Sunday, November 03, 2013

Something new from the Overlook Hotel

Since the relatively late year of 2008, I've been an admirer of Stephen King's horror writing.

But having gone through some of his more 'classic' works in that year -- Salem's Lot, It, The Stand, The Mist -- my free-time reading became captured by other things.

A few weeks ago, Joshua Rothman's New Yorker review of Doctor Sleep, King's newest novel and sequel to The Shining (1977), reminded me of what I enjoyed about King's writing and made me want to read his latest.

But, although I'd -- of course -- seen the film of The Shining (several times), I had never actually read the book.

So I decided to read that first, before checking out Doctor Sleep.

And I'm very glad I did.

Dyed-in-the-wool King fans might think a loud 'Duh!' when reading this, but in case I'm not the last person to find this out: the book is very different than the film. In terms of plot and characterisation it's also much better. (Though I think the film remains a visual and atmospheric masterpiece and very compelling contribution to the horror genre.)

The book creates a much richer constellation of emotions and conflicts and background around the three main characters (married couple Jack and Wendy Torrance and their son Danny). Perhaps most importantly, Jack's struggles with both alcohol and his temper are thoroughly worked out. This background makes the increasingly claustrophobic horror of the Outlook Hotel all the more significant, as Jack's descent into madness -- much more gradual and compelling than in the film -- gets going.

The Shining is a very, very creepy and disturbing book.

In a good way, mind you. 

Anyway, having finished The Shining I carried on to Doctor Sleep  and finished it yesterday.

I'd definitely recommend it to fans of horror and/or fantasy fiction, but it's a very different kind of book than The Shining. Almost the opposite kind of book, in fact: it's far more a geographically sprawling thriller than a claustrophobic horror novel.

But it's definitely intriguing.

As Rothman says:

“The Shining” is introspective, austere, and unsettlingly plausible, which is why it comes to mind whenever you visit a creepy hotel, play croquet, or see an angry dad with his kid. But “Doctor Sleep,” which feels less like a sequel and more like a spinoff, is unapologetically fun, free-wheeling, and bizarre. It’s about a wandering band of psychic vampires who stalk clairvoyant children, kill them, and then inhale their “steam,” or psychic energy, for food. A grownup Dan Torrance—the little boy from “The Shining”—must help a young girl fight off these vampires, who have sensed her psychic abilities from afar and have chosen her as their meal of the week. In place of its predecessor’s unsettling familial violence, “Doctor Sleep” has thrilling gunfights, absurd satanic rituals, and wildly entertaining telepathic showdowns. 

And it contains one of the best (i.e. most harrowing) descriptions of a post-bender hangover that I've ever read.

We're well past Halloween now, but with winter approaching, The Shining makes for perfectly good (i.e., unsettling) night-time reading.

And the sequel's quite good as well. 

If not exactly The Reason for the Season, the two books make a great accompaniment to it.

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