Originally published December 1976
The Shining is one of Stephen King's better known novels. Arguments could be made that it's popularity is also due to the well known movie adaption of this book, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Whatever the case, it is a great book (and a good movie, though we'll focus on the book!)
If there was ever a slow build to a story- boy, is it this one! We start off meeting Jack Torrence, an aspiring writer who is looking to make a fresh start with his family and save his marriage. He accepts a job being the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. It is a job that has been wrought with peril in the past, as a different caretaker went mad and murdered his family over the long winter months.. For some, the seclusion of that time alone all winter can be too much. Jack is sure he is perfect for the job and will have no problems whatsoever. We are then introduced to Jack's wife, Wendy, and his son Danny. As we meet Danny it becomes clear that Danny is no ordinary boy. Through his "imaginary friend" Tony, he "sees" things. You learn quite quickly that some of these visions may be ominous. Only time will tell. Danny becomes quite the interesting character for the story. Through his "gift", he becomes a window into the dangers and evil that is lurking everywhere. It is a very powerful tool using the fear and views of a child to share some of the darker scenes of the book. But I digress...
After the family makes the move to the Hotel, it is here we meet (what I think) is the most pivotal character of the book. The Overlook Hotel. Yes, I just called the hotel itself a character. It really does have a life of its own. We also meet Dick Holloran, the hotel's cook, and learn that he possesses the "shining" like Danny and can "see" things. He hints to some interesting occurrences that have happened at the hotel and gives a little more insight on how careful the Torrence family will need to be at The Overlook over the upcoming winter.
It doesn't take long for that slow build to kick in once the family is alone in the hotel. Whether it is open doors, a feeling outside of an overnight room, noises, fire hoses moving...you quickly get the impression this hotel is much more than an empty hotel quietly waiting for it's next season to come again. Again, it is here that the hotel becomes that extra character in the book. The nuances and small scenes that bring it to life are wonderfully written.
I think one of the better scenes of the book is the whole wasp nest scene. Jack is working on the roof, happens upon a nest, gets stung, bombs the nest and decides to give it to Danny to keep in his room. Reading the book, you could almost hear the music that would be building to a crescendo at this point in the story. You knew shit was about to go bad! Of course, the wasps come back to life and sting Danny. It is not even the craziness of what just happened that makes this scene so great! One of the underlying themes of the book deals with the trust issues between Jack and Wendy, and it is this scene that you start to see those fractures start to break open again between the two of them. It begins Jack's character down a very angry path and is a pivotal point to the story.
By the time we get to the hedge animal scene (and admit it- for anyone who has read this book- when you come upon a hedge animal, tell me you don't think of this scene? It makes Disney World become a veritable nightmare! But again, I digress....) By the time we get to this scene, you realize there is absolutely no going back. The hotel has clearly become an entity at this point. It is just a matter of how long it will take at this point for this to become an all out clusterfuck for this poor family!
The spiral of Jack's character at this point is fascinating. Does the hotel affect him so much because he came to the hotel with so many weaknesses already? A failing marriage, alcoholism, doubts? Or is it the fact that Danny is in the hotel that makes the hotel stronger and able to affect things so quickly? The progression of events also become sharpened through Danny's "Shining" and helps to heighten the fear of the situations.
I guess it is at this point I should mention Stanley Kubrick's movie version of the book. It is definitely not the best kept secret in Hollywood that Stephen King was not a fan of this adaption. I will be the first to admit, I have seen the movie MANY more times than I have read the book. It is very easy to reread this book and find yourself mistaking upcoming scenes for what would be happening in the movie. Usually it wouldn't matter but there are GREAT difference between the book and the movie. Do I even need to state the obvious that the book is better than the movie? No? I didn't think so. I bring up the movie, because it seems to collectively be the version most people seem to know or remember. But it is the book that is far superior (duh, I know), more specifically, the ending. In the movie ending, the hotel turns Jack completely against his family and it ends in that creepy maze scene where Danny barely escapes. The book ending has so many more complexities to it. Yes, the hotel is controlling Jack. The hotel WANTS Danny. But just as Jack is about to attack, there is still a part of Danny's dad that is alive enough to stop himself long enough to allow Danny time to get away. It is great because you get that last scene of love between a dad and his son even though things are still so horribly wrong. I think it is a much more believable ending. It is also a much more horrific ending. Once the hotel realizes it won't be able to use Jack any more it makes Jack kill himself, and rather graphically I might add. Much more dramatic than Jack just sitting down and freezing in a hedge maze.
Overall The Shining is just a great book of wonderfully interesting characters. Except for Wendy. I have never been a fan of Wendy. She has always seemed too weak to me. It is not a book that will come right out and scare the crap out of you, but is much more suspenseful and creepy. The underlying plots of trust issues, past digressions, the hotel's history just add to the many layers of this book. This reread (followed closely by a rewatching of the movie) just made me realize how I need to pick up this book more vs. cheating with the movie. The book is just so much better!
I had such a difficult time reviewing this book. There really is so much more that goes on in this book, that it is hard to get it all into a review. The history of the hotel and the ghosts that make appearances are wonderfully creepy. SK writes the scenes with just enough subtlety to make them get under your skin and simmer there. It takes a sharp writer to be able to work that slow build onto a reader and still make it surprise you when the shit starts to hit the fan. I guess that is why SK is the master!