Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Shining, by Stephen King

I'll start with a confession.  This is the first Stephen King novel that I've read.  I don't know how or why it's worked out that way, but it seems so.  Will definitely be reading more though- what a master.  I could not put this down.  I watched the film straight after and was staggered by how disappointing it was in comparison.  Despite the "Come play with us", the "All work and no play" bit and the "Here's Johnny" being inventions of Kubrick (Or Nicholson), the book just maintains the feeling of suspense so much better.  The family's relationships with each other and their understanding of the Hotel and of any Supernatural influences is managed with so much craft.

Firstly, the prose is fantastic.  Thoughts, actions, dreams and flashbacks are blended together with such skill that within about 50 pages, the reader has a profound understanding of each of the characters, what makes them function and what each of them fear.  The reader understands the motivations of Jack, for needing his family to go with him to look after the Overlook Hotel.  His shame, embarrassment and pride all play a part, but at the end of the day he is a husband and father trying to take care of his family.  They know that too, but their misgivings are made clear and their reasons are shown. Their Nothing is hidden from the reader, which just makes the tension so much higher.  You know more or less what's coming, thanks to Danny's premonitions, dreams and nightmares, but you are never sure to what extent they are accurate and more importantly when they are coming.  Neither does he.  

I loved the investment that the author makes in his characters.  Jack Torrence could easily be the textbook psychopath, but King makes him into something much more. He's a real person with his own demons, a struggling recovered alcoholic, disgraced academic, frustrated writer and custodian of a pretty nasty temper. He's flawed, he's troubled, but he loves his wife and son and that's made crystal clear.  His mental deterioration throughout this book is only partially supernatural, the signs are there from the first page that this is a man on the edge.  Wendy Torrence too is so much more engaging than the screaming, Phoebe-running doormat of Shelley Duval.  She's torn between her responsibilities to her son and to Jack, and lives in terror of becoming her mother, jealous of the father/son bond between the two of them. 

A lot of the time, I find child characters annoying.  They are often a bit of a liability or just badly written, but Danny is so mature and has such a good grasp on the world that he's practically a small adult.  He's resourceful, undeniably weird, sensitive in an uncloying way and just wants to keep a lid on all the crazy that's kicking off.  But without making a fuss.

Secondly, the way that the author combines the psychological and the paranormal is flawless.  Danny's powers are made evident, though his parents seem semi-aware they don't understand the extent of his abilities, his ability to feel their emotions and to understand their thoughts.  Neither does Danny, really.  Though they play a big part in the plot and in the characterisation of himself and his family, his psychic powers seem more than merely a plot device.  Danny's "Shining" acts as a sort of catalyst and power source for the Overlook Hotel, allowing the shadows and the smoky wisps to become solid, rational and able to inflict harm.  It's hard to tell what's real and what seems real through the power of suggestion, which is something that the reader and the characters struggle through together.

I can't honestly say that this book is terrifying, but it's so soooo compulsive.  As Jack pours his interest and his attention into the Hotel, the building sort of steals it, and pours some of its malevolent self into him.   Seeing the change in the character and the onset of madness is really compelling and makes for a pretty breathless read.    Loved it.  Went out and immediately brought Cujo, The Green Mile, The Stand and Under the Dome.  Just to make sure that Stephen King is as good an author as his squillions of dollars suggest that he is.

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