Book Review – The Shining by Stephen King
First published, 1977
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
And so continues my besotted awe of Stephen King… You know when there’s an author who you know will deliver every single time, but you don’t want to ruin yourself by reading everything they’ve ever written in one sitting because you know you’re going to wonder what else you have to look forward to? No? Just me?
I think most people know the basics of the story from the film, but just so we know where we are: The story follows Jack, an author, trying to complete work on his new play while juggling his failing marriage, his complex relationship with small son, Danny, his alcoholism, his temper, and his recent sacking from an important teaching job at a prestigious school. In need of funds and with his reputation in tatters, Jack will take whatever job he can find. So, when the post of winter caretaker at a weather-scuppered Colorado hotel comes up, he’ll take his medicine and play nice with the haughty, self-important manager, even though he could run intellectual rings round him, even though it belittles him even to sit across the desk from such a prissy little man.
The hotel will be closed for several months due to the severity of the weather, and there will be repairs that require attention, as well as a finicky boiler with pressure problems. The family will be on their own. But all too soon, the isolation, and the bizarre and bloody history of the hotel collide with Jack’s loose grip on reality and the psychical abilities of his little boy.
Because Danny knows things. Things no child should know. He sees and hears all manner of events that he’s not witnessed, some of which have yet to happen, because of his gift – something he attributes to Tony, who calls to him in his mind, and who Danny’s parents believe to be an imaginary friend. Only Mr Hallorann, the resort’s cook, knows what Danny has, and it’s no mere invisible friend. Danny has the Shining. Luckily, Mr Hallorann has it too, so if there’s trouble – and there’s bound to be, come on, it’s a classic of the genre – then Danny can just call out to his swiftly-departing new pal and help will be on the way.
But will Danny’s shine stretch from Colorado all the way to Florida? And will Dick Hallorann get to the family in time to save them from the hotel and its mouldering corpses, swarms of vicious wasps, and fractured minds?
I know – everybody knows that Stephen King is an incredible horror writer. Actually, the best. I think that’s doing him a disservice, though. Stephen King is one of the finest writers, of any genre, alive. Damn right, I said it. And I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking it.
This novel is remarkable. Amazingly fine detail on the characters – Jack wiping his mouth when anxious, Wendy’s fear of turning into her mother, and Danny… See, precocious children, especially fictional ones, are quite infuriating to a certain degree. Often, when reading a gifted child character, you’ll find they speak either like a university professor, making the reader feel like a dunce, or like a toddler, mashing up words and communicating in their own language, which also feels limiting. Danny just sounds like a normal little boy with an extraordinary gift, one that he struggles to articulate – as well he should. Aside from the characters, the story pulls the reader in from page one. I got to the point, not of ‘Just one more page,’ or ‘Just one more chapter,’ but ‘I must finish this now because I need to know what happens.
Because although I’ve seen the film countless times, the book is different. There are various acts of topiary that I imagine would have been difficult to capture on film, and the ending is – not going to ruin it for you – brilliant. There is a decent chunk of violence as well as horror, but it’s the psychological element that leaves the reader worrying for their own mental well-being.
“Danny was sitting up. ‘Daddy? Daddy?’ His voice was sleepy and scared.
‘Right here, doc,’ Jack said. ‘Come on over and jump in. Your mom’s awake, too.’
The bedclothes rustled as Danny got on the bed between them. ‘It’s the elevator,’ he whispered.
‘That’s right,’ Jack said. ‘Just the elevator.’
‘What do you mean just?’ Wendy demanded. There was an ice-skim of hysteria on her voice. ‘It’s the middle of the night. Who’s running it?’
Hummmmmmm. Click/clank. Above them now. The rattle of the gate accordioning back, the bump of the doors opening and closing. Then the hum of the motor and the cables again.
Danny began to whimper.
Jack swung his feet out of bed and onto the floor. ‘It’s probably a short. I’ll check.’
‘Don’t you dare go out of this room!’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ he said, pulling on his robe. ‘It’s my job.’
She was out of bed herself a moment later, pulling Danny with her.
‘We’ll go, too.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Danny asked somberly. ‘What’s wrong, Daddy?’
Instead of answering he turned away, his face angry and set. He belted his robe around him at the door, opened it, and stepped out into the dark hall.
Wendy hesitated for a moment, and it was actually Danny who began to move first. She caught up quickly, and they went out together.
Jack hadn’t bothered with the lights. She fumbled for the switch that lit the four spaced overheads in the hallway that led to the main corridor. Up ahead, Jack was already turning the corner. This time Danny found the switchplate and flicked all three switches up. The hallway leading down to the stairs and the elevator shaft came alight.
Jack was standing at the elevator station, which was flanked by benches and cigarette urns. He was standing motionless in front of the closed elevator door. In his faded tartan bathrobe and brown leather slippers with the rundown heels, his hair all in sleep corkscrews and Alfalfa cowlicks, he looked to her like an absurd twentieth century Hamlet, an indecisive figure so mesmerized by onrushing tragedy that he was helpless to divert its course or alter it in any way.”
p326-327, Chapter Thirty-Six, The Elevator, The Shining by Stephen King
And, holy hell, but that hit me like a train.
Just a masterpiece. Go, read, love.