The Shining by Stephen King

Just finished reading The Shining by Stephen King – a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time and which Stainless Steel Dropping’s RIP event gave me the extra push I needed.  I read this with Tanya at The Yetispeak and I enjoyed the experience – checking in with each other to see if you’ve read ‘such a thing’ and what did you think?  Thanks Tanya!

I’ll give a brief synopsis although I’m sure it’s probably not needed – everybody knows The Shining, right?  The Torrance family, Jack, Wendy and Danny have had difficult times.  Jack lost his job due to an incident involving violence and the three have had their ups and downs as a family due to Jack’s drinking problem and the violent nature that can sometimes come out when Jack’s drunk.  Jack takes a caretaking job at a very remote hotel in the mountains.  The Overlook.  The hotel shuts from early Autumn to Spring as the mountains become thick with snow and travel is virtually impossible.  Basically the three of them will be cooped up together all that time – never seeing another soul.  Plus, The Overlook has a strange reputation.  It’s changed owners many time and has a colourful past and like all hotels it has it’s ghost stories.  On top of that Danny has a strange gift – he’s able to pick up other people’s emotions and quite often to know what they’re thinking and he has premonitions and prophetic dreams and at the moment he’s having a bad feeling!  But this is feels like the last chance for the family.

So, the review.  I will confess that this is a slow burner – and I think primarily I felt that way because I’ve seen the film a few times and so was probably expecting something different and probably for it to be a bit more racy.  I suppose the size of the book could have given me a clue if I’d really thought about it.  That being said I don’t mean that in a bad way.  The writing draws you in and instead of meeting three people who are thrown together in isolation quickly followed by a series of horror scenes you instead come to know a little bit more of all the three characters, their weaknesses, their fears, their motivations.  The good thing about this is you get a good look into their little family unit and that’s something you don’t get to see in the film.  And, in spite of the drawbacks they’ve suffered I’d say that up until going to the hotel they’ve tried to stay firm.  But, they’re teetering.  They’re at the last chance saloon and the hotel is their saving grace – or ultimate downfall.  They all have nagging doubts – even at the start of the story there’s a tentative balance of trust taking place in this family.  A line has already been crossed on more than one occasion and all the family know that there’s only one more straw before the camel will be in traction.  We have Jack – he’s been a bad boy, he’s also the product of his own drunk and abusive father and having ruined his own career in a violent altercation with a student is now grasping at that last straw.  Wendy, still trying to love Jack in spite of everything and giving him one last chance when he finally cleans up his alcoholic ways, yet always a tad suspicious and doubtful and Danny – who dotes on his father and being able to read the emotions of both is also trying to be the glue that holds them all together.

Now, take this vulnerable little family, who ultimately all love each other even if it’s a bit damaged at the moment, and put them in the middle of something evil.  Then imagine that one of the family members has a gift, a gift that this evil entity wants to take, to own completely and to use to further it’s own dark abilities.  Now, did the film ever really portray that – not really.  And, that’s what is so good about reading the book finally.  I saw so many different things that never really came across in the film.  Although I won’t deny that I still like the film (and would still find it scary if I watched it now) the book is so much more sinister.

For example, I was reading this book on my way into work when I reached the Chapter that sees Danny, out of compelling curiosity, enter Room 217 – a room he has been quite unequivocally told not to go into.  This chapter scared the you-know-what out of me – literally.   I realise now I was probably sitting reading with my mouth in a ‘O’, my hair probably standing every slightly on end, my knuckles white as I gripped the book and my eyes racing from left to right – I probably looked like I’d spent a few weeks at The Overlook myself.  Plus – in another chapter of course – who thought that topiary animals could be made to be menacing?  Really??

However, the really cunning part of this novel is reading about Jack’s slow descent into madness as the hotel takes him over.  The Overlook knows he’s an easy target and basically goes after him with everything it has.  You read his internal thoughts, even as he’s talking to his wife for example, secretly thinking that she’s holding him back and steadily his thoughts becoming more and more sinister.  And, all the while, Danny trapped here in a place where he has become the key to unlock the evil that lurks.

For me, the beauty of this story is that you get to see what lies behind the scenes.  It also builds the tension gradually, you at one point even think that this family could just manage.  That they will bond together and beat the evil that stalks them until you realise that you’re an idiot!! and that Jack is in the grip of the hotel.  Every now and again he wavers and has a moment but the hotel makes him feel special, he feels wanted and flattered and to read his internal thoughts is really compelling as you watch his descent into madness.

