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[Book Review] Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” Is An Exceptional Horror Novel

Hodder & Stoughton, Stephen King’s British publisher, allowed Bloody stringer Jeremy Guerineau (of @ClubStephenKing) to read “Doctor Sleep” prior to its official release date.

With the sequel to King’s “The Shining” now available everywhere, Guerineau writes in with his thoughts on what he calls an “exceptional horror novel”.

Warning, spoilers do follow…

“Doctor Sleep” is a sequel to “The Shining”. But it is also way more than this…

The same way that “Black House” was the follow-up of “The Talisman” (co-written by Stephen King & Peter Straub), it also was a totally different book: “The Talisman” was fantasy orientated, while “Black House” was, instead, horror, deeply related to “The Dark Tower”.

The main story of “Doctor Sleep”, takes place many years after the end of the first book (it was also the case for “Black House” after “The Talisman”), and the genre is different: “The Shining” was a fantastic closed-door novel, with ghosts. To be short, it was about Jack Torrance, a writer, who was to spend a winter cut off from the rest of the world at the Overlook Hotel, with his wife Wendy & his son Danny.

The hotel will happen to be inhabited by ghosts, awoken by Danny’s gift (“The Shining”). “The Shining” was also a novel regarding the addiction & the violence created by alcohol.

“Doctor Sleep” goes beyond fantastic. While evil was incarnated by ghosts in “The Shining”, it is instead personified by the True Knot, who are some sort of vampires, nourishing themselves off “The Shining” gift of (un)lucky individuals.

The novel starts by the following sentence: On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground”. Three years after the destruction of the Hotel, we return to Danny who still has nightmares and continues to be tormented by the ghost of the woman in the room 237. Once again, it will be Dick Hallorann that will help him with his experience of ghosts and of “The Shining”, giving him the key element against the “ghosties”.

We then follows Danny who, over the years, has some troubles to create a stable life, fighting against alcoholism as well as his own errors and his own demons. Being terrified to end up like his dad.

Fast forward, the next thirty years.

Danny is now working in a nursing home, and is now using his telepathic power to help elderly people pass away peacefully. Being ten years sober, Danny “telepathically” meets Abra, a girl who has “The Shining” too.

One day, Abra has the misfortune to have a vision of a kid that had been tortured & killed by someone, that happens to be a member of the True Knot.
They are an ancient tribe of “vampires”, who live off the “steam” that leaves humans when they suffer and as they pass away in terrible suffering & violence.

In the past, the True Knot had no issues at all to find this steam, during horrible events (for instance, 9/11 was a happy period for them, as they managed to replete with a huge amount of steam). But they are now fighting for their lives, because of the scarcity of this essence.

One of their favourite sources for the steam, is to kidnap & torture & agonize some innocent kids, whose only mistake was to have “The Shining”.
Thanks to her power & her vision, Abra will find out numerous information about this tribe, who, despite their richness, manage to stay discrete while travelling through the American roads in their RVs. But this vision will be double-edged: the leader of the True Knot, the woman in the hat, will also discover the existence of a girl who seems to have a shining so powerful, something that she has rarely been seen before. The “Queen Bitch of Castle Hell” will first decide to ignore her, letting the kid grow… as well as her power.

The main plot between Danny, Abra & The True will develop a few years later, when Abra becomes a teenager. Indeed, the True have more and more problems to find some steam, and they are dying : of the lack of energy, but also of the measles, that infected them with the steam of the little boy whose vision Abra had. The measles will start to kill them, one by one.

Rose, the leader of the True, the woman in the hat, will then decide that it’s time to go and find Abra who has a power and a steam that they could get, infinitely, without killing her. Instead, they would torture her, collect her steam… before starting again without killing her… infinitely. The same thing that we do to cows for their milk.

There follows a race against time, a race against Death between Abra, Dany and the True Knot.

We find similar themes in both novels: the importance of family, the alcoholism (Dany, anxious about his alcohol addiction follows AA meetings). It seems obvious that Stephen King has used this novel to exorcize his past addictions to alcohol & drugs. Addiction that came back after his accident as he needed strong pain killers, but that he managed, once again, to get rid of.

The gift of “The Shining” was a minor element, while it is clearly a MAJOR component of “Doctor Sleep”. Moreover, the terrifying True Knot are so realistic that it’s scary. Way more terrifying, in my opinion, than the ghosts in “The Shining”.

First published in 1977, “The Shining” was a novel that seemed “closer” (a family tragedy), more closed, more claustrophobic, but also more instantaneous. “Doctor Sleep” is, instead, more opened, more pondered, more sophisticated, slower (in the way that it spans its story over 30+ years), and… going further.

Stephen King continues to grow his universe, cross-referencing his work (as well as Joe Hill’s “NOS4A2”, by mentioning Charlie Manx, p12). I even wonder if, in the end, “Carrie” wasn’t simply a girl that had a strong, developed Shining… which unfortunately, with the bullying of her fellow teenagers has pushed her to self-destruction.

“Doctor Sleep” is way more than a simple sequel. It is an elaborated and entire novel. It doesn’t require to have read “The Shining” to be appreciated, nor seen Stanley Kubrick’s version (who, despite the fact that it is quite different from the book, has marked numerous people), nor the 1997 mini-series).
“Doctor Sleep” is a relentless novel, one that doesn’t undo its grip (and that we do not want, either, to let go of). It is an excellent novel, one that I can only highly recommend, and one that will easily join other masterpieces such as “Carrie”, “The Stand”, or “IT”… for mentioning only a few of the most popular horror novels by Stephen King.

But contrary to those books, “Doctor Sleep” seems quieter, and shows signs of maturity regarding life.

“Doctor Sleep” will not be remembered for being a sequel for “The Shining”, but for being an exceptional horror novel.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Scribner, Stephen King’s publisher, will do a first print of 1.1 million copies, as well as a TV campaign during the season finale of “Under the Dome”. I believe that this first print will quickly sold out, and that after 2 or 3 weeks, the copies available on shelves will be a second print.
Also, a new edition of “The Shining” is being printed (300,000 copies), including an excerpt of “Doctor Sleep”.
QUOTES from “Doctor Sleep” :
– “He had always thought the story of Bluebeard was the scariest of all time, the scariest there ever could be, but this one was worse. Because it was true.
– “Your mind was a blackboard. Booze was the eraser.
– “We’re all dying. The world’s just an hospice with fresh air.
– “Sleep was nature’s doctor.
– “America is a living body, the highway are its arteries, and the True Knot slips along them like a silent virus.
– “Lobsters also felt pain when they were dropped into pots of boiling water, but that didn’t stop the rubes from doing it. Food was food, and survival was survival.
– “There is no gravity, life just sucks.
– “The good thing about being old, is you don’t have to worry about dying young.
– “A life without love is like a tree without fruit.
– “Life is a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it started.

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