Saturday, 12 April 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
Stephen King
Kindle Edition

First a confession; I was not looking forward to this book. I saw no reason for a follow up to The Shining, a book that left a deep claw mark in my psyche. I was concerned that there was no way King could create something that would come close to its impact. I was only partly right; King has weaved a wonderful story here, in the same universe as The Shining, rather than a straight-up sequel. As always his visualisations and characters are engaging throughout. Make no mistake though - this is no where near The Shining in scares, imagery or power. But then again, it isn't meant to be.

I'm going to assume some knowledge of The Shining here, and would seriously dissuade anyone from reading Doctor Sleep if you have no knowledge of that original story. However you can jump into this book if you've never read King's original novel, if you have a vague idea of what happened (or watched Kubrick's movie). You'll lose something from the experience though, as Doctor Sleep plays with concepts and moments from The Shining, which is hugely satisfying when you've read it.

Dan Torrence is an alcoholic, like his father before him. But then it's no wonder when you see dead people, among other things. Always on the run, Dan calls no single place his home, until he stumbles upon a small New Hampshire town and gets his life (and abilities) under control. Not far away is another like him, a young girl called Abra, with even more powerful "shine" abilities; a talent that soon gets her noticed by vampire like beings known as the True Knot, who rely on people like her and Dan for their immortal existence. Now Dan must protect Abra, and in the process come face to face with some of his own demons.

Unlike its predecessor, there aren't that many ghosts in this book, or those dreaded topiary that still freak me out to this day (seriously, I didn't like them before reading King's book and now I absolutely loathe them. If you have no idea what I'm talking about go read The Shining - they didn't include it in the movie. That's how freaky it is). But Doctor Sleep does have a very interesting examination of an alcoholic's life when they've given up the booze. Considering King himself is an alcoholic who has turned away from the drink, it makes the story an uncomfortably close glimpse into the author's world. Writing what you know has never felt so apt. It gives this otherwise supernatural story a realism that lifts it from a standard good versus evil thriller into something a lot more human. Dan is still, in my opinion, a bit of an dull character, acting as a cypher more often than not for King. But the others in the story more than make up for this, especially Abra and the members of the True Knot. Bad guys have rarely been this ordinary, and King expertly ties them into larger world events. As for Abra, she is everything Dan wasn't in The Shining; she plays with her abilities, makes the most of them and insists on using them for a purpose. She is in a way what Dan would have been had he not (a) had an abusive father and (b) been locked up in a haunted hotel where said father tried to kill him and his mother.

The legacy of evil and abuse is very much at the centre of Doctor Sleep, so called because Dan eventually finds a way to use his abilities for good; helping the old people in their final moments pass from this world peacefully. The whole book feels like an examination of legacy, and how it only has power for as long as you let it (a bit like ghosts). The most interesting aspects of the story are to do with the shining ability itself, and how it works.

Doctor Sleep will disappoint anyone expecting more of the same from the original. This is not the same kind of story, not even the same genre in a way, bearing more resemblance to King's other book Firestarter, which also featured a man and a young girl (with mind powers) trying to escape evil. But if taken for what it is, Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor to The Shining and is clearly a much more mature story from a more mature writer. I really enjoyed it, much more so than I expected, so can highly recommend any King fans, or those who like a spooky tale, giving it a go.

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