Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
The general consensus is that monsieur King is on a huge upswing in quality after years of a dip. He is now writing again in the same style as his earlier work that brought him so much fame.
I can’t really comment on this as I have not read the so called “dip” books, but I can vouch for the quality of his last three or four books. I’ve enjoyed them immensely and have been looking forward to Doctor Sleep since he announced he was going to attempt it well over a year ago.
On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the "steam" that children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep." Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.
First of all, how cool is it when you can write a book and make a reference to a character in said novel that your son has just written? It is subtle but obvious to anyone who has read Joe Hill’s excellent, “NOS4R2.”
If one of my son’s becomes an author one day, I will definitely do that!
So begins “Doctor Sleep,” the “never anticipated but since it has been announced long-awaited” sequel to the Shining. The first half of the story focuses on Dan Torrence, the little boy who displayed a power called the “shining” in the original. It enabled him to sense things that were about to happen or see into other worlds beyond our own.
In “Doctor Sleep” King recaps Dan’s childhood and explores how he develops into a man whilst also struggling to deal with his ability. It would have been easy to gloss over this, but King takes his time without making it laborious.
Dan is a great character. He struggles not to succumb to the same alcohol addiction that consumed his father but the battle is rather in vain. Eventually he loses direction in his life and ends up a wandering drunk. Throughout this however, he is dam likeable and King makes you root for him even when he makes quite abhorrent decisions.
Along the way, Dan encounters a number of great characters: some give him a chance whilst others purely help him down the evil path. There is also the reappearance of everyone’s favourite repairman Mr Hallorman.
Initially “Doctor Sleep” is rather directionless. This might sound like a criticism but with King’s writing it is anything but. I enjoy nothing more than enjoying two of King’s characters meeting and then shooting the breeze. I have said it before, King writes characters in such an effortless way that you can’t help enjoy just watching them.
There are hints of some unsavoury individuals interspersed at the start of the novel in the form of the True Knot and their recruitment of others, but this is broadly unexplained and adds intrigue without answers.
It is not until Abra Stone is introduced that the story really gains purpose. Abra possesses a way with the shining that is stronger than anyone else we have ever encountered. Naturally, this makes her a target for others that wish to possess and harness this power.
Abra is a refreshing character. So often, the child that unwittingly finds themselves in the centre of the plot’s conflict is portrayed as the victim. They are the heroine that has to be protected at all costs and are usually vulnerable and scared. Abra is none of those things. She is ballsy, independent and strong-minded. She is sure of her ability but also understands that others are more worldly than her. Sure, she has her vulnerable moments but it is her parents who are portrayed as the weaker characters. As a result she too is a joy to read.
As I mentioned earlier, the antagonists are the True-Knot, a group of quasi-vampires. These are more caricatures then anything but still worthy characters. Rosie the hat is suitably sinister and becomes increasingly unstable as the novel progresses.
The pace of the novel is even, with the recap of Dan Torrance’s teenage years serving to ease readers back into the world of the Shining nicely. It then quickens as the real conflict is revealed and builds nicely to a good old-fashioned showdown.
This has a more of a “Stand/Desperation” vibe rather than the original “Shining,” but is riveting nonetheless. The finale is once again very good (who said King could not produce endings?) with all plot points concluded satisfactorily. There is also quite an emotional feel to it as Dan finally confronts his demons.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed King’s latest. He continues to cement his status as one of my all time favourite authors. I would certainly welcome a third entry in the series.
My rating: 8.6