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Book review: <i>The Shining</i> by Stephen King

The cover of the book

Some people have it, and some people don’t—the shining, the ability to see what others don’t, the ability to commune with spirits... Five year old Danny Torrance has the shining. But will this be a help or a hindrance at the haunted and desolate Overlook Hotel, where the spirits don’t know their place?

The story

Jack Torrance is on his last chance, a favour from an old friend. Fired from his job as a high school teacher, suffering from chronic writers block, and always craving a drink, the recovering alcoholic is given the job of caretaker at the Overlook Hotel.

Jack packs up his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny, and together the three of them head up to the hotel, where they will be completely isolated and cut off from civilisation through the harsh winter. Wendy isn’t that keen, but she wants Jack to stay off drinking, keep writing, and get his pride back. So she agrees. But Danny is a different story.

Danny has the shine. He can tell what people are thinking and feeling, and he sees things that regular people don’t see. At five, he doesn’t always understand what he hears and sees, but when is imaginary friend Tony, who often tells him things, comes to him and shows him the Overlook, he understands his family is in danger.

At first, everything is fine. Jack is writing, Wendy is relaxing, and Danny is gradually coming round to the idea. And then, strange things start happening. The hotel contains a malignant force, and it wants Danny’s shine. And it will do whatever it has to to get it. Can one small five year old beat the evil spirits of fifty years of history?

The style

The Shining is Stephen King’s third novel, and I have to admit it didn’t grab me the way his first two did. The style has been refined again, by which I mean that Carrie used a very scrap-book approach to storytelling, and Salem’s Lot did this also, using newspaper reports to contribute to the story telling, but The Shining does away with this and focuses of the narration from the three main characters. The story is told in the third person limited, most often from Danny’s point of view. However, Jack plays a very large role and Wendy’s narration is also present.

King narrates well from Danny’s point of view; as I mentioned in my review of John Grisham’s A Painted House, it’s always tough trying to keep authenticity when writing from the point of view of young children because hindsight is a wonderful thing, and most of us don’t remember how our minds worked at five and tend to give ourselves far more credit and cognitive powers than we actually possessed. However, because Danny is such a gifted five year old that probably made the narration easier. The descriptive passages in The Shining, about the hotel, the inhabitant ghosts, and Jack’s deterioration, are all evocatively written and eerily haunting. And once again, King manages to give the reader goosebumps every now and again, although I didn’t find this one quite a scary as Salem’s Lot.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t quite so taken with The Shining as his previous two; it could just be that the subject matter wasn’t as appealing. Not that the book isn’t a good one, it’s just that I wasn’t quite so glued to it. And I guess that I’m unlikely to be the caretaker in a lonesome, snowed in hotel any time soon, nor am I likely to be a gifted five year old, so maybe I just couldn’t relate.

Who is this book for?

King fans, naturally. We are looking at dated horror again, it’s from the seventies, it’s not exactly cutting edge. But it’s fun and inoffensive. I guess I’d recommend it to people who have read it before and forgotten it, or want to have a look at the genre or the early work of King specifically.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Salem’s Lot, for the early seventies horror factor. Or, for something more recent, some of the work of Chuck Palahniuk.

In short

Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 0743424425
Year published: 2001
Pages: 704
Genre(s): Horror
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