First published back in September of 1998, bestselling US author Stephen King’s novel ‘Bag Of Bones’ was well-received by critics and the public alike, winning the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel in 1999.

A two-part straight to television adaptation of the novel, which was directed by Mick Garris, was first broadcast on the A&E Network in December of 2001.

DLS Synopsis:
After bestselling crime writer Mike Noonan’s pregnant wife Jo is killed in a tragic accident, the Irish born writer finds himself suffering from a severe case of prolonger writer’s block.  Four years later and Mike is still deeply mourning the death of his beloved wife, with still no glimmer of hope for his writing.  Plagued by recurring nightmares surrounding the holiday home where he and his wife had spent time at, the writer decides that in order to move on from the wretched state that he is in, he must confront his fears and return to the lakeside property known as Sara Laughs.

Upon arriving at the quaint and somewhat isolated holiday home, located off the main TR-90 road in Maine, Mike bumps into a young mother named Mattie Devore and her three-year-old daughter Kyra.  As a friendship between Mike and the Mattie instantly begins to form, the writer learns of the widowed mother’s legal struggle to keep her daughter from her bitter old father-in-law, Max Devore, who is trying to gain full custody of Kyra.

Determined to help the young mother and her beautiful daughter in any way he can, Mike decides to hire a lawyer for them; a man named John Storrow.  With things going particularly well between Mike and Mattie, he begins to realise that the writer’s block that has been plaguing him for so long has started to shift.  Mike starts to write again with a furious spirit.

And that’s when he realises that his wife Jo has returned to him.  In the lakeside property that was once the home to the once blues singer, Sara Tidwell, Mike Noonan starts to feel the presence of more than one ghost.  Becoming obsessed with unearthing the past of Sara Laughs and its previous owner, Mike sets out on a mission that will take him further and further in the dark past of the local community.

The more he searches for answers, the more mysteries he uncovers.  Somehow his wife is tied in with it all.  It appears that unbeknown to him at the time his wife had been coming back to Sara Laughs up until her untimely death.  Meanwhile, the battle for custody over Kyra has turned nasty.  The situation has spiralled out of hand.  Max Devore is beginning to show his true colours, and the lengths that he will go to in order for him to get his way.

The secrets behind Sara Laughs are gradually beginning to surface.  And what awaits will tear Mike Noonan’s life apart...

DLS Review:
Okay, so the synopsis alone shows how painfully ‘Stephen King’ the story is.  It’s pretty much a paint-by-numbers King novel, with all the usual elements bundled together to potentially create just another rung to the author’s ladder.  The alone plot seems very familiar from the outset.  The characters almost carbon copies from earlier work.  The location, feeling already well-trodden.  Nothing seems new here.  Nothing feels fresh.

That said, it’s still a darn good read nonetheless.  So what if King hasn’t really moved on at all with the tale?  He can still weave a compelling and engaging story, with impact, empathy and love.  Atmospherically speaking, this is possibly one of the most claustrophobic and absorbing of reads.  From the moment our narrator arrives at Sara Laughs, the tension and lurking menace just seems to wrap the reader up tight, almost smothering them with the seeping intensity of this near palpable atmosphere.

Written in the first person perspective of Mike Noonan, King allows the emotional toil of this troubled character to become a prime factor to the storyline.  The chaotic turmoil that the character is put through is handed straight to the reader; the bond between the narrator and the reader given absolute precedence. 

One factor in particular really stands out from the novel.  The blossoming relationship between Mike and Mattie is where the novel absolutely excels.  The connection and growing closeness is portrayed with such a personal touch.  The reader becomes more than just observers to the relationship between the two characters.  They feel swallowed up by it.  It’s such a starkly powerful and purposeful part to the storyline.  And one that leaves a memorable impact upon the reader.

For a ghost story, it must be said that the tale is pretty darn intense.  Don’t go into the novel expecting a bit of a spiritual presence with a slight evil undertone.  The sheer power and omnipresence of King’s ‘threat’ is almost overwhelming.  It’s everywhere.  There seems to be no letting up from the constantly looming gloom of the tale.  Where the blossoming romance brings a glimmer of joy to the novel, King quickly counteracts the happiness of this with a sudden drive to the downbeaten stakes.

The characterisation is where the novel wins at the end of the day.  It’s a personal battle to ultimately make peace with the past.  Its real intensity is with the personal demons that are confronted and conquered.  There’s so much of King in the novel that it feels like an open-surgery being performed on the author’s mind.

The returning themes and revisited characters that King incorporates into the tale don’t do the novel any justice.  True enough, it’s hardly out of the author’s comfort zone.  But the depth in characterisation and exploration of the emotional turmoil that our narrator is fighting with makes the novel stand up on its own two feet.  The novel certainly should not be dismissed purely because of its repetitive sounding premise.  It’s still one hell of a good read.

The novel runs for a total of 529 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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