In Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, the author returns to the character and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.
This is a sequel that picks up shortly after The Shining left off, but Doctor Sleep takes a new and entirely different direction. The story follows Dan as he grows up, dealing with his shining, the visiting demons from the Overlook and as grows older, his own personal demons – alcoholism and drug abuse.
There is horror, both supernatural and human, but, as with other recent King novels, there is introverted analysis of where our choices in life can and do take us. Dan’s addiction takes him to depths that haunt him throughout his life, even after he cleans up and gets sober, and slowly we see Dan become whole and even venerable, as he uses his shining ability to help ease the pain of those who are dying, hence the name – Doctor Sleep.
This makes Dan Torrance a far-from-perfect hero, and through the story, he makes terrible mistakes and regrets them. He grows and matures and overcomes incredible obstacles to become a character the reader can admire. This is refined character development, and King doesn’t just pitch us a shiny perfect character (like you might see in any Dan Brown novel), but gives us a MC with glaring flaws and then believably builds him into a hero.
While I thought Abra – a young girl with strong shining – was fine, it seemed like the author was trying too hard to make the reader like her. An odd relationship between Dan and Abra forms via shining and Dan realizes she is incredible danger and moves to protect her.
The villains in the story – the True Knot, led by the beautiful and blood-thirsty Rose the Hat – are vampires of a sort, feeding on children who have the shining. By slowly killing the child, they collect steam, which keeps them young. Most are two-dimensional characters, but they are vile and frightening, and the twist of having old people, roaming the country in RVs, kidnapping and torturing children to death, is absolutely macabre. King handles the gruesome details with class and does not magnify or accentuate the torture scenes, but they are tough to get through, as they should be. If you read about a child getting tortured and don’t wince away – I do not want to know you. Some people can’t face this sort of content at all, so if that is you, please consider yourself warned.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and think anyone who enjoyed The Shining will like Doctor Sleep, though they are very different stories. Do not expect this to be The Shining Part 2, but you will enjoy the scenes that draw on the first book, and yes… we do return to the Overlook.
In my humble opinion, this is some of SK’s finest prose. He is in his element and keeps things moving at a good cadence. Rarely did I find myself jarred out of the story to question what was going on…. usually regarding the “one big tooth” that was apparently not used for anything, yet brought up in the story again and again.
Recommended, but those who have some history with child abuse might want to steer clear. Note that Audible audiobook is narrated by Will Patton, who seems the perfect voice for this story, and delivers a fantastic performance.