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.