When Stephen King announced that he was penning the long-awaited sequel to his hit horror novel The Shining, the response was mixed. Many of King’s fans felt that attempting to follow up a classic would always have disappointing results, while others welcomed the chance to hear what happened next to the few survivors of the Overlook Hotel. As it turns out, little Danny Torrance didn’t escape the wreckage unscathed, and Doctor Sleep explores the consequences of this childhood trauma while putting new horrors in Danny’s path.
The Shining saw Danny’s father, Jack Torrance, battling his alcoholic demons along with some external supernatural monsters in an isolated hotel in Colorado. The story, made even more famous by Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance in Kubrick’s film based on the novel, saw the downfall and death of the dry drunk Jack, and the narrow escape of his family from murder at his hands. In Doctor Sleep we see Danny fighting similar demons, having turned to alcohol to ease the pain of living with his past, and to suppress ‘the shining’ itself, the psychic power he’s possessed since childhood. After hitting a disastrous rock bottom, Danny seeks help from AA (an unsurprising turn given King’s highly un-anonymous membership of the program since the 80’s) and begins work in a hospice, where he finds his unwanted gift can help the dying.
Although Doctor Sleep is partly a book about alcoholism and recovery, it is also, true to form, a horror novel. A demonic cult called True Knot make up the external demons that must be defeated in Doctor Sleep, and the novel is full of frights despite its sombre message, with all the thrills you’d expect from a King novel. The narrative voice verges on the predictable at times, as does the plot, particularly the rather unoriginal twist at the end, but the pace is quick and exciting and King’s usual knack for storytelling leaves the reader thoroughly entertained until the end.