The ending is an excellent race against the clock which you read with a sense of ever mounting dread.  And, the ending is completely different from that of the film and in actual fact much more fitting.  I still love the film – I think it’s really good but I think that the book is actually superior in terms of actually having a real grasp of what is taking place, tension building and boy can King write a chilling scene!

And, I’m submitting this for my RIP event over at Stainless Steel Droppings.

27 Responses to “The Shining by Stephen King”

  1. pariscarter12

    I recently read and reviewed the Shinning. It was a good and scary. I don’t recomened reading at night with the lights off. Great Reivew!

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks. I’ll have to stop by and check out your review too.
      Lynn 😀

  2. bookworm

    I finished this one recently myself. Like you mention, we get to see the behind the scenes in the novel that we don’t really get in the movie. The woman in 217 creeped me out as did the man in the dog outfit in the hallway. Or what about the thing in the pipe outside by the playground? Fantastic review! If you don’t mind, I’ll be linking your review to mine this week.

    • lynnsbooks

      OMG – the guy in the dog outfit – that was a crazy scene. Not to mention the pipe! Oh, and the attic! I never thought that I’d find the book more creepy than the film but I actually did!
      Yes, please link up and I’ll do the same when I see your review.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Michael

    Like King, I’m not a big fan of the Kubrick movie version. I need to re-visit it though….esp. after watching the new documentary about the making of the film.

    I think this is one of King’s books that just doesn’t translate well to the screen. A lot of what happens is internal as Jack descends into madness. Hard to really show that on-screen.

    One thing I took away from my readings of the book is the creative use of swearing that Jack uses. The first scene when he reflects on the manager who is hiring him and then later with the bee stings. King has such way of creatively swearing…..

    • lynnsbooks

      Yes, you have to admire creative swearing!
      I do actually like the film but that might be because it’s one of those times that I didn’t read the book first. I think I would probably still like it now but almost in a seeing the two as separate entities way. Having read the book I agree that it would be difficult to translate onto screen. I wonder why they decided to change the ending. I can sort of understand why they didn’t include the animals but the changed ending completely alters everything.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Wendleberry

    I watched the film years before i read the book, but i was never a huge fan of the film. The book, however, i bloody love! And i agree with what you’ve said. The film, in my opinion, goes for the cheap thrills, while the book is more of a psychological horror, which is something that doesn’t really translate to film.

    The topiary scene and the bit with a hose pipe (? It’s been years since i read it!) were the scariest for me. But i loved that we got so far into Jack’s head, and could see that, despite his history and what the hotel was doing to him, he was a good person and he loved his son.

    I want to re-read this and then read the sequel that came out recently. I feel ambivalent about the sequel, but if it’s half as good as The Shining, then i’ll be happy.

    • lynnsbooks

      That was my motivation for finally picking this up – I want to read Dr Sleep. I enjoyed the film but it’s one of those times that I wasn’t watching it with any knowledge of the book. I can see why they wouldn’t have filmed certain things, like the topiary animals, which they wouldn’t have been able to do realistically at that time – but then I think they changed the nature of everything – particularly with the ending. Reading the book you can see that the hotel is housing something evil and you can see it’s strength – things like the animals outside guarding the hotel against outside interference. Or like the ‘thing’ dressed as the dog that was guarding the corridor so that Danny couldn’t go down to his dad and interfere with the hotel poisoning him against his family. The film missed out on all of that and basically came over as just a ghost story.
      Lynn 😀

  5. jessicabookworm

    I’ve so far only braved reading King’s dark fantasy series The Dark Tower. I haven’t braved what I call his proper horror/thriller novels. I do have Thinner on my TBR pile which is relatively short which I really should get round to soon! I do rather like The Shining film but I’ve heard King himself was not a fan.

    • lynnsbooks

      I do like the film but now I’ve read the book I can see they don’t really compare. I haven’t read the Dark Tower series but really should, so many people have told me I would love it. I have read Carrie and Salem’s Lot which were both good books. The Shining has some really scary scenes in it! You’ll need to be feeling brave before you pick it up.
      Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        Thanks for the warning! I hope you’ll be able to read The Dark Tower series soon. It’s epic but I feel worth it 😛

      • lynnsbooks

        It’s definitely going to be read. I have the Gunslinger already!
        Lynn 😀

  6. thenovellife1

    I am so nervous about reading this book! I love that you did it with another blogger! My problem is I get really bad nightmares but I do love to read suspense/thriller novels and 11-22-63 is still one of my favorite books of all time. You’re right ~ Stephen King can write a scene…he is the King of character development as well….with all that said ~ with all that said, would you recommend the novel for me? I want to read another book by him…just not sure which one!

