Stephen King's sequel to the bestselling The Shining is a tale of redemption in a world containing very grown-up monsters. Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
Book: Doctor Sleep Author: Stephen King Publisher: Hachette India Pages: 485 Price: Rs599
Stephen King has literally paved the way for the horror genre. Salem's Lot, Carrie, It, The Shining and all the others are in a league of their own. The Shining in particular created a new air of suspense, forcing us to realise that our inner demons are the ones we have to fear the most. So when I heard there was going to be a sequel to arguably the most terrifying book ever, I was a little sceptical. I wondered to myself, how can King outdo himself 35 years later. After reading Doctor Sleep, I can genuinely appreciate the brilliance of a man who could write a spine chilling sequel to book of the Shining's calibre.
Doctor Sleep, carries on with the story of Daniel Torrance, after the events of the Shining. King, like in all his novel starts off a little light on the introductions, dipping the readers interest in the story slowly but steadily. At the end of The Shining, the haunted Overlook hotel was blown to hell, Daniel's father Jack who was influenced by the hotel is dead and the ghosts that haunted the place are no more. Three people survived the unholy events of King's most prolific novel, Dan Torrance, his mother Wendy, and Dick Hollorann, the chef of the Overlook who possessed psychic abilities i.e. the 'shining' just like Dan. Doctor Sleep, acts as a follow up, and profiles how these events have affected Dan Torrance.
The novel shows in the beginning shows Danny and Wendy trying to get by on disability checks, and Dan's shining ability returning. In the first few chapters Dick Hollorann returns to help Dan learn to control his abilities a little better now that he's older. As with couple of other novels, King uses time jumps to show that although things in his novels are supernatural in nature, there are also normal weeks, months and years - time in which nothing of note happens. Similarly, we jump to when Daniel is a young man, struggling with alcoholism, a bad temper and a general disdain for life, all of which he inherits from his father.
As we get our first insight into the novel, King portrays Danny's world as one of lost chances, self loathing and depression. He reaches a new low, when attempting to dash out on a one night stand, her toddler catches him trying to rob some of the cash from her purse. The shining allows him to see that the child is being abused, but he leaves him anyway. He later finds out that the mother and child end up dead. This event, masterfully emotional haunts Dan for the entirety of the novel.
After that Dan decides he should get his act together, he sets up shop in a small town and starts attending AA meetings. As he sobers up, he begins working in a hospice, where he uses his gift to helps some of the near death patients cross over to the other side, aptly earning the moniker Doctor Sleep. The theme of redemption and sobriety echo through the novel as Dan begins his journey of discovery, realising that there are more people out there with the 'shining' than he thought.
As the inner demons in Dan's life become apparent, the more visible demons start appearing sporadically as a group later identified as the True Knot, a vampire like cult who feed on 'steam' - the psychic energy of children who possess the 'shining'.The sadists in the cult acquire this energy by slowly torturing the victim to death and sucking up all the residual energy released. The True Knot travel around as nomads, in RVs across the country searching for more and more people to fuel their immortality and youth, an perk of feeding on children with the 'shining'. As they go unnoticed through the land, Rose the Hat, described as a sexy vampirella-esque leader discovers a young girl named Abra with an almost never before level of psychic energy.
The plot of the novel begins here. Rose decides that Abra is too good a steam to pass up and aims to track her down, also thinking she's too powerful a child to leave unchecked. Abra inadvertently reaches out to Dan psychically from a young age, and begins to form a bond with him, which leads to their eventual meeting. The story that follows is one of good vs evil in a world where it's hard to distinguish one from the other. Abra engages Dan's help to ward of Rose which ends up in an inevitable showdown.
The True Knot represent an interesting kind of adversary, in contrast to Dan's fight to stay sober, they embrace their addiction and wilfully seek it out. King works well through flashbacks and POV's where he shows them as repulsive and sadistic at some points and almost sympathetic in others. The beauty of King's writing is it's riddled with truth. He speaks of real world evils and places them in his world of the supernatural. King has the uncanny ability to use play-on-words and simple writing to his advantage. Doctor Sleep emerges as a relevant novel in today's time, working off the premise that even though novel is face paced and wide spread, character development isn't lacking.
King can carry off a sequel to possibly the greatest horror story ever written, by being a brilliant story-teller, leaving the reader wanting more. Moreover no matter how obscure the reference, no matter how different the story-lines are, there's always a link with King's works. Between Salem's Lot, The Shining, Carrie, The Dead Zone - There's always a link. And as with the others, there are several winking connections in Doctor Sleep as well. Predictability and consistency are never evident in King's novels, in fact the 'anything can happen' factor is what allures you more and more. You may get an inkling of the twist, but in the end you end up misjudging it. Such is the genius of Stephen King.
Bottom line, is Doctor Sleep as good as The Shining? No, it's not. But as a novel, Doctor Sleep is definitely one of the better written and engaging novels to come by in a long long while.