Review: The Shining; Stephen King

A sinister and engrossing read (5 stars) 

Source- personal copy

This edition published August 1983 by New English Library

Paperback edition is 416 pages 

I have had the rattiest paperback copy of The Shining sat on my bookshelf for what seems like forever, picked up in a charity shop years ago- the copy of which is actually older than me.  To be honest, the film version was enough to creep me out; and so there the book has sat, firmly ensconced on my shelf until I felt brave enough to read it… 

Or felt encouraged to read it with the promise that its sequel (the recently released Doctor Sleep) would soon be winging its way to me, on loan from a friend. 

Even its cover is a bit spooky (children in films have the tendency to freak me out (ever since Children of the Corn) – and after reading it (strictly in the daytime only), I now know why Joey from Friends put this book in the freezer:

Rachel: Hmm. (she opens the freezer) Umm, why do you have a copy of The Shining in your freezer?

Joey: Oh, I was reading it last night, and I got scared, so.

Rachel: But ah, you’re safe from it if it’s in the freezer?

Joey: Well, safer. Y’know, I mean I never start reading The Shining, without making sure we’ve got plenty of room in the freezer, y’know.

The Shining is a book that needs very little explanation and is a brilliant introduction to the supernatural and the psychotic. I think everyone I know has seen the film version with Jack Nicholson in the starring role anyway and it’s the sort of movie I used to watch with friends at sleepovers years ago- when I actually enjoyed being scared- despite Stephen King himself seemingly hating that adaptation. It seemed appropriate for me to read this book in the run-up to Halloween and I have to say that the novel is definitely more frightening (and better) than the movie with so much extra detail included. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to anything remotely scary, but still… 

Five year old Danny Torrance has always been just that little bit different to his peers, with the gift of psychic visions, known as the ability to ‘shine.’ When his recovering alcoholic father takes the position of winter caretaker at Colorado’s Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions become frighteningly out of control and it is clear that all is not normal at the Overlook, either. What is the mystery shrouding room 217? Why do the topiary animal hedges appear to be moving?  With Danny and his parents snowbound at the Overlook over the winter, it becomes apparent that there is an evil force present in the hotel- one that wants Danny and his father and will do anything to get them… 

Like many King novels, this is a complete page-turner full of ghosts and psychological scares. Like I say, I wanted to read it at night, only I couldn’t. I found myself with the severe heebie-jeebies once the topiary animals started moving about and I had to put it down. The book was ominous from the start- you just know it’s not going to end well. King crafts some brilliant scene-setting and really is the master of creating some frightening, atmospheric scenarios. 

Character-wise, I just loved Danny, a precocious five-year-old who is already burdened with so much: a gift that he just doesn’t know how to deal with, along with the fact that his parents-Jack and Wendy- have a troubled marriage and with the notion that they have previously discussed DIVORCE constantly reverberating in his little head, he is simply drowning in information that someone older would struggle to comprehend. His father is also a recovering alcoholic and Danny knows the impact it has had on his parents relationship and that his mother’s fear that his father may drink again overshadows their relationship.  When Danny’s father drinks, he also becomes abusive. 

Jack Torrance was brilliantly drawn, even more so than Jack Nicholson’s excellent portrayal in the film. Right from the outset of the novel the reader senses he is a man on the brink and cabin fever at the Overlook gradually pushes him over the edge. His slow descent into madness was riveting to read about.  By contrast, Wendy was a weak character- a bit lacklustre in places, though this was probably deliberate on the part of King and it is all the more startling when you realise the lengths she will eventually go to protect her son. We learn that Jack’s own father was violent, which adds some sympathy to him as a protagonist- he doesn’t have a great background, yet eventually becomes more like his father than he anticipated. It was chilling and believable and I wanted Danny to escape from the whole mess- preferably unscathed if possible. 

The Overlook Hotel also becomes a character in this story. Descriptions of the haunted rooms, the glamorous ballroom and the clunky elevator and boiler room were brilliantly done. It is safe to say that The Overlook is certainly one of the most vivid ‘non-human’ characters I have ever read and it made a superb backdrop for the story overall, particularly with its isolated, Rocky Mountain location. 

After (sadly) finishing The Shining I now have Doctor Sleep ready for me on my book pile, which I can’t wait to dive into. I’ve been on a bit of a Stephen King reading binge this month, so might wait a couple more days before delving into it, but its safe to say that if it is as good as its predecessor then it will definitely be worth the wait. This is now my new favourite Stephen King novel.

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7 responses to “Review: The Shining; Stephen King

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