Cell by Stephen King

A review of the apocalyptic horror novel Cell by Stephen King.

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Cell by Stephen King is a thriller about, of all things, mobile phones. It was an excellent read and one I would recommend.

This story asks the reader to believe, firstly, that a message can be sent through cell (or mobile) phones, causing those hearing it to either murder someone or commit suicide; secondly that after that initial response the people would then start to function as one organism. Quite farfetched? I’m not so sure.

The book tells the story of Clayton Riddell, who King describes as “a young man of no particular importance to history.” Clay is on his way back to his hotel after securing the sale of his graphic novels when people start to behave strangely. A woman is attacked by a teenager. Another teenager runs repeatedly into a lamppost. An ice-cream van is deliberately rammed by another vehicle. Clay finds that not only must he defend himself but others too. He is joined by Tom McCourt, “a short man with thinning dark hair, a tiny dark moustache and gold rimmed spectacles,” as he tries to make sense of what is happening. Quite quickly they realise that all those affected had been using their mobiles moments before. Could phones be the root cause of this phenomenon? Deciding they must be, and feeling very lucky neither had their phones on them, Clay and Tom make their way back to Clay’s hotel after being given the advice to get off the streets. Here they encounter the third member or their group: Alice Maxwell, a young girl that Clay and Tom save when she is attacked by a maniac.

The group decide to head north, firstly to Tom’s house then to Kent Pond to see if there is any sign of Clay’s ex-wife and young son. On their way they discover that the “phone-crazies,” who don’t travel at night but during the day, seem to be heading in the same direction. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story but, suffice to say, things don’t exactly go to plan.

Can you imagine if the thing that all of us depend on so heavily turned against us? King’s explanation of how it could be done is really plausible, if you accept certain basic premises. Firstly, you have to believe that we as humans are all the same and the only thing that separates us is our intelligence; and secondly, that part of our brain, the part we don’t use, have psionic powers (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.). King writes:

Man has come to dominate the planet thanks to two essential traits. One is intelligence. The other has been the absolute willingness to kill anyone and anything that gets in his way.

What would happen if somehow man’s intelligence was removed? Would the desire to kill be all that is left? King raises an interesting question. What would you do to survive? Could you kill? How quickly would law and order fail? I don’t know. King gives an insight into what might happen. I hope we never have to find out.

Stephen King manages to create well-rounded, likeable characters, who I found myself actually caring about. Will Clay find his son? Will Tom’s cat be alright? King writes with an easy-to-read style that feels natural. It isn’t forced, as if trying to impress with language that normal people never use. There’s description but only when needed and not reams and reams of it. We all know what a park and a road look like; we don’t need three paragraphs describing it. King treats the reader as intelligent. Although the story is only set over a few days, it does not feel rushed. It has normality to it, even though the situation is abnormal. There is some swearing in the book, but it does not feel gratuitous. The blood, gore and violence are well handled and, again, feel as if King is not trying to shock, just say it as it is.

They heard the crack of the old man’s breaking neck even through the glass. His long white hair flew. His spectacles disappeared into what Clay thought were beets. His body spasmed once, then went limp.

King doesn’t need to go into more detail; the reader can imagine this for themselves. Also there is no sex getting in the way of a good story. Good writers don’t need to rely on explicit sex scenes to sell books.

Cell is well worth the read and I would recommend this book.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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