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.