Generally, I save my book reviews for Goodreads and Amazon, but considering this one is being made into a movie, I thought it would be fun to do a two-parter: one post on the book, another on the movie (when it comes out in November 2019).
If you’re anything like me, that last sentence struck you by surprise. Like, “What?! They made a sequel to The Shining? AND it's being made into a movie?”
I was dumbstruck when I first heard the news that there was a sequel to The Shining (and even more so when I heard Ewan McGreggor was starring in it). I thought, “No way did Stephen King write a sequel to a masterpiece.” Then I promptly logged into Goodreads and discovered that I was wrong. He did in fact write a sequel to The Shining.
Last year, I read The Shining for the first time, and was surprised by how blown-away I was by it. I don’t know why. It’s not like I am new to Stephen King’s genius, or that I doubted the fact that a book could be so good that it was made into a movie—I really don’t know why! But I read it, I loved it, and then I finally understood why King and many fans were disappointed by the movie.
SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t read The Shining, it is seriously worth a read!
(Waits one month for all of you to finish reading it) So, did you read it? Did you love it?
What I admire so much about King’s writing is his ability to make the mundane seem so interesting. One of the opening scenes in the book The Shining is of Jack Torrence meeting with the owner of the Overlook Hotel to learn about the caretaker position and somehow it wound up being one of my favorite scenes in the entire book.
But, now that you’ve read it, you’re aware that everything is tied-up nicely at the end. Hopefully I’m not about to spoil anything in The Shining for anyone but, Jack Torrance dies, Wendy and Danny escape with Dick Hallorann, and the haunted hotel goes up in flames.
All of that being said: when The Shining ended, you felt satisfied. There were no real loose ends that left you dying for more story. So, if you haven't read Doctor Sleep, now you're probably thinking, “so, where will the story go in book/movie #2?”
Let’s find out.
Thankfully, Doctor Sleep does not pick up immediately after where The Shining left off (well, mostly). There are a few scenes early on, but mostly Doctor Sleep follows a much older Dan Torrance, who is a recovering alcoholic himself, battling many booze-riddled guilty memories, one of which includes stealing money from a single mother after catching her toddler son nearly ingesting a bag of cocaine. But, that was years ago, and he’s sober now, even if the guilt does still haunt him. Instead of turning to a bottle though, he has devoted his professional time to working in hospice-like work, using his shining to ease those passing on.
But like many of King’s novels, there is more than one story here.
At the same time we’re introduced to Dan, we meet an infant named Abra Stone, only, she’s not your average infant. The day the Twin Towers fall in New York, Abra wakes her parents up screaming and screaming and screaming, for hours until finally all have perished in the attack. The conclusion her parents draw is that Abra is psychic, but what they don’t realize is that, much like Danny Torrance, Abra has the shining, and a strong one at that.
Lastly, we finally meet our villains: the True Knot, a group of people with the shining who feed on others' shine in order to maintain immortality. Primarily, they feast on the young because they are easy targets and because their shine is stronger than once they reach adulthood.
As Abra reaches her early teens, she continues to manifest powers such as telekinesis, premonitions, and telepathy. Unfortunately for Abra, she seems to have a knack for eavesdropping on the True Knot’s sacrifices, earning her a firsthand glimpse of the atrocities these people are capable of. At the same time she’s connected to the True Knot, Abra has also made many unintentional communications with Dan, and thus, the story begins.
After Abra is discovered by the leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat, Abra realizes her life is in danger and asks Dan to help her.
Is This a Sequel or Just Set in the Same World?
Where this book becomes a sequel, is that it shares some themes with The Shining and addresses some of the trauma young Danny brought with him into adulthood.
Although we don’t see much of Danny’s childhood after the Overlook, we get the impression that things weren’t easy for him and his mom, and that the shining continued to take its toll on him, though he learned to manage. Readers are shown that the Overlook scarred Dan in a way that has taken him years to undo, and in fact, required this story—this dilemma—for him to finally overcome it.
But in a lot of ways, this book does not feel like a sequel. Doctor Sleep is largely a murder mystery book about how Abra Stone will survive the True Knot and how Dan will help bring them justice. At multiple points throughout the book, I would forget entirely that it was even connected to The Shining.
