The Shining

Posted: April 1, 2022 in Book reviews, horror
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By Stephen King

(Finished in March)

<Note the following may contain some mild spoilers for the book and the film>

Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and his five-year-old son Danny move into the remote Overlook Hotel located in the Colorado Rockies. The hotel has closed for the winter and Jack has taken a job as caretaker. Jack is an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic with anger management issues. Previously he accidentally broke Danny’s arm, and more recently he lost his job as a teacher after assaulting a pupil.

Before the last of the Overlook’s staff leave, Danny meets Dick Halloran, the Overlook’s black chef. Halloran recognises a kindred spirit in Danny, Danny has ‘The Shine’, the same as he does, a psychic ability to read minds and experience premonitions.

Before he goes Dick tells Danny to avoid room 217, and tells him he might see the spirits of people who died at the hotel, but makes it clear that they can’t hurt Danny. He also says that if Danny’s ever in trouble he just needs to call out to him with his mind and Dick will come running.

At first the lonely hotel seems the perfect place for the family to reconnect, and the ideal spot for Jack to finish the play he’s been working on, but snowbound isolation, coupled with the spirits that haunt the Overlook begin to insidiously worm their way into Jack’s mind. Dick Halloran was wrong, the Overlook is dangerous, especially when it finds something it wants, and it wants Danny!

I have a curious relationship with the film of the Shining. I’ve seen it precisely twice and on neither occasion have I particularly enjoyed it. I saw it first in my teens and was left unmoved, and then saw it again a few years ago and had a similar reaction, though in part maybe this is down to how many pastiches of the film I’ve seen over the years (UK sitcom Spaced in particular riffs on it a lot). But then I watched Mike Flanagan’s excellent film version of Dr Sleep, which reawakened my interest in the story of the Overlook, and I had a friend who similarly hates the film recommend the book, so I thought, why not?

So fair warning here, I’ve not always been King’s biggest fan, especially in long form—I do love his short stories though—for every novel of his I’ve liked there’s been one that left me cold, so I began reading The Shining with some trepidation.

The first thing to say is that it’s so much better than the film on just about every level. Clearly a damaged individual, the Jack of the book is incredibly complex. Unlike Nicholson’s film Jack who’s basically nuts before he even sets foot inside the Overlook. Similarly Wendy is more than just the Kubrick demanded hysterics of Shelley Duvall, Danny comes across better too. It’s also wonderful to see that Dick Halloran doesn’t risk it all to get to the Overlook only to be murdered the moment he arrives!

All the characters and fully rounded, though at times a little too fully rounded, and the downside to seeing so deeply inside of them is that sometimes we get to see different perceptions of the same event, and sometimes you just want King to get on with it! The characters don’t even reach the Overlook for some time, and it’s some time later before anything spooky happens.

As for the supernatural stuff, some of it is very affecting, Danny’s visit to Room 217 for example. Similarly some of the imagined conversations Jack has with the guests at the perpetual party, and there is something unsettling about the whole Unmask! Unmask! thing!

Other bits aren’t as disturbing; however well he writes I couldn’t take the topiary monsters seriously.

King can write well though, and even if I wanted him to get a move on at times, I was always engaged (I found Jack’s exploration of the history of the Overlook especially fascinating) and even at a relatively early stage in his career you can see how good he is at what he does.

Could have been shorter, and could have been spookier, but I still enjoyed it and it’s a damn sight better than the film!       

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