Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King


People fall into two camps when the conversation turns to Stephen King. Some find his writing a bore, self-indulgent, a mess. Others find his descriptive style and narrative tone engrossing. For me, I find myself sometimes in group one, at other times, in group two. As a youngster, I would buy one book after another of Stephen King's, placing me firmly in group two.

It's not hard to know why. Carrie, The Shining, Salem's Lot, Pet Semetary et cetera were all brilliant books in my view. How can an author strike gold three times with his first three novels? It cannot be all down to luck, can it?

However, I will admit to having seen the film version of The Shining before I read the book, and here's where I encountered a problem. You see, I thought the film was brilliant and utterly terrifying. I can watch it again and again and still feel very scared. It fails to date, even though it should.

The film was criticised by Stephen King, who said it was more Stanley Kubrick's version than his own, and on reading the book, I understood why Stephen King felt that this was not a book-to-screen adaptation.

Too many things are different between the two, but I appreciated the book for what it is, and also the film.
Inbetween the release of the follow-up, Doctor Sleep, there was a Stephen King approved TV movie version of The Shining, but I didn't like it at all,sorry to say.

So I had this book on order for a while, but kept from reading it because I was a bit in Group One regarding his books in recent years. Yes, he could still do it....books like Desperation, and Misery, were high points....others, like Gerald's Game and Hearts in Atlantis were poor offerings indeed.

So I opened the book up and it reminded me of a post I saw recently about FEAR (Forget Everything and Run / Face Everything and Rise), because it says FEAR stands for F*** everything and run!

Typical King. He uses a LOT of profanity, but sometimes, it's really funny when kept in context.

People who have seen the film of The Shining but have not read the book, will be most confused by reading Doctor Sleep, so you really have to read Book One, and that book did set a standard for scares (although I do believe Pet Semetary is the book SK should be remembered for).

I even re-read The Shining prior to finally reading this one and I am glad I did.

The pace is reasonable at the start, and I wondered how Danny would fair as an adult, given all he had gone through as a kid. Two parts of Book One stood out for me - the woman in the bath tub (which scared me more in the book than in the film....if that doesn't seem possible I assure that it is) and the twin sisters who would appear asking Danny to play with them - forever.

Doctor Sleep makes more of an impact through our emotional connection to Danny, Wendy and Dick, although I kind of miss Jack (John) Torrance as a principle character, and it is something I wrestled with when writing my own take on the horror genre.

It starts well, but kicks into high gear about mid-way through the book. Stephen King is back to his best in this story, and it's the best book of his that I have read since 1997's Desperation. I hope he keeps going now. It's very brave to revisit a story so well known, but I think he's just about pulled it off. It is not as good as The Shining, but Dan the adult is an interesting, well rounded character, though there is a generous homage paid to him as a child from the first book.

In a world where writers feel pressured to write trilogies relatively quickly, it's refreshing that Stephen King can take his time to craft a wonderful sequel. The two books are best read together.

I suppose he has the luxury of being an established writer, so much so that there was great excitement about the title of the book, long before it was released.

Where the book failed a bit, was to put the Jack Torrance template, to a large degree, onto Dan as an adult. I felt it was a bit of cop-out to make him an alcoholic, just like his father. It's like SK is saying 'you've got your daddie's genes, so if he downs a litre of bourbon a day, you will too son!'

So I think it was an opportunity missed, because Danny as an adult should have come to terms with the events he had as a child. Of course, we have all had experiences as children that may shape us as an adult, but we should not let those dark elements win. They must know their place - and we should put them in their place.

It's like the adult Dan totally gave into it, and in this regard, Doctor Sleep fails in the scare factor, whereas The Shining hit them out of the park time and again.

It's a good to almost great book. If The Shining didn't exist, in a weird way, this book would be higher rated in my view.

So it's good - very good - and worth reading. Just forget (to some extent) all about The Shining and you'll enjoy the ride!