Doctor Sleep. Book Review

DocSleepDOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King

Hodder & Stoughton, h/b, 485 pp, £19.99

Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt

Thirty years after ‘The Shining’, Stephen King has done us the great service of writing a follow up to it in the form of ‘Doctor Sleep’. It’s been a while since I’ve read any fictional, novel-length work by King, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve always been a fan of King’s writing as I believe he has a great hold on the human condition – critics who are dismissive of horror as a genre should pay more attention to books like the the ones written by Stephen King.

As I see it, he writes people and communities with searing acuity, and often touching compassion, coupled with tough and authentic understanding. The difference is, he also steps back, or sideways, through the gaps to hook out the slithery things and the creeping, gut-churning things at the corners of our vision.

Thankfully, King doesn’t disappoint with ‘Doctor Sleep’, not one bit. After a quick re-visit of the world-in-time of ‘The Shining’, he takes us back to here and now to see what has become of little Danny Torrance; who happens to be the eponymous Doctor Sleep.

A quick word of warning – King mentions in his afterword that he considers this book and ‘The Shining’ in book form to be the true history of the Torrance Family and the Outlook Hotel, rather than the film – I TOTALLY agree. He lists his reasons, with which I also agree, but we don’t need to get into that. My point is, if you want to get the most out of this book but have only seen the film of ‘The Shining’, you REALLY need to read the book. (Enjoy! With all the lights on!!!)

Anyway, back to this book. I love that we get to see Danny, rather than ‘Dan’ at first, and I’m glad that section isn’t malingering or sentimental in any way. As usual, King then picks up on a perfectly ordinary facet of American life – travellers who roam the US in their Winnebagos – and turns them into something you would now look twice at, or look back nervously over your shoulder as you sit in traffic ahead of them.

He also brings out some great new characters in Dan’s new life as he finally starts to settle and come to terms with the bogeyman that nearly got him as badly as his father – alcoholism. The journey through coming to terms with that side of his life has horrific moments to rival the fantastical side of the story, and are exposed with the brutal and knowing glare of hindsight.

To lift the story, as well as provide a co-protagonist for Dan, we are introduced to Abra – the girl who, like young Danny, showed a developing ‘Shining’ and is now becoming more powerful, and a singular glowing target for the ‘True Knot’ travellers.

King seamlessly weaves together the different groups of characters to build to several climaxes of tension, with some nifty twists thrown in during the quieter moments. I absolutely loved every aspect of this book – even the slightly kitsch B-movie villains of the True Knot. It felt like a ‘proper’ horror story running through a great story about people struggling with ‘moving on’, either in life and death; travel, drifting and settling in life; or in dealing with and facing down life’s bogeymen, or women…

But especially, for this fan girl at least, it gave me an authentic and satisfying answer to what happened after the Overlook. I’m glad Stephen King took the time to write it at the right time, and that this is the next ‘The End?’ to this iconic horror story.