The Shining is arguably one of the most known and loved novels of the horror genre. There is nothing I can really say about it that hasn’t already been said on the internet, in print or spoken in the three and a half decades since it was first published. But I’m going to review it anyway. Why not start in at the deep end?
Since I’d discovered the genius of Stephen King after reading one of his more recent novels, 10.11.63, I decided I wanted to take a step back and give some of his real classics a go. I purchased a Stephen King omnibus of The Shining, Carrie and Misery (an Ebay bargain!) and started diligently working my way through, starting with The Shining. Wow. In my opinion, this book truly deserves its status as a modern masterpiece. I have never before felt so tense, anxious and truly horrified at a book, whilst simultaneously wondering at the magnificent writing talent.
Anyway – enough of my new Stephen King obsession and onto the story. The Shining basically centres around a family – the Dad, recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance, his long-suffering wife Wendy, and their son Danny. Danny is just five years old but has had to deal with problems far beyond his years; not just his father’s alcoholism and temper but he also has the additional problem of his “Shining”. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, this means that he is able to read others’ thoughts and he has visions which often depict the future, or even the past.
The book has a wonderfully creepy premise. Jack, fired from his job as a teacher after attacking a student, obtains a new job as a caretaker at a hotel. That hotel is of course The Overlook, nestled in the mountains overlooking Colorado, and Jack and his family will be moving in during the winter season. They arrive on the last day of it’s open season and watch as the final guests check out, followed by the hotel’s staff. Then they are alone – it’s just the three of them and the hotel.
Danny is plagued with visions of the place before they even move there, and he can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong. The trouble starts innocently enough – a swarm of wasps stinging Danny in the night, a fire extinguisher which, for a moment, looks like a snake. Around the same time as Danny is becoming more and more fearful, his father, Jack, is also discovering that the hotel is not as innocuous as it seems when he discovers a scrapbook in the basement which reveals its less-than-savoury past. The author gradually brings things up a notch; the hotel begins to get into the whole family’s heads, music and parties from the past become present and bodies are discovered which should have been removed many years before. But by the time the family realise the danger they are in it could be too late – they are snowed in; alone at the top of a mountain with no way out. The grand hotel is a fantastic setting for this spine-tingling horror; I could visualise clearly how glamorous its parties in the lavish Grand Ballroom could have once appeared. The scene near the end, where Jack finds himself at an eerie masquerade ball in an empty room, is truly mesmerising and haunting.
I think the reason I may have avoided Stephen King novels for so long is because the supernatural element didn’t appeal. I usually prefer my horror to be a little more real; psychological thrillers, murderers, that type of thing. But with The Shining, King seamlessly blends a very human family drama with the paranormal. Human weaknesses and ‘inhuman monsters’ are brought together, making a book which feels very real, even when it is bordering on the ridiculous. The characters are explored in depth, particularly through the clever way King shows us their thoughts, and I empathised with all of them at times. I truly cared what happened to them, and I didn’t want that evil hotel to get the better of poor little Danny, or his family.
I’m sure pretty much everybody knows what happens in The Shining from the famous Kubrick film – but that isn’t an excuse not to read the book. If you haven’t already, I recommend that you get your hands on a copy. It’s a tense, horrifying and emotional ride.