Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
I finished reading Doctor Sleep last week but decided to take a few days to reflect before I wrote this blog; I wanted to give a fair review not clouded by the fact it is a new King novel. I have been pretty excited at the prospect of reading the sequel to The Shining for over a year now since it was first announced with a publication date. Having loved The Shining (and everything else King writes) I had high hopes, and I was not disappointed.
Doctor Sleep opens shortly after The Shining finishes then skips through Danny’s life fairly quickly until we catch up with him in the early part of the 21st Century. Danny is an alcoholic, and not a very nice person with it. Plenty of fights, one night stands, alcohol and drug fuelled binges have led Danny to his own rock bottom and this is where both Danny and the story turn a corner. Alongside Danny’s story we are introduced to a young girl called Abra, and like Danny she has the ‘shine’ and she shines very brightly. We also meet the ‘True Knot’, a group of not-quite-vampires that travel around America feeding from the ‘steam’ that children with the shining give off when being tortured to death – they are not nice people. I won’t go any further than that in terms of story, there are no plot spoilers in the above, and you’d probably learn more by reading the book blurb, all these characters are introduced within the first 50 pages of the book.
For me, this novel delivers what I want from a new Stephen King book. Kings style comes off of the page in its usual spellbinding way – the story builds nicely, introducing characters well, picking up pace throughout, throwing the reader an occasional glance into what the future holds for the cast. I liked the small nods and references to The Shining, but there is enough exposition to ensure that this book can be read as a stand-alone novel. You don’t have to know The Shining at all, let alone inside out to enjoy Doctor Sleep. I’ve not read The Shining for several years, yet I did not feel like I was really missing anything. Maybe if I had just read it I would see some other references that are not signposted, this does not detract from the story or its telling though. I liked the characters in the novel and they stay with you in between reading the book and after finishing. The good guys aren’t perfect and the bad guys are really bad!
What I particularly liked about Doctor Sleep is that King is not trying to be scary, he is not trying to write The Shining again, by his own omission he realises that those readers that were scared by The Shining are now grown up and get scared about different things. King is showing the reader what happened to that gifted boy after the events at the Outlook Hotel. Danny has been developed brilliantly from the five year old he was in the mid-seventies to the man he has become throughout the time period of Doctor Sleep. The journey he has gone through seems right and true.
Now, it was pretty clear that I was always going to give Doctor Sleep a glowing write up, I am a huge fan, and I understand that King’s writing isn’t up everyone’s street. But, I do think that this book has a lot going for it and can appeal to a wide ranging audience. It’s not out there looking for scares, it’s trying to tell the story of how friends come together to overcome adversity. It is not King’s best book; it is not a huge sprawling novel like The Stand, It or Under the Dome. It does seem quite personal though, I think that King wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance and that’s what he set out to write – this, in my opinion, he has achieved. I will go back to this book in the future; I will probably read it with The Shining in a few years’ time. I am sure I will enjoy it as much then, if not more.