Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining. Special kid and plucky survivor of everyone’s favourite haunted hotel, Danny Torrance is all grown up and has ditched his tricycle in favour of riding the devious monster of alcoholism. A rock-bottom episode, a new job and a string of AA meetings later and he is ready to help Abra Stone a young girl whose midi-chlorian count is off the scale (reminiscent of Firestarter). A bunch of no good child killing vampire-like mobile home driving shine-suckers called the True Knot want Abra for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the Hobbit-meals in between.
There are some vague spoilers here so beware…
When I learned that King had written a sequel I was concerned that it might devalue one of my favourite books and my favourite Stephen King film adaptation. Having finished reading it I’m kind of happy that it didn’t suck, but also a little disappointed that it wasn’t quite the balls-out thrill ride I was expecting. Most of the story is pretty standard King plotting, but he seems so invested in his characters that he wasn’t willing to ‘do a Martin’ and kill one off for excitement’s sake – natural causes abound and a couple of children are violently killed, but I think back with the arm-ripping scene from “It” almost fondly. The action feels PG rated rather than 18 Cert and I worry that King has mellowed too much in his advancing years.
None of the heroes in this journey make the ultimate sacrifice that is generally required by King’s constant reader and while the ending is a lot more entertaining and ‘tight’ than some of King’s lesser novels it compares badly with the momentous climax of “The Shining” (book or film – take your pick, but you should re-read the book if you’re unsure of the differences between King and Kubrick’s climaxes, as “Doctor Sleep” follows the original plot).
The True Knot suck at being bad guys. The level of threat they pose to the seemingly super-powered Abra and not-so-troubled-now Danny isn’t big enough – sure they can kill off innocence kids and manipulate Muggles to their black hearts’ content, but I didn’t really feel that they had it in them to really threaten the heroes. Especially when, like a bunch of unwitting War of the Worlds tripods, they begin to fall foul of measles. I think King felt he needed to up the ante to motivate the Knot to not just dissolve back into the background of US society and wait Abra’s threat out and actually go on the offensive, but it felt a little clunky to me. Such was their bungling I almost felt sorry for the Knot despite their evilness.
And now the obligatory qualification…
That said, this is a really good book. Not as page-turn inducing as some of his other recent stuff e.g. “Joyland” and “The Wind Through the Keyhole”, but certainly not something to be dismissed. As usual King’s dedication to documenting middle America and building complex layered characters is fantastic and while for me it misfires on few points this is akin to saying I didn’t enjoy driving an American muscle car because the engine stuttered a bit at traffic lights. The mental image of a yawning elongated mouth with a single long tooth will stay with me for some time, as will the image of a top-hatted devil-woman floating outside a child’s bedroom window.