Duma Key By Stephen King

A late show of force from the artist of dread

It is a mistake to think that only those writers and other artists considered "major" have an identifiable "late style". The works of Stephen King which have followed his near-fatal accident of 1999 are crucially different from those which preceded it. It is not that he has renounced the tropes of pulp horror for something more cerebral – the present book is as full of menacing phantoms as Lisey's Story was with strange plants of a nether dimension.

Nor, in spite of the painter hero of Duma Key, is it that King has become suddenly obsessed with the question of art itself. As early as The Shining, his flawed protagonist was a failed novelist whose writer's block becomes the door through which evil enters. Part of what we may as well call "Late King" is a determination to explore the tropes of horror he has neglected hitherto – the zombie apocalypse of Cell; the other world of Lisey's Story – and part is his growing sense of regret, of loss: that, at any point, you might be doing something for the last time, having your last day without aching pain.

At various points King has announced his retirement and, though he has never yet stuck to it, several of these books are about the end of careers, or of life as it has been lived. Duma Key's protagonist, Edgar Freemantle, is a developer left maimed and brain-damaged by the collapse of one of his own cranes; the opening chapters deal with a gruelling course of mental recuperation and physical rehabilitation which Edgar's marriage does not survive. His therapists know he is contemplating suicide and suggest that he try a change of scene. Edgar ends up taking an isolated house in the Florida Keys. We jump to the correct conclusion that this is going to be another of King's Bad Places, and sit in anticipation of disaster.

Edgar's vague impulse to take up the sketching and painting that were previously set aside for business becomes an obsession. Convincingly, his attempts to do justice to the sunset becomes a serious commitment to making new the biggest cliché of amateur painting. Edgar discovers the fascination of what is difficult, and his commonplace life is transfigured by it.

But he is not the first painter to rent the house, nor even the first person on the island to recover their faculties through art. In a parallel narrative, we learn of the childhood of Edgar's landlady Elizabeth, who took up drawing after a bad fall in infancy, and of her sisters, who came to bad ends. Like her, and like Dali, who had the sense to leave, Edgar finds himself painting a ship, which progressively becomes a ship of the dead.

There is a price for art, it turns out, and not a price that Edgar would have paid if he had known it in advance. The inchoate malevolent force gradually revealed as the story progresses is not, however, quite as overwhelmingly powerful or smart as it thinks it is. Unusually for King, this is a book whose central figure is a Competent Man in the classic American mould; Edgar, even one-armed, damaged and distraught, is not a man with whom even Powers should trifle. Late King, it is becoming apparent, is not so much about defeats as about that category of victory which we can ill afford.

Roz Kaveney's 'Superheroes!' is published this month by IB Tauris
Hodder & Stoughton £18.99 (581pp) £17.09 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power