Most helpful critical review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2014
Before Dr Sleep I hadn't read a Stephen King novel in a fair few years. In my teenage years I read and loved (and was terrified by) Salem's Lot, IT and of course the Shining. I also loved the film, but for completely different reasons. So when a friend asked if I wanted to borrow Dr Sleep I was excited and intrigued, I asked him if he'd read the original and if this sequel was any good. He hadn't read the original and Dr Sleep was only alright, effortless reading but unremarkable. I was still hopeful though, maybe he wasn't a fan, maybe not having read the Shining coloured his judgement, maybe he was just wrong.
Damn shame is, I've just turned the last page and I think he's right. It is only quite good; King is too skilled a story teller for it to be bad, it's just that it all feels a bit underwhelming. The first few chapters, when Danny is still Danny and not yet the adult Dan, crackle with menace as we revisit the characters from the Shining we know so well, but then the book changes course and turns into more of a character study wrapped in a supernatural thriller. We catch up with Dan as he struggles to deal with the demons of his past and the alcoholism he inherits from his father. He finds Abra, a companion who shares his gift and he helps her to face demons of her own. On the whole it's a very nice book, there is a lot of focus on AA and well meaning people helping each other out and it has to be said that Dan's journey is heartfelt and gratifying for fans who love and care about the character. King clearly puts a lot of faith in Alcoholics Anonymous and quotes freely and often from the Big Book, as a recovering alcoholic you can't blame the author for this and AA obviously helps thousands of people, but as an atheist I would have to say that their instance that you hand your life over to God (as you understand him) means that the program is not for everyone. Not too much of a problem, other treatment is available. However King, like so many AA converts, offers AA as the best and only solution and then frames the program thought the eyes of a character who has absolute proof of other plains of existence, well not all of us have that luxury Stephen! Like I say, not a huge problem, it just jarred with me a little.
It seems like a very deliberate choice from the author to not attempt to match the fear factor of the original book and it should be stressed that Dr Sleep is not scary in the slightest; if you're looking for that sort of thing then you will be disappointed. The little tension and suspense there is comes from the True Knot, a group who have been travelling the country for hundreds of years living of the `Steam' that kids who shine give off when they die. They've also noticed Abra and are eagerly awaiting an all you can eat buffet. They do sound promising as bad guys go but on the page they just seemed a little naff and pathetic, a sad band of vultures barely surviving. They have twee names like Rose the Hat, Barry the Chink and Snakebite Annie, they subscribe to a half baked mythology `We are the True Knot and we endure' and come nowhere close to matching the power and resonance of King's classic horror creations. They crucially never seem like a match for Dan and the prodigiously powerful Abra and moments of danger seem to come from her naivety and over confidence rather than any of the True Knot's actions. Their general rubbishness doesn't affect the pleasure of Dan's journey, however it does mean that Abra's tale is only worth telling because we care so much about the young Danny Torrance who suffered so much at the Overlook hotel. If you hadn't read the shining, and had just read Dr Sleep I think you'd consider the book to be deeply average, as my friend said, effortless reading but unremarkable. For fans of the original it has worth and they should find the closure they were looking for but I think that they would be kidding themselves if they thought that, as a novel in its own right, Dr Sleep is worthy of touching the hem of the Shining's garments.