Twice a year, Simon and Karen host a club where we all read from a particular year. This time it was 1977. This turned out to be not the best year for me – the book I would have chosen, had I not read it before would have been Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (I loved this, review here). I’ve read many of the thrillers and fantasy novels on Wikipedia’s 1977 list many years ago too, including struggling through the ‘begats’ of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which bore little similarity to my beloved LOTR.
There was one book on the list and on my shelves, that was saying ‘read me!’ though, a near 500 page book I’ve put off for ages (alongside more 500 pagers from this author)…
The Shining by Stephen King
What is amazing, is that I’ve not read King’s third novel before – AND – I’ve never seen the entire 1980 film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick, just the clips I think we’re all familiar with. While I don’t actively seek out horror films, I’ll happily watch them in the right mood and company, so I’m amazed not to have seen it. But, back to the book!
Jack Torrance is a recovering alcoholic who lost his job as a teacher at a private prep school. An aspiring writer, he manages to get a job as winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel near Boulder, Colorado – he hopes to finish writing the play that will restart his career while keeping things in working order while the hotel is shut for winter. He takes his wife Wendy, and five-year-old son Danny with him. It’s forty miles to the nearest town, and once the snow comes, they’ll be snowed in for the duration with only CB radio contact with the outside world.
Ullman, the officious manager, shows them around once they get there; Watson, the summer caretaker shows Torrance the tricks with the old boiler; Halloran, the chef, shows Wendy all the food stores, enough to keep them going, there is no alcohol left behind at all. Ullman is uneasy about employing a man with a family – a previous caretaker had gone mad and murdered his wife and two daughters… but Torrance’s friend, a part owner in the hotel had persuaded him.
Meanwhile Halloran takes to young Danny, but then recognises a kindred spirit in the boy – both possess ‘the shine’, a kind of ESP combining visions from the past and future with telepathy, Danny’s abilities are stronger than anyone else Halloran has known, they test them out on each other. Halloran is worried for Danny, but sets him at ease. As he’s leaving he says:
“If there is trouble . . . you give a call. A big loud holler like the one you gave a few minutes ago. I might hear you even way down in Florida. And if I do, I’ll come on the run.”
There will be trouble – eventually – of course, but King sets about getting the family set up in the hotel, keeping it relatively ordinary. But King’s ordinary is never normal, oh no. Danny has an imaginary friend, Tony, who is anything but. The things Tony talks to Danny about get stranger and stranger, more creepy by the day, turning the ever-loving Danny into scared little boy. But Danny is strong, he knows that telling his parents everything that Tony says or encourages him to do would make them take him away to live with his grandmother, and they don’t get on. Staying at the creepy hotel with his mum and dad is better than that, even once he’s seen what happened in room 217. Halloran warned him, but Tony persuaded Danny to take the pass key…
The tension mounts, Wendy gets more and more jumpy, Jack is struggling with his writing, becoming obsessed with a pile of papers he found about the hotel’s long and tawdry history before it became the luxury resort. The hotel is exerting an influence on all of them, and it’s targeting Jack whose enforced sobriety is making him easy to manipulate. The hotel is the book’s main charaacter.
I shan’t say any more. I raced through the book. Although it’s too long, King’s style allows you to devour the pages and they flew by for the most part. The middle sags a little (but I don’t think I missed anything significant by piling through it).
King, a recovering alcoholic himself, wrote the book from some personal experience. In 1974, he and his wife had checked into the Stanley Hotel in Colorado – it was nearing the season’s end and they were the only guests that night. Apparently, they stayed in room 217. The hotel now offers ‘Night Spirit Tours’ for fans – which look fun!
Despite the film being considered as one of the best horror films of all time – with it’s innovative stark lighting in the hotel corridors and those 1970s geometric orange and brown carpets that lead the eye down the hall (right), King didn’t like it. He eventually adapted the book himself for a 1997 TV miniseries, which was truer to the plot, but not as suspenseful by all accounts. I think I would watch the entire film now, but not the TV series. I would also happily read King’s sequel to The Shining, called Doctor Sleep.
He may have his faults and eccentricities, but I had forgotten how much I ‘enjoy’ reading Stephen King! (7.75/10)
Source: Own copy.
Stephen King, The Shining (1977), Hodder paperback, 498 pages.
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