There’s a quote from The Sunday Times on the front of this book which says “Hugely anticipated.” I think that’s fairly obvious. Over 30 years after the original book, Stephen King comes out with his first ever proper sequel, and it’s to one of his most famous novels; The Shining. How exciting!
I was a little concerned reading the blurb that this story sounded like it didn’t have much to do with the original novel. And in a way it doesn’t. Except, of course, for the main character, Danny, who is now dealing with his powers and his memories of that winter in the Overlook Hotel in present day as a fully grown adult.
King does begin by clearing up some unanswered questions about the end of The Shining in his Prefatory Matters at the beginning of the novel. Danny and his mother Wendy are inhabiting a small apartment in Florida, living off a settlement received after the Overlook Hotel burnt to the ground. They keep in touch with Dick, and Dick helps Danny overcome some of his trauma from the Overlook. The book quickly moves forward a couple of decades to find Danny – now known as Dan – a lone wanderer, moving from place to place and job to job, plagued by visions and nightmares of his childhood and only finding solace at the bottom of a bottle. He’s inherited his father’s penchant for a drink, and he has just about hit rock bottom. Dan being a grownup alcoholic was a little disconcerting for me, as I, like many other readers, loved the sweet, clever little boy from The Shining and struggled to get my head around the idea of him growing into a normal man with very real problems. Dan has more of an excuse than some though – he is haunted with visions due to his ‘Shining’, and he sees alcohol as his only way to escape them.
But he can’t go on like this forever, otherwise it would make for an extremely depressing book and luckily Dan stumbles across a small town called Frazier, where he manages to make a home for himself. He finds some friends, one of whom is a recovering alcoholic himself, and – parallel to the writer’s own journey – he embarks on the Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step programme to sobriety. He gets a job as an orderly at a local hospice, where he and a psychic cat called Azzie help people at the end of their lives cross over peacefully.
During Dan’s recovery he begins to have regular contact with a young girl called Abra. With a shining which is stronger than anything he has seen before, she is able to reach across state lines to communicate with him, leaving notes for him on his blackboard, sending pictures directly to his mind and communicating with his old friend, Tony.
While all this is going on, we meet the True Knot, a group of vampire-type people who travel across the country living off steam; a substance they can only get from torturing and killing young children with the Shining. Of course, once the True Knot get a whiff of Abra’s immense power, they want a taste of her for themselves. And who’s there to help her? Good old Dan, of course.
Most of the book covers Dan and Abra’s battle with the True Knot who, whilst decidedly creepy, are nothing compared to the Overlook’s powerful ghosts. Nevertheless, it is still a gripping tale and the clever ways Abra and Dan use their psychic powers to outwit the Knot are fascinating.
The rest of this review contain spoilers, read on at your own risk…
If you’re going into this book expecting another The Shining, you’ll probably be disappointed. But Doctor Sleep still works well as a gripping paranormal story in its own right. The villain, Rose The Hat, the leader of the True Knot, is a great character who I loved to hate, but I don’t think she’s in the same league as some of the characters from the first novel. This is a more human story, following Dan’s journey from rock bottom to finding peace after all of the trauma in his childhood. It is definitely a happier story, however, this is also its downfall – as Abra is more than twice as old as Danny was when he faced the overlook, more powerful and has Dan and a loving family to support her, I never found myself that genuinely worried for her safety. The final showdown is a little disappointing too; Dan and Abra get rid of most of the True Knot by conveniently throwing a bit of cancer at them and then go on to overpower Rose with relative ease.
I would have liked a little information more about the True Knot – their history and how they began. We know that they’ve been around a long time and are extremely successful, travelling under the radar across America in RVs, but we never really get to understand what they are.
I also thought the cat was going to do more, seeing as he’s the front cover image – he’s actually a very minor character in the book, simply following Dan around and leading him to dying people to help. The book would have worked perfectly well without the inclusion of the cat.
Last gripe – I missed Dick! He was a great character and basically the unsung hero of The Shining, but he isn’t around in this book much at all. I understand that Dan lost touch with him when he was in the grip of alcoholism, but I’d have thought that a friend as good as Dick would have been around to provide him with the help he so clearly needed.
But despite some small flaws, this is a great story and it definitely was a page turner. King intersperses the paranormal with very human problems in that way he does so well and it’s just so readable. And, of course there’s that great bit where he references Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter all in one page! What a legend. I would recommend this book for King fans whether you have read the original or not – although having read The Shining definitely helps – if you like gripping, supernatural stories, you’re sure to love this.