This one’s had some hype (and a very dull promo poster guest starring at railway stations – ever wonder what happened to Danny from The Shining? – If you haven’t read it, the answer’s probably no.) So I approached it with a little bit of trepidation, The Shining not being my favourite King novel, although I liked Danny as a character. King, in my view, often includes one element too many, which dilutes the scariness, and The Shining was a classic example of this – a man turns violent on his own family, which is terrifying enough, and you don’t really need weird creatures formed from topiary added to the mix. But the fact I did like Danny drew me in to this sequel.
We catch up with this special little boy when he’s a grown man, and letting himself down badly, following in his father’s footsteps of alcohol addiction. One night he reaches the bottom of the bottle and decides he has to change. As a child he was saved by Dick Hallorann, who became his mentor throughout adolescence, and he determines to follow in Dick’s worthier footsteps when he starts receiving psychic messages from a young girl called Abra Stone, who shares Dan’s gift of the shining. But Abra is more powerful than Dan ever was, and she’s witnessed the torture and murder of a young boy (also with the gift) by a group of sinister people called the True Knot. Now they’re out to get her, and she needs Dan’s help. Big time.
The True Knot are an interesting bunch of villains, masquerading as middle aged, polyester-clad RV-types (that’s caravanners, for us Brits!), and Rose the Hat is a disturbing nemesis for Dan and Abra. Their mythology is an interesting twist on vampirism and I would have liked more exploration of their history. Their connection with the Overlook Hotel is good in terms of continuity, and a return to this infamous battleground is welcome. But the ending is a little unsatisfying for me – I felt the True Knot were built up and up only to be knocked down a little too easily.
Dan’s transformation from prescient little boy to irresponsible alcoholic and then to saviour of the day was well-realised and believable, with twinges of real poignancy (especially in his relationship with Billy, who echoed the kindly and wise Dick). I think the real low point of his life for me was him not knowing that Dick had passed way, which felt like a betrayal; and the revelation of the truth behind Abra’s “theory of relativity” felt a little too convenient. But again I was engaged by his character and wanted to know how his story would pan out. Abra, as the other central character, was equally as complex – revelling too much in victory, hinting that she would eventually face her own inner darkness, as Dan had done.
It’s not without flaws, but overall Doctor Sleep is an enjoyable read, well-paced with a strong sense of tension. I don’t think it will replicate the phenomenal success of The Shining, but it’s a sound supernatural tale, and stands separate enough from its predecessor to find new readers on its own merit. Rating: ***
Hodder, 2014, ISBN 9781444761184