Danny is only five years old but in the words of Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.
As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?
Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that too is beginning to shine . . .
I’ve often said I’m not that practiced a horror reader. I read Stephen King’s Carrie in grammar school and I’ve read some horror since starting the blog, but after watching the film IT for five minutes and having nightmares for two nights straight, I didn’t touch another horror novel for well over a decade and I never dared pick up another King book; until now, that is. When Hodderscape sent me their second pick in the Hodderscape Review Project and I opened the envelop to find The Shining inside, my first thought was: ‘Oh, no! What if I flunk out halfway through, due to being too scared?’ Turns out that fear was rather unnecessary, because while it has some seriously creepy moments, I didn’t find The Shining that scary. I did find it to be very much a psychological mind game, where for a while I wondered how much of it was true and how much of it was just in the heads of Jack and Danny. And that is exactly the kind of creepy I like, as Lindqvist’s Harbor has already proven.
More than a horror novel, The Shining is essentially a character study and one of the most important characters is the Overlook itself. This grand old place has a mind and a life of its own and while at the start of the novel all the myths about it seem like so much superstition, King slowly but surely makes those superstitions and tales of haunting become a shattering reality. King creates an interesting history for his Overlook, with some fun winks at actually historical personages. I especially liked the hotel’s previous owner, Horace Derwent, who for all intents and purposes reminded me of Howard Hughes. But there are also numerous famous stars of the big screen who stayed at the Overlook and several presidents. All of it adds to the hotel’s character, both in a literal and a figurative sense.
Still, however creepy the Overlook was, what – or rather who – freaked me out the most, was Jack Torrance, Danny’s dad. I never got a good lock on Jack. On the one hand he seemed sympathetic, on the other hand he was the worst kind of unstable, abusive alcoholic; the kind that keeps finding excuses for his behaviour and whose mood can flip-flop in an instant. His gradual decompensation was awful to watch, because it’s inexorable and the reader is unsure whether it is just his mental instability and cabin fever that is driving him crazy or there is actually some malign influence from the hotel. To me, what happens to Jack – the slow erasure of equilibrium, the gradual blurring of the lines between reality and hallucination – is a hundred times more scary than a crazy hotel that wants to kill me, probably because I can imagine someone actually losing his mind, but I’m less likely to run across a murderous hotel.
The Shining‘s other main character is Danny. I liked Danny, though he seemed a bit precocious. No five-year-old is likely to be that smart or well-spoken or would keep his cool that well. Like his father, for the longest time I wasn’t sure whether Danny wasn’t actually hallucinating or losing his grip on reality, rather than suffering some supernatural invasion, even if his ‘shine’ – his ability to read people’s minds – is established as true quite early on. The other characters with large parts to play are Wendy, Jack’s wife and Danny’s mother, and Mr Hallorann, the hotel’s cook, who has a large shining gift himself. I enjoyed Wendy’s story arc very much. At first I just couldn’t see why she didn’t just leave, but I liked how strong she was in the second half of the book and the lengths she goes through to keep Danny and herself safe. While Mr Hallorann is very likeable, I rather felt he was a Chekov’s gun, placed there at the family’s arrival and sure to be recalled when necessary; his role in the plot and its development was clear from the get go, which kind of killed the suspense in his arc.
In the end, while I really liked the book, I was disappointed with its denouement; there is this constant build-up to the fact that someone is going to die and in the end they sort of do, but I found that for the most part it was disappointing who died and why or how. Why was I disappointed by the whom? Because it was the obvious, and in some ways only, choice and while it worked as a redemption of sorts, it still felt too pat. It’s not that I wanted there to be more blood and gore, because I generally dislike blood and gore, but in the end I never doubted who would make it out alive, which took away a bit of the suspense of the ending.
Have I been converted to the writing of Stephen King? Yes and no. The Shining has taught me that I can definitely handle his scary and I enjoyed his writing style very much, but am I going to seek out everything he’s written? Probably not. But I definitely see why King is one of the grand masters of horror and why The Shining is a classic of the genre. If you’re interested in horror, then The Shining is a must-read. And if you truly adore this book and its characters, you’ll be able to reunite with some of them quite soon, as King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, is released in October.