Doctor Sleep by Stephen King – review

vJinkxbMiMQ3t2v8sJsmoTFzI wasn’t really aware that Stephen King had a problem with Kubrick’s film of The Shining until recently. If that’s surprising, it just demonstrates my own particular lack of interest in this most successful of all genre writers. In truth, I saw The Shining years ago and didn’t think much of it (certainly didn’t find it frightening), and more or less forgot all about it until by chance I started watching it with my ‘A’ Level students and discovered its technical virtues and through them started to appreciate it. I went through much the same process with any number of other movies, including The Exorcist.

Now, I thought I’d adequately supplied myself with books to read this summer, but it turns out I was wrong by a long way. In fact, I ran out of (printed) books to read after the first week. I had a few electronic books on my phone but we’ve established I shouldn’t read off a screen.

So I went on the hunt for some anglophone books and thought I might have to drive the two hours or so to Strasbourg to get some. Turns out (again!), there’s a small section of books in English in the Fnac in Belfort.

Bar one book (a fourth in a series of which I’ve only read one so far), there wasn’t really anything there to my taste. I hesitated over Under the Dome simply because it’s over 1000 pages, but with memories of the terrible TV series in my mind, I put it down in favour of Doctor Sleep, which (it turns out) is a sequel to The Shining.

I might have read The Shining, but so many years ago that I’ve long forgotten it. It would have been, ooh, around the time the film came out I guess, or shortly before. I think there was a kid in my class at school was reading it and he may have lent the book to me. I would have been in my mid-teens anyway, pre-sixthform.

Anyway, I was aware there were some key differences between film and book, and Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the book, natch. King very deftly fills in the background, without doing a great big exposition dump, so even if you don’t remember the book, you get the idea.

The story is inspired by a reader question: what happened to Danny Torrance, you know, afterwards. The answer is in Doctor Sleep, in which the young boy who survived the Overlook Hotel disaster with his mother drifts into an unhappy and lonely life, until he encounters a kid who has the shining even stronger than he did as a child. The ‘horror’ aspect of the story is the group of predators the two encounter: a vividly drawn group of characters who pose as retirees on a road trip in their Winnebagos. I put ‘horror’ in scare quotes because, again, I don’t find this stuff (or much so-called horror) at all frightening. But: it is kind of creepy the next time you see a group of camper vans.

As a non-fan of King, I found it very readable (duh), not necessarily unputdownable, but entertaining throughout. It probably took 300 pages (too many, as these things go) to grip me, but it never bored me, and it was a good choice for a holiday read, took me through a week. King’s style is familiar, and he does make this kind of thing seem deceptively easy, which of course it isn’t. This probably isn’t his best work (I wouldn’t know), but it seemed like more than a throwaway, cash-in sequel.

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