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NEL, London, 1983
first published in the USA in 1977 by New American Library
(price: 1.50; 214 pages)

dedication: For Suan Artz and WGT

The blurb on the back:

At 9.05 am in Room 16 Placerville High School Mrs Underwood realised that she had to back to the basics in Algebra. The exam results had not been good.
At 9.50 the change-of-class bell rang. But in Room 16 Algebra was already long over. For Mrs Underwood, over for ever. She lay dead on the floor, shot through the head, her eyes still wide open, her blood already dark and congealed as a fly settled hungrily on her bare neck. Mr Vance was dead as well. The bullet had caught him full in the throat as he came through the door.
The kids were still there, not hurt but not going anywhere. He boy with the gun, sitting so casually on the edge of the teacher's desk, had decided that. He watched and waited as outside the police circled and conferred. School had been evacuated. Except for Room 16 where the kids still had a lot to learn.
The end of the first lesson. Time for a second, a third. A whole timetable of terror stretching ahead of them...

opening lines:
The morning I got it on was nice; a nice May morning. What made it nice was that I'd kept my breakfast down, and the squirrel I spotted in Algebra II.

Rage is the earliest novel by Stephen King to be published. (That is, it wasn't the first to be published, but it was the first he wrote - it turned up later on.) Now, as a general principle, I've avoided Mr King's work on this site since there's not really any point - there are hundreds of perfectly decent sites dedicated to his work, and we might as well try to explore some other, more neglected areas. But this one is interesting, because it's the only book of his that you can no longer buy new.

The story is as simple as all King stories: a boy is in trouble at school, about to be expelled, so he tools up and wreaks his revenge on his teacher, then holds the rest of his class hostage. The kids discover things about themselves, come to terms with their inner selves in a kind of group therapy session, before the inevitable crisis explodes around them. Seemingly intended to be somewhere between the angst of The Catcher in the Rye and the adult-less anarchy of Lord of the Flies, it's really quit a nice little book, because, even at this early stage, King's ability to tell tales is obvious. Essentially he's the John Fogerty of fiction - you don't read his stuff for originality or innovation or surprises, but for the sheer virtuosity of his craftsmanship, and his phenomenal ability to do straightforward things brilliantly. What stops it from being one of his front-rank books is that it suffers seriously from being a first-person narrative: and the narrator sounds just like Stephen King, not the character he's supposed to be.

But all that became irrelevant when the High School population of the US decided that they wanted to start doing this kind of thing themselves. The wave of school shootings by pupils in the 1990s made this a particularly controversial novel, and King eventually decided to withdraw it from sale. His interest in and analysis of the relationship between art and reality has always been sharp - he was addressing the issue as far back as Danse Macabre - but on this one, he finally gave up the struggle. (Maybe he figured the book wasn't worth the struggle.)

So we have the almost unique situation of an artist banning his own work. I say almost unique, because there have been a couple of other examples. There was the late Stanley Kubrick, of course, with his ban on A Clockwork Orange being shown in Britain (too much identification with gang culture over here, apparently), and then there was Cliff Richard. Oh yes, Mr Richard's not averse to a bit of self-censorship. Back in 1975 he released a single titled 'Honky Tonk Angels', only to discover that the song was actually about prostitutes (you wouldn't guess from the title, would you?). He promptly instructed his record company to withdraw the record and it disappeared before it could become a hit.

So there you are. When you come across a quiz question that asks for the connexion between Stanley Kubrick, Cliff Richard and Stephen King, you'll know the answer. (And you'll know that you're playing one of my games.)

Bonus Bachman:

The Long Walk