“The shining. It was a good name, a comforting name, because she had always thought of it as a dark thing.”
When a book is as hotly anticipated as Doctor Sleep, it makes readers wonder whether it can ever possibly live up to the hype that surrounds it. There is a risk that people will try and like it and then say they liked it more than they actually did. Or, in the case of a book that is a sequel, people might automatically hate it because it’s just not the same as its predecessor.
So I thought quite carefully about how I would rate Doctor Sleep, the latest Stephen King novel that follows the character of Danny from The (massively successful) Shining, as I was worried that my eventual decision of 4 stars would be seen as just a knee jerk reaction. This book wasn’t perfect, but I did really enjoy it, perhaps because I knew that it would not be the same as The Shining, and shouldn’t really be judged as such. The character of Danny, now a grown man struggling with the demons that came to the forefront during his stay at the Overlook Hotel as a boy, has to turn his life around in order to help himself and to help a young girl with supernatural powers of her own. Abra is being stalked by The True Knot, a group of (almost) immortal people led by the sinister Rose The Hat, who literally suck the life out of children who Shine.
This book didn’t turn out how I expected it would. I’m not sure why, but I thought it would be much more fast paced, more of a race against time for Dan to save Abra from the True, but in fact the story unfolded over a number of years. It actually begins with a young Danny learning how to control his memories of what happened to him at the Overlook, then moves forward in time several decades to detail his struggles with despair and alcoholism, with the following twelve years detailing how he gets clean and comes into contact with Abra and the True Knot. The stories of Abra and the True are also told, running parallel with Dan’s, as they all work their way towards each other. At first I thought the beginning was moving too slowly, but as the story progressed and really got going, I realised how important it was for the reader to see Dan hit his ultimate rock bottom. It was the moment that made him turn his life around, and he revisits it several times over the following years – he doesn’t want to see anyone else make the same mistakes that he made, and that his father made before him.
This long and winding narrative did have its negative points for me – because there were so many characters it meant that some of them weren’t developed as much as I would have liked. The members of the True Knot were all so interesting and I wanted to know more about them, particularly Andy, who was introduced very early on in the story but who faded into the background almost instantly. Similarly there were aspects of the plot that I thought would become more prominent but that were hardly touched on, namely the title of the novel and the cat of the front cover and blurb. Dan’s role as an aid to elderly residents of a care home as they pass from life into death, and the cat who assists him, were such minor parts of the story I do think the book was mis-titled (I finished the book without being overly sure what Dan was supposed to do to help people, and the role of the cat also remains a bit of a mystery to me).
Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and as the story neared the climactic scenes I couldn’t put it down. You don’t need to have read The Shining to enjoy Doctor Sleep, but there a few nods to the original story for those fans who needed to find out what happened once the remaining Torrences left the Overlook. At its heart this is Dan’s journey, but the villains of the piece are as creepy and disturbing as the ghosts in The Shining, making the True Knot’s relentless pursuit of children who Shine an engaging read full of twists and turns.