So this is a first. Stephen King has often cross pollinated his characters from one book into another, he’s written a fantasy series, he’s published a serialised novel and he’s republished a “writer’s cut” of The Stand with lots of deleted material restored. But he’s never written a bona fide sequel to a previously standalone novel before. And while not even his most ardent fan would be excited for Cujo 2: Electric Boogaloo, the anticipation for a novel about the little kid from The Shining all grown up has swelled to almost deafening levels.
Well, it was worth the wait. It’s always a bugbear of mine how authors of sequels have to incorporate information from the previous novel(s) for those who can’t be bothered to read it. It always irks me because, firstly if you want to read the follow up, why wouldn’t you want to start at the beginning? But also, the backstory is often quite artlessly woven in (Armistead Maupin is the worst offender of this in Tales of The City. By the time you get the last of the six novels in the original series, he’s just regurgitating whole chunks of the predecessors). So it’s a relief when the opening chapters tell you just enough of Danny’s past as it takes us from his traumatised childhood to his present state as a recovering alcoholic adult, before starting the story proper. That these opening chapters also contain some of the most terrifying imagery he’s conjured up in years can’t go unnoticed. I started reading this at 1am and very quickly had to stop lest I NEVER slept again.
So Dan Torrance is now ten years sober, regularly attending AA meetings and working as an orderly in a hospice. He still has the shining and uses his talent at the hospice in a way that earns him the (goodnatured) nickname of the book’s title. He can also sense that out there somewhere is a young girl who is more powerful than he ever was, but like him she is in trouble and needs his help. When his path begins to cross with Abra Stone (my compulsion to yell “CADABRA!” after I read her name is nicely offset early on when he makes it her email address), Dan finds himself up against some truly unpleasant people who want Abra for their own evil ends.
A bunch of evil undead carnies, called The True Knot sustain themselves not with blood but with what they call steam. It’s an essence only found in people who have the shining and well, you can imagine how it’s extracted. This is Stephen King, after all. When their latest victim accidentally pulls Abra into the oldest member of the True’s head (yes, I know how that sounds), they realise the answer to all their steam prayers is right there. Abra knows they won’t stop until they have her so she needs to fight back. And she needs Dan to help her.
I maintain my opinion, previously reiterated in my reviews on here, that there is nobody who can tell a story like King can. Yes, he’s had his duff moments, but when he’s at the top of his game, for characters and storytelling, he is pretty much unassailable. While the story of Abra’s clash with the True is deftly and excitingly told, so is the history of some of its members. But this is Dan Torrance’s story and his is, surprisingly, quite beautiful. His internal battle with the awful things he did while he was trying to drink the pain away is unflinching and should make you ache. I broke my cardinal rule of reading for the final 15 pages, all of which focus on Dan’s redemption. I read it walking along the street (something I always tut at people for doing) as I simply couldn’t stop reading. And those final pages are just so beautiful and moving that I’m not embarrassed at all to confess that I burst into tears while reading them. Yeah, I’ve had butcher moments in my life, but this book took me on such a glorious journey that I was very sad when it was over.