Hodder & Stoughton, out 24 September
Young Danny Torrance has grown up over the years since the Overlook Hotel burned to the ground, but he still has demons to face – both internally and externally.
Stephen King’s belated sequel to his third published novel, The Shining, shows that he has lost none of his narrative skills. Not trying to outdo the scare factor of the original novel is wise – although there are more than a few moments in Doctor Sleep which are more than a little unsettling – and, for the most part, it has the same forward momentum which drives all of his best stories.
It’s important to judge this novel on its own merits; it’s not The Shining 2, despite what some websites would have you believe. You don’t need to know the storyline of the earlier book for this to work (although of course you will understand some of the nuances better), since King provides the relevant backstory. (There are times though when this is the sober King of 35 years later recapitulating events written by his not so sober self, so inevitably they are filtered to an extent.) It’s also not connected to Kubrick’s revision of the story, or indeed King’s own changes for the miniseries version.
After providing a coda to the original story, the narrative jumps through Dan Torrance’s life as he descends into alcoholism, and, in a scene apparently suggested by King’s son Owen, we see – and feel – him reach rock bottom. The tale of Dan’s battle with his urges and his work at a local hospice runs parallel with the story of the True Knot, a group of psychic vampires who cross America in huge RVs, feeding off energy from psychics (as well as disasters – there’s a haunting image of them in New York shortly after the turn of the millennium). Their leader, Rose (one of King’s true grotesque characters, up there with Annie Wilkes from Misery), senses a young girl has enough power to prevent the True Knot from dying out – but doesn’t realise that she has a friend named Tony. The same Tony who had a friend years earlier at the Overlook Hotel.
Addiction, and how we deal with it in its various forms, is central to Doctor Sleep, and King also references other areas which have interested him in recent years, notably the fear of losing one’s faculties (he’s said that the scene at the start of Iris, with its depiction of Alzheimer’s Disease, is one of the most terrifying he has seen). King has been challenging himself in his writing – the Hard Crime novel Joyland and the forthcoming Mister Mercedes are both a long way from the sorts of pieces he is best known for – and there’s a strong core to Doctor Sleep, which shows that, as yet, his own faculties remain undiminished.
Verdict: Both an excellent sequel to The Shining and a strong novel in its own right, this is one of King’s best books in the last decade. 8/10