Book Review: “Doctor Sleep”

“The world was the Overlook Hotel, where the party never ended. Where the dead were alive forever.”

Title: Doctor Sleep
Series: The Shining (Book 2)
Author: Stephen King
No. of Pages: 531
Genre: Horror

Blurb: On highways across America, a tribe of people called the True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, the True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the steam that children with the shining produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel, where he spent one horrific childhood year, 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.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to this icon in the King canon.

The Shining was, and still is, my favourite Stephen King book. It gave a totally new twist to those cheap haunted house paperbacks I used to read as a teenager, which claimed to be based on true incidents. Stephen King made no such claim in The Shining that I know of, and yet managed to scare the living daylights out of me. That was when I hadn’t even heard about Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation. I watched it only about two years ago, and when I did, I did nonchalantly, with little interest. It had its moments, I admit, but for me, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the novel. I do not blame Kubrick. Really, I believe no movie can do proper justice to a full-fledged psychological horror novel like The Shining. You can only cram up so much stuff in two odd hours’ screentime. The filmmaker can’t help but miss out on most of the good bits and thus fall flat before the immense popularity and brilliance of the source material.

Sequels to good, popular novels too carry about the same complication. They rarely, if ever, manage to justify their existence. I picked up Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, with a similar lack of enthusiasm that I had watched The Shining movie. Little did I know that I would end up adoring the book almost as much as its predecessor.

Dan Torrance, the kid Danny with psychic abilities in The Shining is a grown-up now. He has come to be his father’s son in more ways than he would have liked. He doesn’t seem to be able to go easy on his drinking, and tends to lose his temper far too frequently. After finally reaching his lowest point when he is caught stealing his girlfriend’s money by her infant child, he decides to give up drinking and, after wandering across the country, settles into a small town called Frazier in New Hampshire. He starts working first at a tourist attraction and then at a hospice.

doctor sleep

It’s at the hospice, where Dan finally finds a noble, or really the first practical use of his “Shining” ability which has become subdued now, presumably by his drinking, which he managed to give up slowly with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He gives the dying patients comfort using his powers, and is helped in the process by a cat that can sense when someone is going to die. It’s because of that, Dan earns the honourary epithet, Doctor Sleep, at the hospice; the “doctor” who helps people “sleep”.

Meanwhile, we meet a teenage girl, Abra, whose shine is so strong that she predicted the 9/11 terror attack in New York City as a bawling infant. And indeed, she kept bawling from the night before the onslaught on the twin towers took place. As Abra grows up, she learns to curb her strange powers so as not to freak her parents out. She had been involuntarily contacting Dan since infancy and now she apprises him of an ancient band of people called “True Knot” who consume “Steam”, as they call the mist like substance that is discharged when a kid with the ability to shine is slowly tortured. The stronger the shine is, the more steam gets released, and the True Knot store the extra steam for later use in metal cans.

Abra comes to know about the True Knot when she witnesses the torture of a boy using her shine. She also has a little mental scuffle with the leader of the True Knot: Rose the Hat, and that scuffle alerts Rose and other members of the True Knot about Abra. Rose realises that they can feed on Abra for a long, long time, without the trouble of finding more unsuspecting shining kids, and that she is also dangerous as her shine is remarkably strong. That initiates the struggle between the True Knot and the team made up of Abra Stone and Dan Torrance.

“He had come to believe that life was a series of ironic ambushes.”

While not as simple as The Shining, this book was an easy and straightforward read. The prose was typical Stephen King, but unlike most of his other books, it was a lot more focused on the primary plot thread throughout the story. I managed to finish it in a single session which is my first for a Stephen King book.

Danny’s character was quite good, and his transition from a grumpy and selfish young sot to a pleasant and helpful middle-aged man was deftly and subtly done and, ultimately, was fairly believable. Not many modern authors could have pulled that off so well like King did. Abra’s character was drawn as a likable young girl if just a bit mature for her age. Her character, understandably, had a lot of pop culture references like her idolising the feisty Daenerys from Game of Thrones. Abra’s disposition toward the main antagonist of the novel – Rose the Hat – changed sporadically from utter hate to abject fear which was quite realistic, I thought.

I loved Doctor Sleep. It wasn’t flawless, and certainly not as satisfying as The Shining, but overall I deemed it to be a nice and entertaining book. My only pet-peeve with it was that it wound up as a bit too forgiving to its protagonists. Other than that, there wasn’t much to complain about. There are some mighty spine-chilling moments in the story that should more than gratify the classic King fanatic in you.

Rating: 4/5

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