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Adventures in Bookland: Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr Mercedes

Mr Mercedes

Question: when to stop reading a book. I have no problem starting a book – and there’s a teetering pile next to my bed waiting for attention – but when should I stop reading a book once I’ve started it? All right, there’s some easy answers to this: if the book in question is so incompetently written as to become annoying; if, even after giving it a fair chance, the prospect of picking it up and carrying on seems more chore than pleasure – although there is an exception to this in the case of recognised classics: I’ll keep ploughing through these, even if they seem tedious, in the expectation that they would not have achieved classic status for no reason (and I’m just enough of a literary snob to want to tick another off the classics’ list even if I do find the reading tedious).

But as for Mr Mercedes – confession time here; although I am reviewing it, I did not read the whole book – I stopped reading despite the fact that it was a good, indeed riveting book. I stopped precisely because it was a riveting book, with all the page-turning compulsion that’s made Stephen King what he is and made me read a good fraction (although by no means all) of his books. I stopped because it was too good – or, rather, one of the characters, Brady Horsefield, the mass-murdering Mr Mercedes, was too good – in the sense of too vividly depicted – and, since nearly as much time is spent with him as the narrative point of view, I decided I really just did not want to have him inside my head any longer. So, having read to the end of part I, I skipped to the end, read his comeuppance, found out which characters had been sacrificed along the way in the service of the narrative, was dearly relieved to find out that the dog seemed to have survived, and then put the book down, satisfied and relieved. You know, much though I hate to say this, sometimes the best thing you can do is not finish a book.

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