going out when it rained, gave storm drains wide berths and even the bathroom sink was frightening.
I have in fact, swore off the entire genre of horror completely — and seeing It was a big part of that. But like I said: it was there, always present. A story unfinished. A challenge unmet.
Ten years ago, I saw it in a bookshop, bought it on a whim and then let it lie on my shelf. Waiting, never opened, but never forgotten.
The town of Derry in Maine, US is being shocked by disappearances and murders of children. Seven kids realise that things are even more sinister than they seem on the surface and come together to stop it against the background of bullying and sheer adult indifference. All they know is that whoever’s behind this is capable of embodying the most terrifying nightmares and has a penchant for the image of a clown holding a bunch of colourful balloons.
Twenty seven years later, they’re all called back to finish the job once and for all.
The book follows both timelines and it’s really clever about connecting them, keeping you on edge and always intrigued. The information trickles out as needed for the biggest impact. No long expositions, no monologuing or excessive wrapping-up.
It is absolutely without a question a true, proper horror story. The things that happen there span the "mundane" human evil and the cosmic almost incomprehensible vastness. I’m not an expert of the genre, but It does evoke some Lovecraftian moments and themes. However, they’re not an attempt to imitate or ride the tentacular incomprehensibleness wave like so many Lovecraft-inspired works seem to.
Indeed, the most horrific things that were happening in the book were done by other human beings. A lot of the time, the main antagonist felt more like a force of nature. Something that’s always been there and always will be. It’s hard to truly remain angry at an earthquake.
The people though, are another case entirely.
Surprisingly, I kept getting strong fairy tale vibes as well. One definitely meant for adults, but it had a lot of the same themes, ideas and plot progressions. I’m a sucker for adult fairy tales so this was unexpected but very much welcome.
It is a long book, but it uses the time responsibly to build up the place and characters. You get a wonderful sense of Derry’s atmosphere and the people feel absolutely real. Warped, perhaps, by what’s happening there — but very much alive.
And as I was reading it, I kept being amazed by Stephen King’s craft. The world building, plot, pacing, the use of language. It all felt a level above of what I normally read (and I don’t think all the other authors are poor writers!).
Nothing there is just to serve the plot. The characters don’t momentarily turn stupid just for a cheap blood spurt. Indeed, despite clearly being very much children, they were clever and brave and resourceful.
I was hanging on every word and enjoyed the whole thing all the way through to the end.
But it is horror. Sometimes brutal, sometimes disgusting, sometimes just plain old weird and sometimes… well, the list of trigger warnings would be longer than many short stories.
I feel though, that it wields its power responsibly. You know that when something happens, King didn’t do it out of a base desire to evoke a cheap emotion in you. That there’s a purpose there. That it all fits together to build something grand.
Thankfully, while being really powerful, I was not scared. Not once did I go out in the rain and feel a pang of fear passing a storm drain or walking out in the dark. Haven’t had any nightmares.
I wouldn’t have been able to get far with it otherwise. To this day I still can’t handle horror films, but for some reason, apparently, I can handle them in a written form. I’ve actually looked up a scene from the 1990 film on youtube today — wondering how they compared (the one where young Bevy goes to the bathroom and hears voices). And I was deeply shaken up. But reading it in the book was okay.
If you’re as squeamish and easily scared as I am, and reading can trigger that too, this is not a book for you. Otherwise, it is a work of beauty well worth your time.
And for me, it opened up a whole new genre.