Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King

Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: 1977
Source: paperback copy that I've owned for ages

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

This tale of a troubled man hired to care for a remote mountain resort over the winter, his loyal wife, and their uniquely gifted son slowly but steadily unfolds as secrets from the Overlook Hotel's past are revealed, and the hotel itself attempts to claim the very souls of the Torrance family. 

The Shining stands as a cultural icon of modern horror, a searing study of a family torn apart, and a nightmarish glimpse into the dark recesses of human weakness and dementia.

My Review:

I suppose I've made no secret of the fact that I am JUST A LITTLE excited about the upcoming release of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's sequel to The Shining.  In preparation, I felt it was necessary to do a re-read of this King classic, since I'm pretty sure I was in 7th or 8th grade the last time I read it.  (I know, hold the phone, what was a 12-year-old doing reading this freakish novel?  This explains so much about my mental health.)

Returning to this book 15+ years after my original reading was a completely different experience.  Yes, I already knew what was going to happen--and I pretty much did the first time around too, thanks to the movie.  (Oh my God, why did I watch this movie when I was younger than 12 years old?  Do I even have parents? (Kidding, Mom. It was Dad who let me watch it anyway.))

But even if you've seen the movie, or read it before, The Shining doesn't get any less haunting upon subsequent reads.  The novel focuses on the Torrance family (Jack, Wendy, and 5-year-old Danny), recently relocated to Colorado after Jack lost his job in Vermont.  Jack has signed on as the winter caretaker for the Overlook hotel, a gigantic resort in the Rocky Mountains that gets so snow-bound in the winter, the hotel has to shut down completely from October to May.  So yes, that's right--Jack and family will be living alone, in this enormous hotel, for 6 months.  Before you say "NBD, loves me some Candy Crush time," let's keep in mind this is 1977 and once the snow flies, they're cut off from the world except by CB radio.

I'm not doing spoilers here, but this is Stephen King, so obviously the entire scenario goes downhill fast.  That's no secret--in fact, King starts to plant the seeds of impending doom in the earliest pages, building your sense of dread all the way up to the inevitably dire conclusion.  Even though Danny is arguably the star of this show, I definitely found myself most fascinated by Jack's decent into madness throughout the novel.  If you've seen the movie, this is a central portion of its plot.  Jack Nicholson's character slowly turns from (semi) responsible family man to raving murderous lunatic.  The difference in the book (and what makes me love it justalittle more than the film) is that it's not just about Jack--it's about the hotel.  The movie does incorporate this, but not nearly to the extent that King does in the book.  Yes, Jack begins to lose his mind--but why?  How much of it can be attributed to his alcoholic past, or his abusive father...and how much of it is the hotel itself?  It's much more complex than what you'll see in Kubrick's screen version, and I love that.  King has a knack for the supernatural elements in his stories, and this is no exception.

However, during this reading I also paid particular attention to Danny.  Doctor Sleep picks up with Danny as an adult, so I wanted to really focus on his role in The Shining.  Danny has a gift of precognition, or the "shine" as it is described to him, and this is the driving force behind much of The Shining's plot.  Danny, that poor kid--he has to do a lot of growing up as his parents slowly lose control of the situation.  I can't wait to see how these horrible events come back to haunt him (probably literally) in Doctor Sleep.

This was less of a review and more of a "let's get pumped for part two," but obviously, The Shining is one of my King favorites.  The suspense is intense and the character development alone is a great reason to delve into it.  If you're not sure about SK horror, I will warn you that there is some gore, and you may not want to read this one at midnight as you're trying to drift off to sleep.  But I hope you won't let that deter you.  I was happy to revisit it as an adult, and I can't wait to see what else is in store for Danny in the sequel.

Have you read The Shining, or seen the movie?  (If you've done both, I could have a whole separate conversation with you about the differences...)  And if you have read it, what are your thoughts/hopes about the upcoming sequel?

UPDATE: In a random coincedence, my friend Damen (who writes for the film blog Hey U Guys) wrote a blog post today about some crazy theories re: Stanley Kubrick movies (including The Shining).  If you've seen the movie and want more Shining fix today, check it out HERE.


  1. This is hat I'm reading next - after finishing with Blackout by Mira Grant. I'm super excited for Dr. Sleep too ... well,I guess I'm super excited to read anything King puts out.

    Tanya Patrice

    1. Oooh I loved the Mira Grant trilogy, hope you're enjoying it as well! Are you re-reading The Shining or is it your first time through?

    2. Re-read but I barely remember it!

  2. I'm doing a re-read right now (I'm also co-hosting a read-along for Doctor Sleep if you're interested). I'm enjoying it so much more this time around, I think because I know what's going to happen so I can really just focus on the characters. I love the way King writes his characters... they always feel so real. And Danny, this poor little five-year-old boy with a talent (gift? curse?) that he never asked for just breaks my heart.

    1. VERY interested in the readalong, I will check that out! And I agree about how nice it was to focus on the characters this time around--especially in prep for the new book.

  3. Have I been living under a rock? I definitely didn't know a sequel was coming out to The Shining. For shame, I'm a huge King fan! I've never actually read The Shining because I thought 'Oh what's the point' after seeing the movie. After reading this review, I feel like I'm missing out by only seeing the movie! Can't wait to dive into this one.

    1. It's definitely interesting to read the book and see the movie--Stephen King actually hated a lot of things about the movie (especially the casting--the characters in the book do read very differently than Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duval portray them on screen). But there are plot differences too. I want to re-watch the movie now to get the full effect.

  4. I'm a little embarrassed that I've never read OR seen The Shining!

  5. I have read the book and seen the movie, but far enough apart that I didn't notice the differences. I love how well King does creepy!

    1. I love it too! I want to re-watch the movie now that the book is fresh in my head.

  6. I've read the book and seen the movie and visited the hotel that inspired The Shining (Stanley Hotel in Colorado, where some of the book was written, too!), but I should reread it for the new one!

    -Rebecca @ Love at First Book

    1. Ooooh I am so jealous you've been to the Stanley!! Did you actually stay overnight, or just visit?

  7. I am currently re-reading this one with Charleen for the #shinealong!! I am actually enjoying it more on the re-read than I think I did the first-time around. I appreciate the writing, the complexity of the characters, and the story as a whole even more.

    As Charleen mentioned in an earlier comment, we are also doing a read-along for Doctor Sleep as well! I cannot wait to read this one!!!! I haven't been this excited for a new release in a long time!!

    1. Yes, I am definitely joining you guys for the Doctor Sleep readalong! I loved re-reading the Shining with the sequel in mind, because I feel like it forced me to focus on the character development (especially Danny's) a lot more.

    2. Yeah!!!! So glad that you will be joining us!

      There have been so many things on this re-read that I don't think I caught the first time I read it ages ago! It's been fun to revisit and I look forward to seeing where King takes Danny in Doctor Sleep!

  8. The Shining is a great read. I am looking forward to reading part two. I have read the book and seen the movie several times. Was hoping to do a re-read beforehand, but I wasn't able to fit it in.
    -Dilettantish Reader

    1. Hopefully if you've read/seen it several times, a re-read won't be necessary! I had only read it the once, so a re-read was definitely needed. (And I hardly ever re-read books in general, so that's saying a lot!)

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