The Shining is my third book for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge (following The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and Dracula by Bram Stoker) and it is of course written by the great Stephen King, his third novel first published in 1977. This is, aside from a few biographies, the most recently published novel reviewed on my blog! And I do realise that The Shining doesn't usually fall into the category of "classic" being a mere thirty eight years old, but I do strongly believe that this and some other of King's works will one day be regarded as classics and will be read in fifty years time (and let's face it, The Shining only has twelve years to go before it hits its fifty year anniversary).
The first thing to say is it isn't much like the Stanley Kubrick film of 1980, and furthermore, it is a lot better (and I'm not afraid to say when I prefer films to books). It begins with Jack Torrance's interview for the caretaker role of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Ullman, the manager, has reservations over giving Jack the job, and frankly so did I even without knowing the plot. Jack is a recovering alcoholic, edgy, irritable, and with a violent past, however despite all that King manages to present him as a reasonably sympathetic character. The Overlook Hotel, Ullman reveals, has its own past having been closed down and re-opened numerous times and then, only a few years ago, a former caretaker Delbert Grady murdered his wife and two daughters. The problem lies in the fact that during winter time, come the snow, the hotel is entirely cut off. Jack, his wife Wendy and son Danny, will be as cut off and isolated from the world as Delbert Grady was before them. But the obviously unsuitable Jack gets the job with the intervention of his friend Al Shockley and Jack is hopeful he can spend the months of isolation writing a play. When they arrive (in Part II of the novel) they're greeted by the chef Dick Halloran. Dick and Danny have something in common: we have already learned in Part I that young Danny has premonitions and telepathic abilities that King somehow presents realistically without the pseudo-scientific explanations as seen in, for example, H. G. Wells, so The Shining doesn't have a "science fiction" feel to it. Dick shares this gift and he and others call it the "shining". This will give Danny a special and often terrifying insight into the Overlook Hotel and enable him to send telepathic messages to Dick should he need to.
What follows is a psychological presentation of a somewhat dysfunctional family in the claustrophobic setting of the Overlook. Time flits back and forward as memories and regrets are triggered, sometimes by specific events, and sometimes simply from too much thinking in this isolation. We learn about Jack, his childhood, his years as an alcoholic, what inspired him to stop, and his subsequent struggles (and not in that order: time, as I say, goes back and forth). We learn about Wendy too, as a young mother and woman and her struggle with her husband's addiction. Danny's "shining", which the two are more or less aware of, adds further pressures. The Overlook Hotel with its oppressive energy and horrific past is the final catalyst. We know from the film that Jack ultimately breaks down, but it is not as it is portrayed in the film. The characterisation is far better: despite Jack's actions, his striving to be a better person makes him a sympathetic character, and Wendy is not the weak and dull wife I felt she was in the film.
Insight is what gives The Shining its power over the reader; in King's world it seems the natural and the supernatural, and the normal and the abnormal, constitute realism and he makes that work. It's reality amplified; a chilling and outstanding work. I'm looking forward to more of King - particularly Carrie, Salem's Lot, and Misery, and no doubt a re-read of Pet Sematary and It!
|Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).|