    • lynnsbooks

      Well, the good thing about this book is it’s not all ‘wham bam thank you mam’. There is plenty of other detail going on around the more chilling elements that builds the tension. However, I can’t deny that some of the scenes are pretty scary and also I did actually, literally have a bad dream the night after I finished. Could be coincidence but I didn’t think so at the time! It’s pretty impressive really that I found his book scarier than the film!! I would say give it a go – it’s a slow builder and there’s plenty to read here but if you do get bad dreams then you might want to bear in mind my experience!
      Lynn 😀

  7. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea

    I like The Shining (book and Movie a lot) and Doctor Sleep is a terrific sequel (in my opinion).

    • lynnsbooks

      Ohh, I can’t wait to read Dr Sleep – probably be November but that’s not bad – still close enough to compare them both I think. I will still love this movie – I can’t help it but I think on reflection the movie is superior. Difficult to relay a lot of the thoughts onto the big screen really.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Priya

    I like that you thought the book was more sinister, which is a more appropriate word, I guess. People tend to disagree when I say the book was scarier! Sure, the book probably wouldn’t have made me scream as much as the film did, but it was more disturbing. And I thought the book showed so much more of Jack Torrance than the film managed to; I could never really hate him, only pity him. Of course, I read the book before I watched the movie, so I didn’t have an image of a maniacal Jack Nicholson in my head.
    I’m reading Doctor Sleep and so far, I love how he has extended the story!

    • lynnsbooks

      I definitely think the scary scenes in this are more sinister than the film – I wouldn’t say that there are as many scary scenes – I suppose the film is more intense in terms of things taking place. But the scene with the guy dressed as a dog! And, Room 217 – chilling. Plus, it was really interesting to watch Jack – I mean he was even having pretty mean thoughts at the interview – I guess the hotel could even have been working on him at that point!

      Can’t wait to read Dr Sleep. Will look out for your review.

      Lynn 😀

  9. TBM

    I read this earlier this year and loved it. yes, he pulls you into the story slowly. At first I was like, well this isn’t scary at all. Then all of a sudden I was sleeping with all the lights on. I can picture you reading on the way to work. We used to ride the subway in Boston and there was this one rider who we called ghost rider since she always had a book in her hand (I’m assuming scary) and she would constantly look over her shoulder absolutely terrified, like a ghost was tapping her on the shoulder asking her to move over so he could sit. Oh man, I miss ghost rider. I never could see what books she was reading, but they must be terrifying!

    • lynnsbooks

      My face when I was reading Chapter 217 must have been truly funny. I think there was a guy sat opposite me who looked quite desperate to know what I was reading! I’m surprised he didn’t snatch the book off me!
      Ghost rider – that’s me!
      Lynn 😀

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  11. Ana

    Don’t even get me started on that movie… I have always thought it is a great horror movie but should not be associated with the book. King was not happy with it for good reason.
    It is sad that the movie can influence readers in a negative way because I for one consider the book a masterpiece. Everything is well achieved, in my opinion. The buildup makes perfect sense and is absolutely necessary. Everything is so beliavable, you can totally understand how things got to that point. Few books have given me the feeling of accomplishment this one did.
    Your review was a pleasure to read, as usual.

    • lynnsbooks

      The book is just great – I never knew what to expect and it’s definitely a slow burner but I think that just helps to build the tension and otherwise it doesn’t make sense – you have to watch the slow spiral into ‘crazy’. And it’s so chilling – not to mention the ending – we never find out what was really going on with the movie whereas the book just made so much sense!
      Lynn 😀

      • Ana

        Yes and like you said, the book really allows you to get in the mind of Jack, to the point where instead of hating him you actually pity the guy.

      • lynnsbooks

        I still have Dr Sleep to read. Bought it as soon as it came out and still not got round to it. I’m trying to get back to my already owned books this year though so maybe I’ll knock that one off the list. I just always put review books before my own bought ones.
        Lynn 😀

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