I could probably boil my entire review down to one sentence. If this book isn't on your radar then there might be something wrong with your radar. This book was one of several to be put out in the golden age of King's publishing career and that isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed his more recent books, but there seems to be a raw energy to these earlier offerings that is so unique and special. Of course it's also possible that my mind is still entangled with the childhood thrill I got reading something that was considered taboo, books that were for the adults.
You might be fooled by the description by thinking that this is just another simple ghost story but the reality is that (as far as I'm concerned), this is THE ghost story. Reading it, I can't help but wonder why anyone bothers to tackle the genre again if only to pale in comparison to this classic. It's the kind of a book that, as a writer myself I often find myself wishing that I had written and then realizing that I am writing that book.
There will be the inevitable comparisons of the book vs the film. There has been much said about King's disappointment with the film and how it strayed from the book. Kubrick was known for straying pretty far from his source material and while King is an industry juggernaut now, then he was still just a fledgling author who just didn't have the juice to stand up to this director with a mega-sized personality.
As great as the film was and as amazing and iconic as Nicholson was in that role, why do I like the book better? One thing that King has always excelled at is taking the reader inside a character's head and showing us that internal dialogue. Very few writers write in the third person omniscient anymore and he has always done a really good job at it in making it feel natural. As a result, we get better insights into Wendy Torrence who becomes so much more than just the damsel in distress that we see in the movie. Danny becomes more real in his perceptions of his parents and their decaying marriage and his attempts to deal with these abilities that he is still discovering. Most important, we get to see into Jack's psyche and ride along with this character in his slow descent into madness.
A ghost story set in an abandoned hotel isolated in the middle of the mountains seems like a book that would almost write itself, with all the possibilities that would be available. That said, I doubt that many writers would be able to pull this off as King, in top form is able to make us both hate a character while at the same time feeling completely sympathetic for him. I have so much respect for a writer who has the gumption to hold off the meat of the story for so long, trusting that his reader will stick with it, and take time to really lay the groundwork for his characters so that when things start unraveling in front of your eyes, you really feel the impact of this family coming apart at the seams.
What's the point of all of this in the end?