Sunday, 23 March 2014

Doctor Sleep

Stephen King’s latest novel has been flying off shelves here in Doha and around the world, so I knew I had to read it and write about it for you. And with more than 5000 reviews on Amazon in less than six months, you are bound to find those who love it and those who hate it. Some have even said that “Doctor Sleep will put you to sleep”. I am not one of those. And I can safely say that Stephen King has managed to keep me up reading his books. Again.

This is not to say the book has no flaws. God knows I have my qualms about it. But with more than 50 published books, including The Shining, one of the flagships of the modern horror genre and the prequel to Doctor Sleep, it was inevitable that this review would not only be about the book but also about its author.

Stephen King is considered by many to be the master of modern horror fiction. He’s been rolling out dozens of books since the seventies, and unless you were living under a rock you will have either read his stories or watched them on TV. He’s the one who wrote Carrie, The Shining, Cujo, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, The Mist, and...Yes, you heard me, Shawshank Redemption!

He is known to write big books. Most of his works go well beyond 400 or 500 pages. The epics like IT and The Stand are easily over 800 pages. But he’s easy to read. And Doctor Sleep is no exception. Some times when you’re hungry you like to treat yourself to a gourmet meal at a fancy restaurant. But at other times you just want to order that 500 gram (17 ounce) steak so you can sink your teeth in it and devour bite after bite without fear of running out too soon. That’s how Stephen King novels feel like! And the worst steak dinner is still a great meal.

Doctor Sleep is supposed to be the sequel to The Shining and this, in my opinion, is the source of most of its bad reviews, because The Shining is just too good and Doctor Sleep will never match up to it. However, if regarded as a standalone novel, Doctor Sleep has its merits.

Before I get into further details about Doctor Sleep, let me tell you this, if you have read The Shining, read it again. If you haven’t, then go read it whether you want to read Doctor Sleep or not. And if you only saw the movie, do yourself a favour, and read the book.

The main common factor between both books is the main character Dan Torrance and his supernatural gift that is called the shining. We left Dan at the end of the first book as a five year old boy who had gone through hell at the world famous Overlook hotel. Now we pick up with him again as a middle-aged recovering alcoholic. The author fills us in on a lot of what happened to Dan in the time between then and now, but he also takes off with another story altogether after that, one that involves more shining, more people with the shining, and more and more people who want to kill those who have the shining.

The major difference I felt between the two books is that while both have supernatural phenomena at the centre of them, The Shining felt creepy while Doctor Sleep felt more real. At first this was upsetting, because I went into it expecting to read a story continuing along the same lines as its predecessor, but after embracing the new story I got used to it. In the first book, for a big part, it seemed that King only alluded to the supernatural in a subtle way. It’s their and it’s not their at the same time and he left it to your imagination to fill in the gaps which is probably why the book was scary on so many levels. Then all of a sudden he would shock you with a scene that was so graphic and detailed, it would stick with you for a very long time afterwards. In Doctor Sleep, on the other hand, he treats the supernatural phenomena in his book as if it is an everyday thing. He mentions it more frequently and rather casually. Almost all of the characters in this story have something otherworldly about them to some degree or another and there is nothing subtle about it. This gave him room to concentrate on more real, gritty stuff, like substance abuse, anger, violence, torture and death. Not to mention friendship, family and redemption.

Some of the characters here are very well developed like the young Abra Stone who has an even stronger shine than Dan, but many other characters, specially the villains seem too shallow and rushed. King attempts to create an epic battle between good and evil, however, the ending is very predictable and somewhat anticlimactic. The story is about middle-aged Dan, living peacefully in a small town using his gifts to help dying people pass over. But then he meets Abra, a young girl whose abilities are even stronger than his and who is hunted by a group of semi-immortal beings, called the True Knot, who hunt kids with the shining and feed on the steam they release when they are tortured. It seems pretty obvious where King is going with this and how it will end. But if you decide to read this book, then do it for the journey not the ending.

In my opinion, those who read Doctor Sleep before reading its prequel will enjoy it more because they won’t have any preconceived notions and they won’t have created any emotional bonds with fiver-year old Danny.

I’ve read a few of Stephen King’s books, some I’ve liked and some not very much but all were easy to read and kept me entertained. His new book Mr.Mercedes comes out in June of this year, so let’s hope he doesn’t make the same mistakes again. Until then if you feel like having a literary steak that you can easily chew, pick up Doctor Sleep, you’ll enjoy it!

No comments:

Post a Comment