So I'll be completely honest, when I initially heard that this book was being written, I scoffed a little. I might have even rolled my eyes and made some comment about opening up the cash register and making even more money off an old concept. Can you really blame me? The Shining still stands as possibly one of, if not the greatest supernatural horror book ever written and while much has been written about King's dissatisfaction with Stanley Kubrick's interpretation, the film also stands in an elite category of movies that continues to remain popular through the generations. How could the author possibly follow up on a book that has meant so much to so many readers? Can you add more to the fifth symphony and expect it to hold up?
Needless to say, I went in to this book with fairly low expectations and this was despite that fact that while many talk about the decline in King's books over the years, I have continued to be a fan of his writing.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that I was completely blind-sided by how much I enjoyed this book.
First off, I should say that I don't consider this to be a sequel in the classic interpretation of the word. Websters defines a sequel as "a book, movie, etc., that continues a story begun in another book". I think that there is a distinction between books that are sequels and those that are simply part of a series. Goldfinger was the second Bond movie in the series, it was not a sequel to Doctor No. Star Trek IV was a sequel to Star Trek III, but Star Trek V was not a sequel to Star Trek IV. Follow all of that?
For those of you who are conversant in King's catalog, I would say that Doctor Sleep is to The Shining as Black House was to The Talisman. As with Jack Sawyer, we get to see Danny Torrence, (now just Dan) living as an adult, dealing with the struggles of being an alcoholic as well as the literal ghosts of his experiences at the Overlook Hotel. As with Black House, the book is loaded with various Easter Eggs and references that reward the reader for being familiar with the first book. You will definitely enjoy Doctor Sleep if you have first read The Shining, but the story itself pretty much stands on its own.
In Doctor Sleep, Dan is living in New Hampshire working with the elderly at a Hospice. He has developed the unusual talent of helping the patients who are ready to pass on by making the transition faster and smoother. For this reason he has been given the nickname, Doctor Sleep (and we have a title!) As the book begins, he comes into contact with a young girl named Abra (on a side note, thanks to her name I had the Steve Miller Band running through my head pretty much the entire time I read the book). As it turns out, Abra has the ability to shine also, but is even more powerful than Dan ever was.
Abra has caught the attention of a roving community of parasites, named the "true knot." These things are sort of like vampires but not really. They are immortal and are able to achieve this by absorbing the life energy of children like Abra, who possess the ability to shine.. Dan reaches out to Abra and decides to help her which leads to an eventual climactic confrontation at a campground controlled by the true knot, located in the mountains of Colorado on the grounds of the former Overlook Hotel.
The story itself is pretty straight forward, King's talent for creating great characters is really what carries his books in my opinion. I thought the pacing of the book was really great and he did a good job creating some scary moments in the book, although there really wasn't a chance for the book to hold a candle to The Shining.
My one main complaint, and it is probably the reason why I would give this book four, instead of five stars is that the ending is a little bit predictable and ultimately I thought a little anti-climatic. There isn't as much danger to the characters that you felt in the first book. At one point, Abra is kidnapped by one of the leaders in the true knot but even this plot point is resolved fairly quickly. So while I would have liked seeing the characters having to sweat it out a little bit more, even that wasn't enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.
One thing that fascinated me about the book was how much alcoholism played such a central role. On one hand, it seems like a logical extension from the first book in that Dan would have likely inherited his father's alcoholism as well as some other personality issues, in the same way that Jack Torrence would have inherited such things from his father. It's interesting to compare the two books in terms of how different generations dealt with alcoholism, whether it be through AA or by just white knuckling it. I was surprised to see so much detail about the rites of AA in terms of the slogans and what goes on at meetings - mostly because my limited understanding of AA as an organization is that they really don't like the publicity. The "A" is there for a reason, after all.
In all, I thought King did a great job allowing the spirit of the first book to infest the second but still creating a story that held up on its own. If I had to choose between the two, I would definitely pick The Shining but I was very pleasantly surprised by this book.
When the miniseries adaptation of The Shining was made in 1997, I figured that King had finally exercised his disappointment of his experience with Kubrick but clearly the story has stayed with him. I suspect that considering how the entertainment machine works anymore in this country, a film adaptation of Doctor Sleep will not be long in coming but I for one, hope that it never does. Not that it doesn't have the potential for a good movie but I think it would just muddle things. In the author's note, King makes a point of stating that this book is intended to follow the events of the book, and that the novel represents the "true history of the Torrences". To follow up that sentiment by then turning Doctor Sleep into a movie would just confuse the issue. Would the movie be a sequel to the book? Would it ignore the events of Kubrick's film? I don't know but my opinion is that the story is best left within the physical pages of the book and of the imagination.
If you are looking for a good, entertaining read, look no further. It was a reminder to my of why I love Stephen King as a writer and will continue to treasure every book we are lucky enough to receive.