The much discussed sequel to The Shining is here but, in amongst the hyperbole and extensive advertising campaign, the glaring question isn’t so much, is it any good, but more, was it wholly necessary?
Set some 35 years after the event of The Shining, Danny Torrence, the target of the oppressive evil the was The Overlook Hotel, is now a middle aged man and, much like his father, a recovering alcoholic. Working at an old folks home, he has now become Doctor Sleep; a colloquial title given by the home’s residents due to his ability to give comfort to those moments away from death. However, after meeting a young girl (Abra) who’s shining is stronger than anyone he knows, he becomes embroiled with a vampiric group known as the True Knot, who have targeted Abra as their latest victim.
To compare Doctor Sleep to The Shining at times feels entirely superfluous. The Shining is very much a tight, character driven, claustrophobic, haunted house tale that fits very comfortably within the horror genre (considered a classic, in fact, in modern horror literature). Doctor Sleep is very different. Call it a supernatural thriller, if you will, the story is bigger, spanning decades (it begins only months after the events of The Shining), numerous characters and, as with the best sequels, expanding on the themes raised during the predecessor. Gone, however is the tight claustrophobia of The Shining and whilst Doctor Sleep feels more like a classic King novel than any of his recent efforts (excluding Under the Dome, which was terrific), it is, unfortunately, a lesser sequel.
It does plenty right. While not exactly scary, King’s panache for tension is very much prevalent. More than anything, Doctor Sleep is a slow burner, spending much of its early chapters filling in the gaps between it and The Shining whilst introducing us to the new players, most crucially Abra and the True Knot, the latter of which could be seen as the most terrifying group of gipsies in literature. In fact, the True Knot are aware of Abra and her shining early on, leaving much of the plot to escalate to the point of the cat and mouse chase the novel is advertised as. It’s often thrilling, as, with the best of narrative structure, events that seemed almost trivial to begin become the key focus of the plot and as things get more serious, as does the desperation of the Knot and their need to capture Abra.
Why then, has this only been warranted a score of three out of five? The main issue with Doctor Sleep is an underlying predictability that saps any uncertainty out of the plot. Once the main players are established, the narrative feels like a “paint-by-numbers” effort that is only slightly elevated by the fact that it is a sequel to one of King’s best novels. Unlike many of his darkest works (Pet Semetary in particular), you can see key moments coming from a mile away and come the climax (which takes place at the remains of what was once the Overlook Hotel) you feel kind of cheated by just how safe it ties things up. It is also not particularly scary.
A mixed bag of a novel, Doctor Sleep never does anything outright wrong, however it fails to crawl out from the shadow of its big brother. An enjoyable read that thrills yet is ultimately forgettable once finished.