Today I want to talk about Dr Sleep, which is the sequel to Stephen Kings 1977 novel The Shining. Dr Sleep was published in 2013 and one the 2013 Bram Stoker award for best novel.
The book opens with Danny being educated by Dick Hallorann, who is now a benevolent spirit, on how to control the ghosts from the now destroyed Overlook hotel who are pursuing him. Danny is taught to lock the ghosts in imaginary boxes in his mind, which is enough to protect him. We are also introduced to a cult, led by Rose the Hat, this cult effectively feed on people who have the shining ability is this extend their lives.
The book then jumps to 2011 where Danny has become an alcoholic, to suppress his shining ability. Danny moves to a small New Hampshire town becomes friends with a chap called Billy who is his AA sponsor. Danny takes a job as an orderly in a hospice and uses his ability to comfort dying patients. He is given the nickname Dr Sleep. During this time Danny also begins receiving telepathic communications from a young girl with a very strong shining power, named Abra.
The book then jumps to 2019 where the cult is starving due to a reduction in people with the shining power. They devour a boy and Abra senses this. She informs Danny, but in doing so alerts the cult to her power. When Abra wants to find out what happened to the boy, Danny advises her to keep a low profile, suppress her power etc so the cult won’t find her. Rose attacks Abra but underestimates her and comes away injured. But the cult is desperate, and Rose sends the cult after Abra.
Danny changes his mind about helping Abra and works with Billy and Abra to get the cult into a local campsite and attacking them. During the attack most of the cult is killed, Billy is also killed and Abra is abducted. Rose eats the dying members of her cult and heals herself, swearing revenge. Danny uses his shinning power to save Abra from abduction and takes her to the Overlook Hotel. He does this because he knows Rose is after them and thinks the hotel will be more dangerous for her than them.
Danny starts the hotel’s boiler and awakens the rest of the building with his power. He revisits the rooms where his alcoholic father, Jack, influenced by the Overlook, attempted to murder him and his mother. He even meets the same ghost bartender that his dad did, the bartender tries to get him to drink again but Danny resists the temptation.
Rose arrives at the hotel and nearly kills Danny but he releases the captured ghosts and they kill Rose. However, the ghosts possess Danny and he attacks Abra but manages to take back control long enough to destroy the hotel and himself.
The book jumps forward in time again and a ghost Danny is talking with Abra, Abra also sees a ghost from the Overlook hotel and boxes it up the same way Danny used to.
Overall I enjoyed this story. I can see why it won the Bram Stoker Award.
As always King crafts characters like a true pro and sucks you right into the story via his characters. Danny, Abra and Rose all feel like real people, they all feel different and with understandable motivations. Their actions tie in with their personality types and motivations. At no point did I feel that Rose or Abra acted out of their established character.
The only problem I had was when the book went back to the Overlook Hotel. This felt like a bit of fan service quite frankly. While the Hotel obviously would have had a strong impact n Danny and would influence his actions and decisions through the story I feel that going back there was overkill. I liked that Danny was traumatised by the hotel, by the ghosts that followed him afterwards and that his life fell apart and we got to watch him try to rebuild it. His distaste of the hotel was clear. So it felt odd when he decided to go back there when he and the child he was protecting were in real danger. If I was trying to protect someone I would not take them to the hotel that drove my father mad and sent ghosts after me for the rest of my life.
It did feel a bit fanservice-like, especially when Danny met with the same bartender his dad did. I think it would have felt less jarring if Danny had decided to go back to the hotel for different reasons. If he went back to come to terms with what happened to his family, or if he went back to better understand what happened, both to his dad and himself. But going back because it might be more dangerous to Rose felt weird. Though King did explain it well, making Rose vulnerable to ghost attack was a good explanation but it didn’t quite tie up in my opinion why couldn’t Danny let the ghosts out anywhere?
But my mini-rant aside, going back to the hotel for an odd reason didn’t ruin the book in any way for me, it felt a bit odd but not odd enough to break the immersion.
The plot of the story was very well done, the slow burn and the introduction of new antagonists who aren’t ghosts helped. The cult feels like a real genuine threat and Rose especially is damn scary. They feel like people who’ve lived way past their time, human but also not. They make decisions and have motivations that feel inhuman but still feel human enough that we can relate, even if only a little.
Overall this is a great book, it has its problems and does feel a teeny tiny bit like fanfiction for The Shinning, but overall I’d say it was an enjoyable read with great, well-crafted characters, believable stakes and tension and a solid and satisfying conclusion.