Review: 11.22.63

By Stephen King

Hodder & Stoughton, out now

When school teacher Jake discovers he can travel back to 1958 and alter the course of history, he determines to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But will the past allow itself to be changed?

There’s a certain appropriateness to writing this review today, the 48th anniversary of JFK’s murder in Dallas, something that will forever remain controversial. Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone, or was he the fall guy for other forces? Stephen King doesn’t really get into this too much: the book wouldn’t really work if Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t in the Book Depository with a rifle aimed at the Presidential motorcade on the titular date!

But our hero doesn’t get to choose when he goes back: he arrives at a specific point in 1958, and has to “go round the long way” to get to 1963, during which time he investigates Oswald, prevents a friend from 2011 suffering a family tragedy, and falls in love. And that’s the great strength of this book – not its time travel shenanigans, the  Final Destination-esque attempts by the past to prevent Jake from changing history, its links to other King novels (and there are a load of Easter eggs for fans of his earlier stories), or its portrayal of what might have happened had Kennedy lived. It’s the relationship between Jake and Sadie which is inevitably built on a lie, and guilt on Jake’s part that his actions since arriving in 1958 may have led to tragedy for his beloved. It’s a real relationship that grows, falters and blossoms, and is paid off in a lovely way at the end of the book.

The influences on this book are huge, beyond the Jack Finney story that King mentions in his afterword. Fans of time travel books and films will recognise situations and dilemmas, but King moulds them to his own purposes, coming together in a hugely readable tale.

Verdict: It may be a book that features time travel, but it’s not a book about time travel – it’s a love story played out on a huge canvas.  8/10

Paul Simpson

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