Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

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 the territory of this icon in the King canon.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think many of us went into reading Doctor Sleep with some form of trepidation. When the central focus of the original book is a hotel–and that hotel is nonexistent at the end of the book, how does one pick up where they left off and write a second book based on that original?

Well…apparently what you do in this case is build a new story off of scant memories and fill in the rest with very imaginative and yet ultimately pretty pointless paranormal characters.

Did I love this book? No!

Why?

For so many reasons. Here are a few:

The Shining scared the Hell clean out of me. I’m not going to get into the Kubrick Vs. King debate here as far as the movies go and the possible hidden meanings (think Room 237,) but I will say that the thing I loved about the original book, was that there was a fine balance of psychological terror and paranormal terror. I didn’t get that from Doctor Sleep. Really, the only time I felt like the book bordered on any kind of reality I could accept was when Dan was remembering the events of the Overlook and his childhood.

Rose the Hat. My, oh my. One of my pet peeves is when an author spends an entire book building up an evil character and then they die a pointless, silly death that never showcases all of the talents they have for being bad. I won’t include a spoiler here to say how or exactly why I feel as I do, but I definitely thought this was a case of “ran out of good ideas,” when it came to the end of her story.

Abra was a spoiled, self-appreciative brat. I want to love the main characters in the books I read, I think we all do. I loved Dan, but I suppose much of that probably came from the already established feelings I had for him. (He was such a little slugger in the first book.) Abra did not impress me much. She was supposed to be such a powerful kid, and yet most of the time she was featured hugging a cuddly toy and taking the advice of others. Had this been a movie, it would have been a situation where the audience members kept saying, “how dumb is this kid?” for getting herself into the situations she did.

I could go on, but I want this review to be balanced, so I will move on to the things I liked.

If I wasn’t looking at this as “The Shining part Two,” I might have felt differently about it. Still, it was an interesting book with a lot of very captivating ideas. I liked that Dan still had some psychic abilities even after he got older and that he was putting them to use in a helpful way.

Azreel the cat was a nice addition to this story and worked well with Dan’s talents.

Whilst I expected there to be more reference to the events in the original story, and was somewhat dismayed that there wasn’t, I appreciated that the grounds where the Overlook stood were used as an important part of this book. I never would have guessed how they were going to be reinvented, and I liked how Rose could sense the evil that lie there, beneath the surface.

The relationships Dan built throughout the course of Doctor Sleep reminded me that he was human and gave me a sense of nostalgia, particularly at the end, when he sees a certain specter.

Typical of Stephen King works, there is a healthy amount of telepathic ability between the characters. Although I found the paranormal aspects of this book more over the top than in the original novel, I also felt the “King vibe” that has been absent in some of the more recent works. His sense of humour and use of irony was ever-present in this book, and that was nice to see.

My overall opinion of Doctor sleep is this: If you are a big fan of Mr. King and in particular of the Shining, you will want to read this to satisfy your curiosity about what happened after the Overlook. You may love it or hate it or, like me, find yourself somewhere in between, but either way you should check it out.

As a standalone novel this might have earned a higher rating from me, but as a book in any way connected to one of the finest horror works in history (my opinion of course,) this did not in any way compare. The feeling of claustrophobic, psychological terror that made the Shining so frightening was absent in this book.

While there may have been 237 reasons to love this book, there were at least 217 reasons not to. It wasn’t the worst book ever, nor the best. 3 stars is my final opinion.

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19 thoughts on “Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

  1. I am one who loved the book – I felt that King finally got back into his writing groove (I haven’t been able to slog through most of his later books). I do, however, agree with you on several points. I wasn’t nearly as on the edge of my seat reading this as I was The Shining but I’m not sure if some of that may just be that I’m older and have been de-sensitized to horror. I think this book could have gone a lot deeper into the story lines and it would still have been a great book – but there were also some pieces that could have been edited out.

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  2. I agree, it would be extremely difficult to top The Shining (one of my favs of King’s books) and I remember getting chill bumps while reading it outside in 90 degree weather. I’ve tried to read several of his later books, but I admit I lost interest and gave up. This was the first book of his that held my attention for quite some time – but I was excited to revisit Danny and see what happened to him. As a cat lover, I thought Azreel was great!

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  3. I think this is a fantastic review. It is incisive and clever and extremely well balanced. It is good to see a reviewer that can look at a book in an unbiased fashion and deal with the good and the bad sensibly. I really enjoy reading your reviews as you know you are going to get a honest, balanced view. This is so important in being able to make decisions about whether or not to read, or buy, a book.

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    • If you haven’t read the shining, I definitely recommend it. That book has stayed with me for years and was one of the first books I read in English. I would have loved to have had kindle then…so I could look up the meanings.

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  4. It’s been so long since I read The Shining (read: when it came out) that I may just be able to appreciate Doctor Sleep as it is.
    Thanks very much for this Ionia. I wasn’t sure if I should buy it – now I think I will, though I may look for it on sale. 🙂

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    • 🙂 thank you for reading:) I think I should have put some space between some of the older king novels and this one. My fault for combining the then and the now. Still, a lot to make it worth reading.

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      • Actually, I had been thinking about re-reading The Shining before picking up this one, but thanks to you, I won’t. Besides the fact that I’d have to buy it again, it probably would have meant I wouldn’t enjoy its erstwhile sequel. 🙂

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