Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (#SleepAlong!)

Title: Doctor Sleep
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of  The Shining  and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

My Review:

As you all know, I took part in the Doctor Sleep Read-Along hosted by Tif Talks Books and Charlene at Cheap Thrills.  You can read my first two check-in posts HERE and HERE (caution, some spoilers).  However, now that I've finished the entire novel, this is a SPOILER-FREE full review to recap my thoughts.

So, a sequel to The Shining.  At first, I must say I was unsure that it could be done well.  King admits as much in his note at the end of this novel, saying that The Shining is one of the top books fans mention to him when naming a list of his novels that scared the bejesus out of them.  How do you top that?

I wouldn't necessarily say that King "topped" The Shining here.  Doctor Sleep is not nearly as horrifying, in my opinion, and if that's your basis of comparison, you may be disappointed.  However, what King has managed to do is create an entirely different storyline that still brings in enough overlapping detail from The Shining to make the novels compliment each other perfectly.  From that perspective, I think King nailed this sequel.  He doesn't try to bring Danny Torrance right back into the world of the Overlook--I think that's an effort that would have bored fans and led to too much direct comparison to the first novel.  Instead, we get to see how the Overlook experience has changed Danny over time, while also bringing in an entirely new cast of characters.

And speaking of that cast of characters, I was captivated by them--especially the members of the True Knot, King's "bad guys" in this story.  Not quite humans, not quite vampires, they travel the country in RVs and hunt down little kids who have "the shining".  Creepy, eh?  Other than the interest I had in their particular brand of scariness, I also love how King took such an innocuous group of people (middle-aged RVers that travel the country relatively unnoticed) and turned them into this menacing force.  I'll surely never be looking at a Winnebago the same way again.  Muahahaha.

A few notes on the reading experience as a whole: the prologue of the book moves a bit slowly, and I know this has turned a few people off.  For me, I do think it took me a while to dive in at the beginning, but being familiar with King's brand of slow pacing, I hung in there.  By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked, and by the end of the novel, you'll see exactly why the prologue was important.

I was a little surprised that I predicted one of the biggest "twists" in the novel well before it was revealed.  I mentioned in one of my Sleep-Along check-ins that I had a prediction about a family relationship between two of the characters, and it ended up being spot-on.  Unusual for me (I NEVER see twists coming), but especially in a King novel.  I wouldn't say that this ruined anything in the book for me, but the amazement that comes with a big reveal was lost on me--something that I think other readers really enjoyed.  Ah well.  I guess I need to pay less attention next time?

One of the Sleep-Along questions this week was whether we feel it is necessary to read The Shining before reading Doctor Sleep.  Even though the storylines are so different, I would answer this with a resounding YES.  There are many small details that overlap between the two stories--for example, a quote during a job interview that Danny goes to is taken directly from a quote his father had during a job interview in The Shining.  Another example: Abra (the young girl in Doctor Sleep) has the same nervous tic that Jack Torrance had in The Shining.  Plus, the ending weaves in some very important information from Danny's childhood experience at the Overlook (details from the book, not the movie--so don't just substitute the Kubrick film!).  Is it imperative that you know these details before reading Doctor Sleep?  I suppose not...but your reading experience will not be nearly so fulfilling if you don't have this background beforehand.  If you want the full Doctor Sleep experience, get thee to The Shining first!

Final thoughts?  Doctor Sleep is the perfect compliment to its predecessor.  I love that it didn't try to repeat The Shining, but instead added on to it in a way that made many of the relationships from the first book (especially the one between Danny and his father) that much fuller.  It has a great blend of creeptastic-ness and suspense, plus a new world of characters that leaves you with more than enough to sink your teeth into.

Ever wonder what happened to little Danny Torrance?  Then you MUST read Doctor Sleep and find out.

Have you read Doctor Sleep?  How do you feel it compares to The Shining?  If you haven't read it but you did read The Shining, do you have any interest in the sequel...or do you want to leave little Danny as he was at the Overlook?  :)


  1. Ooooh! I must admit, even though this has been sitting on my to read list since it was announced, I didn't actually even look at any synopsis or blurb. So now I've read about it, I'm definitely even more excited to read it =) It definitely doesn't sound Shining-scary, but a little eerie and the whole concept sounds pretty good.
    Sounds like I'll probably be doing a re-read of the Shining before I read this one too! Thanks for the review, Kelly =)

    1. I hope you do get to read it (and enjoy it) soon! It's an awesome follow-up. :)

  2. I read somewhere that King didn't even try to make it compete with The Shining scare-wise because he knew it couldn't be done; instead he just wanted to tell a great story. I think he did what he set out to do.

    1. I completely agree! There are 1000 wrong ways he could have attempted this, and he avoided all of them.

  3. Great review!! I love that you addressed the creepy factor between The Shining and Doctor Sleep. I would not say that the sequel is as scary as the original (though I think I will get shivers whenever I pass an RV on the highway on my travels!), and I agree 100% that it is a perfect companion on so many different levels. I consider it a success too!!

    I'm so glad you joined us for this read-along! It has been a blast, especially with this book!

    1. Yes, and thank you for hosting!! Lots of fun to tackle this one with a group.

  4. I received the audiobook as a review copy, so I need to write an actual review, too, ASAP. I'll come back and read yours when I'm done!

    1. Very cool! Who is the narrator? I bet this is a good one on audio.

  5. I saw your prediction last week, and you so nailed it! I was surprised though - but alas, I don't have very good powers of observation. Overall I really enjoyed this one. I think you'll miss a lot if you don't read The Shining, but I don't thin kit's really necessary to read it first to get this book.

    Tanya Patrice

    1. True, you can definitely still "get" this one without reading The Shining...I just feel like so much of the detail and tone would be lost without it.

  6. I haven't read this yet, but I'd like to! I agree with you that it sounds like a good decision not to try and replicate the first book, but to go to a new setting and the whole idea of this one sounds fascinating.

    1. I hope you get to try it out soon!

  7. It sounds like knowing the details of The Shining (I didn't) really helped you figure out some of the plot twists -- I didn't see that one coming but I'm not sure it added much for me. I really liked this book, and I was glad King gave us a story that built on The Shining but was very different. I'm glad it was a little less scary than I expected. It was a lot more character-driven than some of his recent books. I'm glad you liked it!

    1. Yes, the background from The Shining definitely made some of the twists easier for me to figure out (not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing!). And I also loved that it was so character-driven. Many of his more recent novels have been like that, and it adds so much to the novel as a whole.

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