THE power to read minds, teleport objects and delve into another person’s deepest, darkest secrets. Would you call that a blessing, or a curse?
If you’ve read Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, you would know that sometimes, it can be the latter. One of King’s brilliant early novels, the premise of psychic powers was made famous by a movie of the same name starring a young Jack Nicholson (remember that deranged ‘Here’s Johnny!’ scene?). A child Dan Torrance and his family moves into the haunted Overlook Hotel, where his ‘shining’ powers amplify the hotel’s malevolent forces and he starts seeing monsters and ghostly apparitions which attempt to hurt the family. As the novel progresses, his father spirals deeper and deeper into madness – culminating in an ultimate showdown whereby Dan, his mother Wendy and an old hotel cook who also has the shining, Dick, escape before the place explodes from an overheating boiler.
So what happened to little Daniel Torrance? 36 years later, King finally wrote a sequel – putting fans back on the edge of their seats with Doctor Sleep.
The intro chapter reveals a little on young Dan Torrance and the life he has to go through with his now single mom, since the Overlook incident. The old shining cook, Dick, makes a cameo as well. He teaches Dan how to lock away the horrible ‘ghosts’ that seemed to have followed Dan around, in his mind.
Fast forward and Dan has grown up to be a troubled young man. Drifting from town to town and taking up odd jobs, his past with the Overlook haunts him, and he resorts to drinking to drown out the shining. When he comes to the sleepy town of Frazier, something in the place makes him stay and he decides to give up on drinking for good. Landing a job as a hospice aide, he now uses his shining abilities to help patients pass on, hence the nickname ‘Doctor Sleep’.
Meanwhile, a baby girl called Abra is born and she has the most powerful shining ever seen – even more than Dan’s was when he was younger. As she grows older, she reaches out to others like her, forming a telepathic bond with Dan.
The reader is then introduced to the True Knot, a group of immortals very much like vampires – except that they feed on the ‘steam’ from psychic kids like Abra instead of blood, which they get through kidnapping and torture of their victims. When Abra inadvertently tunes into one of their murder/torture sessions, she is discovered – and now the True Knot wants her. Fearing for her life, Abra reaches out to Dan. They must now find a way to stop the True Knot once and for all. It’s not going to be easy, because to do that, Dan has to face his inner demons and ghosts from his Overlook past…
I’ll be honest. As much as I love Stephen King, some of his recent novels haven’t been as great as his early work. I remember reading books like Pet Sematary, It, Misery and just shuddering at the horror of them – which is just as well, coming from the Master of Horror. His newer titles have been slightly more… suspenseful, but lacking the chill factor. It was refreshing to see that King has gone back to his roots of what made him a truly talented supernatural fiction author. Doctor Sleep manages to build up the suspense + a feeling of fear for the main characters and the hurdles they have to face.
The people in the novel fit into their roles perfectly – Abra as a headstrong girl with powerful shining and a righteous, bloodthirsty streak), Dan who has grown from alcoholic to wise mentor, the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat, who relish the steam they get from suffering and have been feeding off it for centuries – powerful but unaccustomed to resistance from their victims. I actually felt slightly sorry for the antagonists here – King makes it that although we know they are evil, we can’t help feeling sympathy with their way of life and how, to them, it is just a matter of surviving.
All in all, Doctor Sleep was one of those novels that had me reading into the wee hours of the morning, and a satisfying sequel to The Shining. For fans of King’s earlier novels, this is one that you should try for a hit of nostalgia.