Honestly, I don’t know how to write a review for this book. I could just say last night was the most awesome reading experience of my life. The last time I stayed up the whole night reading horror was when I read The Shining, which was my (mind-blowing) introduction to Stephen King and all things horror. The thing is, no one is probably going to read this anyway, because all my Stephen King reviews ending up sounding almost exactly the same. But this book was different and in a way, I think King scrapped all his usual tricks.
Summary: The Overlook wasn’t done with him. That could be the theme of Danny’s life up to the events of this book. 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.” Meanwhile, on highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. The True Knot, who look harmless, are in fact quasi-immortals, who torture and kill children with ‘the shining’ to feed on their ‘steam’. When Dan meets the little Abra Stone, through her gift, the brightest shining ever seen, he finds a student, much in the way Dick Halloran had found him. The danger she faces from the True reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.
Of course, that is not all. But it never is, with Stephen King, is it?
My thoughts: Despite being the biggest King fan you’d find, I don’t think I ever used the word ‘unique’ to describe any of his books; but Doctor Sleep was – wholly unique in its concepts, themes, even characters, and so so unique in the way it scared the hell out of me. Stephen King’s books have always been more than just “boo! i scared you!” for me, and I’ve hardly ever had to go searching for meaning. Even The Shining was not just about those scary special effects and Doctor Sleep is quite the same in that respect. It would be disappointing to people who read horror for the gore, the adrenaline rush and nothing more; who distinguish good horror from bad simply as scarier from not-so-scary. Well, you can’t impress everybody; except that, after reading 11.22.63, Misery, Under the Dome, Joyland, it should be plenty clear that King can be amazingly genre-defying.
Doctor Sleep is a much more grown-up book. Whereas The Shining could be interpreted as a straightforward haunting, Doctor Sleep is anything but. For one, in The Shining, Jack Torrance is manipulated by the presences in The Overlook, Danny is scared by them. In Doctor Sleep, our characters have already been through so much; they’re a lot more resilient, not quite as vulnerable. Basically, they don’t lose control, they fight back. So while the focus in most Stephen King books is the psychological breakdown of the characters, the demons in them and the ‘getting inside their heads and screwing things up’, which affects the reader too; Doctor Sleep is more about concepts – scary, freaky concepts of life and death, the after and the in between, souls, ‘ghosties’ and most importantly, the shining. The idea of the True Knot, our undead villains, their strange tongue, is incredibly imaginative. That Danny uses his ability to help people die is both disturbing and nice. The big and little ideas strewn over the book, of protecting family, of locking ghosts away inside your mind, the death flies that swarm on people who are about to die and using the ‘wheel’ to swap minds are well crafted. And if you ever wondered just what the shining was, other than a convenient goosebump-inducing plot device, this book will make things much clearer.
Abra Stone is a wonderful character; with much more personality than the little Danny of The Shining. I like her family too and the way it adds a human element to a book that is otherwise full of characters with special abilities or outright monsters. And I like grown-up Dan a lot more than little Danny, too. While he closely mirrors his father’s life, more than you’d want a protagonist to, there is a key difference between him and Jack. While Jack Torrance was the victim of The Overlook (and himself), while I felt less hatred and more pity towards him, while we can say he tried desperately to stop himself (he did one redeeming thing at the end), he was never the hero Dan turns into. Dan Torrance is a good guy, when all I can say for Jack was that he tried to be good. But I like that Dan can admit he loved his father, with all his goods and bads (and there were many bads) and I like how easily Dan takes on the role of uncle/teacher/protector for Abra. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he looks like Jax Teller. (Which reminds me, all the pop culture references are so entertaining! There were allusions to Harry Potter, The Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Hamlet, Moby Dick, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, The Beatles, hell, even Twilight.)
Basically, Doctor Sleep isn’t just one story like The Shining was. It isn’t an ‘epic’, either, as the Goodreads summary calls it, because it might just be a bit simple to be one. It is definitely a combination of many stories; of the recovering alcoholic, the little girl with more abilities than a little girl should have to handle, a doctor who helps people die (assisted by a cat with the eerie ability to predict people’s death.) On their own, these can seem to be borrowed from many of King’s own books; but that doesn’t mean they don’t fit perfectly together and create something intriguing, complex. And finally, the book is the true ending to what started all those years ago in The Shining. Having read Doctor Sleep, I can’t imagine how I found The Shining complete
I am so glad I could finish this book just in time to close the R.I.P. Challenge. Happy Halloween! Now let me leave you with this little quote: “Life was a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it started.”