Book Review: “Needful Things” by Stephen King

Date started: 17th October 2022
Date finished: 7th November 2022
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars

I was a latecomer to Stephen King’s novels, but I’m gradually working through them, and this was another highly enjoyable read with plenty of King trademarks. Apparently it was the first novel he wrote after resolving his drug addiction problems. It’s set in the same town as “Cujo”, a novel he can’t actually remember writing due to said addictions, but it’s quite a different beast, covering some great themes.

The townspeople of Castle Rock are intrigued by a new shop that appears in town – “Needful Things”, run by the charismatic but mysterious Leland Gaunt. It sells a very odd selection of things, but seems to have something for everyone, from a rare baseball card to a pair of sunglasses previously belonging to Elvis. Whatever your interests, there’s something in there you’ll love to have. Gaunt will sell it to you for whatever you can afford to pay – in cash, that is – but he’ll ask you for a small favour too. Just a harmless-sounding prank or something, just a bit of fun.

That’s how it seems, anyway. Soon, Gaunt has sold items to just about everyone in town, and his “pranks” spiral out of control, pitting neighbours against each other with increasingly serious consequences. Two women have a horrific fight in the street. Buildings are destroyed. A young boy suffers a sticky end. Gaunt has made people desperate for his goods, and plays his customers like pieces in a dastardly game, as he manipulates them for his own twisted pleasures.

Gaunt is a fantastic villain, and oozes charm while simulataneously revolting his victims. He knows what they want, and what they’ll do to get it, and the book is a great commentary on greed, rivalry and what we’ll stoop to doing when we’re desperate. The book has a large cast of characters who all interact in very complex ways, with terrible consequences once Gaunt starts messing with the things they care about the most. The tagline for the book is “buy now, pay later” – anyone who comes out of Gaunt’s shop with anything will certainly pay.

It’s long, like a lot of King’s books, with occasional quite lengthy background passages that possibly don’t need to be there, but there’s some wonderful descriptions and, as usual, some fantastic characters. I really loved the scene where Ace drives to a derelict area to pick up Gaunt’s car and some merchandise – it has some genuinely chilling and scary moments in it, when you realise how powerful Gaunt is. There’s plenty to keep you reading in this, and it’s got a fantastic action-packed conclusion. Excellent stuff.

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