Stephen King – The Shining

I’m very, very late to the party with Stephen King’s The Shining. Having never seen the movie (though I did know key scenes and, thusly, spoilers) I didn’t really know what was coming. In truth, I expected an almost classic haunted house story with lots of squeaking floorboards and tricky mirrors. I should have known better. Stephen King is, after all, a master of character study. And that was the book’s strength: it’s characters.

shiningTHE SHINING
by Stephen King

Published by: Hodder, 2007 (1977)
ISBN: 0340951397
Paperback: 497 pages
Series: The Shining #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Jack Tor­rance thought: Of­fi­cious lit­tle prick.

First published in 1977, The Shining quickly became a benchmark in the literary career of Stephen King. 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 Torrence family. Adapted into a cinematic masterpiece of horror by legendary Stanley Kubrick — featuring an unforgettable performance by a demonic Jack Nicholson –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.

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This is one of those books that need no introduction. Everybody at least knows something about it, if only that famous scene from the movie adaptation “Heeeere’s Johnny!”. That and a few other scenes (creepy twins, anyone?) were everything I knew prior to reading this. I evaded the movie successfully for many years because I am one of those people. The ones that want to read the book first. Even from the little bit I knew about the movie, I can tell that the book tells quite another story.

Jack Torrance is hired as caretaker of the Overlook hotel, a place that will be snowed in during winter, limiting outside communication to the radio. The book’s beginning was great in many ways. We are introduced to the hotel and some of its history by the current manager, a despicable guy named Mr. Ullman. And Stephen King does despicable so, so well. At the same time, we get to know the characters and what has brought them to this godforsaken place in the mountains.

I don’t normally like reading books about alcoholics. I couldn’t tell you why. There is no history of alcoholism in my family, I’m not traumatised by bad experiences, I just find characters whose one defining characteristic is their addiction to booze pretty boring. But Jack Torrance, despite being a recovering alcoholic, is much more than that. He is a devoted father, he is scared by his own outbursts of violence, and he does love his wife, Wendy.

Stephen King grants us glimpses into each of their heads, as well as Mr. Halloran, the cook’s. I can’t say I disliked any of these characters. Sure, they all have flaws – some worse than others – but they felt so real that I couldn’t simply dismiss any one of them as The Villain or The Good Guy. Danny in particular got to me. At five years old, he is precocious and eager to learn, and also cursed with the Shining. Sometimes he can almost read minds, he certainly picks up on people’s feelings, and his imaginary friend Tony shows him visions of the future. They don’t always come true, but from the moment the story starts, you get a feeling that one particular vision will happen…

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I read this for Halloween because, as we don’t celebrate that holiday here, it’s pretty much the only way I can get in the mood. Read scary books, watch horror movies. That said, the horror element left me rather cold. When it comes to movies, I’m a scaredy-cat. I jump at shadows, I try to guess from the music and background where the next ghost/zombie/demon will jump out to make me shriek – and I still shriek every time.

Stephen King’s stories, to me, are horror much more in the sense that they show what actual humans are capable of doing to each other. The monsters don’t bug me, at least on the page. Subtle things – a door ajar when a second before it was closed, a painting hanging crooked on the wall – do give me the chills, and there was a little bit of that in The Shining. But the truly scary moments came when that hotel invaded people’s minds and made them do horrible things.

I had no idea how this was going to end, despite Danny’s precognition. Some parts can be guessed but a lot of threads are left open and keep up the suspense until the very end. Now that there’s a sequel out (Doctor Sleep) I am looking forward to reading it. Everybody knows Danny survives because the sequel is about him. And boy, that kid must be fuck up beyond belief. Having the Shining would be enough to unsettle the most psychologically stable person, being through this hell is quite another thing. All of that considered, the ending was beautiful. Well rounded and with a glimmer of hope for the future, it delivered on all the things that are most important to me in books. Character development and believability. Well done, Mr. King. Well done, indeed.

MY RATING: 7/10  –  Very good.

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