REVIEW: DR SLEEP BY STEPHEN KING

DR SLEEP

Author: Stephen King
H &S Fiction RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

I confess. I have not read The Shining. Years ago I was terrified by Pet Sematery, It, Misery and other King novels, but while I watched the film version, I missed the book. King has assured readers that his sequel, Dr Sleep, follows the novel, not the film. With that in mind as well as bucket loads of hype, I prepared to be scared by Dr Sleep, wondering if I should brave the book at night. I need not have worried. I didn’t find Dr Sleep scary at all – creepy and sometimes freaky, but not downright scary. Even the words in the blurb – ‘a gory, glorious story’ – seemed a bit overblown to me.

In the book’s acknowledgements, King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. After a few introductory/backstory chapters Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, using his ‘shining’ talent to help people pass from life to death (hence the name Doctor Sleep). He’s been drifting for decades, caught up in alcoholism and despair, not unlike his father, but after reaching rock bottom in New Hampshire he joins AA and finally feels as though he can settle. Mostly. A young girl called Abra, who lives in the same town, reaches out to him telepathically, using a blackboard in the hospice to communicate; the contact began when Abra was a baby, but now, at 13, she’s reaching out to Dan more and more. Troubled by the death of a young boy, she is close to working out who’s responsible.

And that’s the problem. The people responsible are a nomadic, harmless-appearing tribe called the True Knot; they travel around the country in RVs searching for sustenance. To them, sustenance is ‘steam’ – something they obtain from children with the ‘shining’ who are caught and then tortured. With ‘steam’ True Members are near-immortal. When True Knot leader Rose the Hat becomes aware of Abra, she realises that Abra represents the jackpot to them – some children have small amounts of ‘shining’, but Abra has the the brightest shining the True Knot has ever seen. As members start succumbing to disease, The True Knot realise they must capture Abra and her ‘steam’ to survive. What follows is a battle for survival as Dan and Abra fight off the vengeful, hungry True Knot, reigniting Dan’s demons and testing Abra’s strength.

I read this over several days and found it to be a well-paced and well-written thriller, with good characterisation throughout. I found Rose the Hat to be sinister – she was a good arch-villian; Dan was also well-drawn. There is a lot of back story, which was good for me since I haven’t read The Shining, but … there was a lot and I think those who are familiar with the first book may find it a bit heavy on back story. The AA storyline showed great emotional investment from King; it’s clear that he regards AA as a shining beacon for those lost in the darkness of alcoholism. But here’s the thing. I expected scary. Dr Sleep just wasn’t scary. I didn’t have those I-want-to-hide-the-book-somewhere-and-then-hide-under-a-blanket moments like I did with King’s earlier novels … and I sort of wanted to. I thought the ending happened too neatly, with a HEA instead of lurking doubt. So, a good read, just not the ‘great’ one I expected.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: My stand-by reading snack popcorn filled my tummy as I read.