Thoughts on the Book
I started reading Doctor Sleep with no expectation of liking it. I know that is a terrible way to start a book, but it’s the truth. I loved The Shining so much that my skepticism could not be overcome…until I began reading.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Stephen King is a storytelling genius. Yes, he might get caught up in details that seem unimportant, but then three-hundred pages later you find out they actually were important!
In many King books, I get lost in the backstory of his characters, to the point that I don't even care where the story was taking me, I just enjoy being along for the ride. This held true for me while reading Doctor Sleep. The strongest aspect of the story was the characters themselves. From the minute we are reintroduced to Dan, his remorse and disappointment is palpable, self-pity oozing off the pages and coiling around the reader's heart until they too feel constricted by guilt and grief. Then we meet Abra, who reminds us of what it’s like to be a pre-teen, even though we ourselves weren’t pre-teens struggling with powerful abilities that terrified our parents. And Rose The Hat, I won’t say I related to her—because that might cause people to look at me strangely—but I will say that her motivations, though disturbing and evil, were understandable. She wasn’t just some power-hungry mindless villain, I could follow her train of thought, as she preyed on Andy (another member of the True Knot), as she first encountered Abra, and then again over the phone, and then again at the Overlook. I could feel her growing rage like it were my own and in many ways I could understand her motivations.
The more I’m writing though, the more I’m realizing I’m not sure I can say it was the characters that were my favorite, because I’m remembering how the story unfolded, and that too was brilliant.
At the onset, it seems like Dan, Abra, and Rose are all coming together by chance, but gradually you discover that there are in fact reasons. BEWARE OF SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH. For chapters and chapters, Dan is fascinated by Abra’s maniacal stubbornness and slightly overconfident ability to grin in the face of evil, before we finally learn that it is so familiar to him because it is his dad’s exact smile and stubbornness, his very family’s "evil" because Abra is his niece. Then, after thinking the entire book that it is the shining that brings all these characters together, you learn of another connection: the Overlook Hotel, the main stomping grounds for the True Knot.
I will forever be impressed with King’s ability to weave all these details together in a cohesive and intriguing way.
And, if I thought I loved this book at the beginning, I had no idea what love was until that ending. SPOILERS IN THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH TOO. During the final struggle with Rose, Abra, and Dan, some invisible force starts helping them to push Rose the Hat over the cliff. When all is said and done, and Dan is starting to leave the campground (that was once the Overlook Hotel), he looks up at the cliff to find his father, Jack Torrance, blowing him a kiss the way he used to when Dan was just a boy. It is the only closure I, or Dan, ever needed, and served as a great reminder that, in The Shining (the book), Jack wasn’t inherently bad. He was a complex individual with demons and spirits (pun intended) whispering in his ears.
If you follow me on Goodreads, you might’ve noticed I gave Doctor Sleep four out of five stars and you might be wondering "why" given my high praise. Mostly, it’s because I liked this book a lot, but it wasn’t earth-shattering great—and I don’t think it was meant to be. I think King just wanted to revisit Danny’s/Dan’s life and to give him the happy ending he deserved but didn’t get in The Shining.
Concerns for Movie Watchers
My greatest concern about the upcoming Doctor Sleep movie is that viewers might be expecting a sequel to the story of The Shining when this is an entirely different story. Sure, it’s about the shining, Dan and his battle to un-become his father, and has a brief scene at the Overlook Hotel, but it’s not a sequel in the sense that it will have a similar feel.
This is not a story of a family driven mad by isolation, or haunted by ghosts, nor is it another story of a father trying to murder his family. Doctor Sleep was a murder mystery, something similar to a kidnap story with paranormal elements.
I’m afraid that movie-goers are going to be disappointed because the story “veers too much from the original," meaning the movie, because, if the writers choose to create something that even closely resembles the book, it will seem very dissimilar to the movie The Shining. But in all honesty, that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much: it was vastly different, and that was a good thing!
There you have it, my take on Stephen King's sequel to The Shining: Doctor Sleep. If you've read the book or have your own predictions of what the movie will be like, please leave a comment below!
author: The Awakened series