Hodder & Stoughton £19.99 (881pp) £17.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Under the Dome, By Stephen King

An alien force field that hails from Planet Bush

Just as Dickens saw Victorian England as a family with the wrong members in control, so the US, in Stephen King's vast new state-of-the-nation novel, is a town with the wrong family in control. Obama may be in the White House, but for a lot of the voters in Chester's Mill, he isn't really their President. Real power is local, and rests in the three Selectmen, of whom one is an ineffectual yes-man, one addicted to pain-killers and the third Big Jim Rennie.

Rennie is an all-American hypocrite whose methamphetamine factory funds, and is excused by, his donations to an ultra-Evangelical church. He starves or funds civic amenities according to who sucked up to him last. When he tells one of his less egregiously incompetent aides that "you're doing one hell of a job", King's not especially subtle reference to the Bush/Cheney years becomes overt.

This is King's Hurricane Katrina novel, but the disaster that strikes Chester's Mill is not the sort of flood or storm that gets classed as an Act of God. The town is suddenly surrounded by an alien force field that lets in some air, some water and radio waves, and not much else. Pacemakers and iPods blow up near it, birds break their necks on it. Chester's Mill is on its own, with limited supplies of food and fuel and the clock ticking on everyone's survival. Stupidity, though, is a far quicker killer than starvation or cold.

Everything that happens is seen by Rennie in terms of its effect on his personal power. When the Pentagon reconscripts an Iraq veteran currently working as a short-order cook to be its man on the spot, Rennie kills people who know too much about him, then frames Captain Barbara, throwing a couple of dead women provided by his son, the local serial killer, in for good measure. He burns down the local newspaper, instigates a riot at the supermarket; it would be textbook Machiavellian rule were Rennie not so staggeringly incapable of coming to grips with the town's real problems.

King's problems with the subtle, and his love of big melodramatic set-pieces, work for him here. This is a book about how easily irrationality takes over and how hard it is for intelligent and competent people to realise their enemies' stupidity. For much of its length, Under the Dome talks quite specifically about the American polity and its problems - cronyism, the condoning of brutality, voters who want a candidate they could have a beer with even if he despises them. But when the bills come due in Chester's Mill, they come for all of us. Air grows stale; water pools and grows stagnant; particulates clog the air. Even without the crowning idiocy that brings about the book's apocalyptic climax, Chester's Mill is going to choke and fry like the whole world will, quite soon.

Captain Barbara and his ineffectual liberal aallies have flaws of their own, aside from lack of imagination. Barbara has a dark past, and the middle- aged editor has spent her life being too comfortable about other people's corruption. If Under the Dome has a weakness, it is that King's sentimental fondness for his inadequate good people undercuts the driving scorn with which he treats everyone else. In this book some survive through the kindness of strangers. Faced with environmental collapse and political tyranny, this is a prescription of doubtful utility.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project