Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
– The Windmills of your mind
Michel Legrand/Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman
I was keen to read Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow up to The Shining, as the later is a tale in both book and film form that people just can’t forget as illustrated in the recent documentary Room 237 (Ascher, 2012). Of course in the world of Mr. King it is room 217, and his Shining is a very different story that it’s respective fans are equally fascinated by. I pre-ordered the book with the intention of reading Doctor Sleep in one sitting, and could quite easily have had the rest of my life not gotten in the way, so here I am a month later. It is however the type of book I would recommend ideally reading within a week maximum if circumstantially possible.
When the book arrived I spent my first few days of reading wondering around my work place trying to hype people up about it, and what I found was that despite King’s large looming position within the popular culture, when it comes to him novels readers are still very much love or hate with apparently no middle ground. After 50 novels this is surprising. Video-Gam told me he finds in hard to make it through the initial exposition of the stories King write (the reason, he tells me, why he is yet to make it half way through Pet Sematary) and I can understand where he is coming from. There are often a lot of subsidiary characters in King books and the plot will often go off at a seeming tangent exploring events in their lives. I can understand readers questioning the relevance of these segments. But I have also found (and now reading Doctor Sleep it has become particularly clear) that the idea with a Stephen King book is that at some point all of the stars will line up (the pink stars are falling… ha) Kings characters need to be in a certain place at a certain time to achieve certain events that will effect the final outcome or the novel.
Doc sleep in particular is about things come around back to the start, both life in the broad sense and live events for individuals. This is my excuse for my inclusion of the link to the video at the end of this post. First because it is a great example of song writing, (the version in the clip is performed here by the recently deceased Noel Harrison) matched to a great piece of film making but because the themes of the song line up nicely with the predominant themes of Doc Sleep; both are about the resonance people leave behind, the tiny imprints they leave on the environment around them, weather it be through objects, footprints, or spirits like those that wondered the halls of overlook, or most pernicious and long lasting; memories. After all they do say that a person dies twice; once when the physical body dies ad again when the last person ceases to remember you.
Danny Torrance grows up haunted, literally and metaphorically, by the ghosts of the Overlook, and by the huge responsibility of the ‘shining.’ He has inherited his father’s propensity for drink along with a few other family traits, and drifts from town to town regretting all the things he has/hasn’t done with his life until one day he reaches the town of Frazier and lands a job at Rivington house where he and Azreel the cat use their special talents to comfort dying elderly patients as they crossover. Then one day a very special little girl is born; Abra Stone shares Dan’s gift but her’s is much stronger, she is able to reach out to him with her mind and befriends him. Unfortunately a band of ‘steam’ sucking vampires known as the True Knot has also noticed Abra and her extraordinary talents. They need her shining to live and will stop at nothing till they get her dead or alive. Danny must put all of his ghosts to rest in order to save Abra and her family, which will be a big challenge considering that one of the True Knot’s camp-sites sits on the site of the old Overlook hotel.
The Shining was very much about letting memories of the past destroy you. Jack’s father was a drinker with a temper, Jack can see himself slipping down the same path but feels powerless to change what he sees as an inherited fate. he can’t forget what he did to Danny’s arm, and the family’s trip to the Overlook is his last ditch attempt to turn things around. Unfortunately the Overlook has a long memory of it’s own. Doc Sleep is much more about coming to terms with the ghosts of your past (even the really nasty ones) turning the tables and letting them help you to succeed.
How successful is Doctor Sleep? I hear you ask. As a story very successful. I have always said that one of the greatest joys you can have as a fan of a set of stories, weather it be books or films, is to be able to revisit really well written characters that are like old friends (This is why I love Scream 4 (Craven, 2011) when the follow up is done well. Doc has grown up to be extremely likeable and responsible despite his flaws, ans their was never a point in the novel where I felt disappointed with how things turned out. (and he goes through a hell of a lot)
Abra is a great character. I once read a Stephen King book called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), a tale of survival where disturbing things wait for you in the woods, which I found rather distracting to read because the main protagonist is a young girl and I just could not believe in her voice as a realistic character. No such trouble here though, I have to say that Abra is the best female Stephen King character I’ve read (Although I’ve plenty more to read) What is also nice, having read a lot about Carrie (1974) being a representation of teenage boys, is the idea Doc Sleep gives us of what Carrie’s life might have been like if her mother had been half as understanding as the Stones’ (Abra is able to move objects with her mind and even causes a minor earthquake)
Is Doc Sleep a success in terms of scares? Well it is a Stephen King book so some moments are understandably terrifying, and King is great at making the weather and landscape chilling. However I personally did not find the True Knot especially worrying. Their leader Rose The Hat seems like a pretty cool chick who I would not want to mess with but the True are ultimately no match for what the Overlook had to offer. The pleasures of this book lie in catching up with Danny Torrance and on those terms I can highly recommend it. I wish happy reading to you all.