REVIEW: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

As the sequel to cult novel The Shining, Doctor Sleep was always going to have high expectations to live up to. But did it quite manage it? 

Danny Torrance – the telepathic child who just-about saved the day in The Shining – is now a man, and is struggling with life. His capability to read minds, predict incidents and see death haunts him, and he seeks solace in alcohol, drugs and violence. On moving to a non-descript town in New Hampshire, he seems to clean up his act, joining an AA group (hurrah!) and finally settling in his job at a residential home, where he comforts the dying with the aid of a psychic cat.

It’s only when he begins telepathically communicating with fellow ‘shiner’ Abra that the peace he seems to have finally found starts to unravel. Abra has a shine even greater than Danny’s – and a vampire-esque cult called The True Knot are hunting her so they can consume her ‘steam’ and keep themselves younger for longer. The True, a group of mish-mashed travellers who stalk their prey via, er, RVs, are horrendous in their goals but laughable in their reality: the cult are dying of a measles outbreak caught from their last kill. It wouldn’t happen in Twilight…

As Abra and Danny – plus a selection of not-so-shiny others – band forces to destroy The True once and for all, the plot becomes increasingly rambling. The ending of the novel is utterly predictable, and life for Danny – which was so grim at the start of the novel – has flipped 180 and is now hunky-dory. The metaphor of sobriety as the key to redemption and salvation is unmissable, as is the Totally Saw That One Coming plot twist that hits just before the end.

What I will say about the novel is that King’s genius when it comes to slipping the supernatural into the everyday is masterful. The eeriness of Danny’s childhood – which is reflected on in the opening chapters of the novel – seems to give way to a far more ‘manageable’ level of horror once he’s a ‘grown up’. Even the terror of The True – a motley bunch led by the irritatingly cocky Rose The Hat – seems little compared to that the reader feels when AA-devotee Danny is tempted to turn back to the bottle. And I suppose the level of care the reader develops for Danny as the plot – however weird, tedious and drawn-out it may in places be – is the mark of the novel.

Doctor Sleep, £18.99, Stephen King (published by Hodder & Stoughton); available to buy here.

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