There has been a LOT of press for Doctor Sleep and I have been looking forward to reading it since it was first announced, what feels like FOREVER ago. As the hype machine cranked up proper, I realised that it had been a while since I had read The Shining. And then I realised that by “a while” what I actually meant was twenty five motherfucking years. I read it when I was thirteen and now look at me, I’m thirty eight and felt I should really re-visit Danny’s fateful stay at the Overlook before reading the story of What Happened After.
And so here we are. It may have been twenty five years, but it turns out the opening line of The Shining is burned into my mind. But somehow, not much else had stuck and what I thought I’d remembered turned out to be from the film so I totally blame Stanley Kubrick for messing with my mind. We all know that Jack Torrance, a disgraced English teacher, takes a job as the winter caretaker of a remote hotel, The Overlook. The focus of the novel is on his son, who has what the Overlook’s cook calls ‘the shining”, he’s Alison DuBois with the added treat that he can see into people’s minds and read their thoughts like a book. Naturally, the location and the boy don’t mix and plenty of unpleasant shenanigans ensues.
This is early King, and I have to say it shows. While I still maintain that, when it comes to mainstream authors, nobody can spin a yarn and pull you into a story like he can, there’s a roughness to the prose and style here that has been smoothed to a gleaming polish in later works. The device of dropping people’s thoughts, in brackets, in the middle of sentences ,isn’t quite as artfully deployed as it could be. The ending, King’s most frequent failing, feels rushed and the happy ever after coda feels incongruous.
However, the characters, as always, are so richly textured and carefully detailed, that you really invest in them. The Overlook’s history is delved into so deeply it almost becomes another character in the book. It isn’t as straightforward as it being a haunted house. There’s something far nastier going on here and the dread increases with every chapter (though their artless titles does try to counteract that). Along with the dread, King ratchets up the tension by cross cutting between the Overlook cook trying to ride to the rescue through near impassible weather and Jack’s murderous pursuit of his son. By the time you get to those parts, if your knuckles aren’t white, well, they really should be. I find that I’m still a bit creeped out by this a few days after finishing it and while I’m so excited to read the sequel, I think I’ll leave it a little while before I get stuck in……