It’s a long time since I read any Stephen King. I used to read horror novels quite often but it’s not one of my favourite genres any more. However, I decided to re-read The Shining, to see how I felt about it 15 years on. I think I was ambivalent about the book on the first reading, but this time around I was very impressed. The problem is that the iconic film does get in the way when I try and think about the book.
The story follows the Torrance family: Jack, Wendy and their young son Danny. Jack is a recovering alcoholic whose problems ultimately led him to lose his job as a teacher. He’s also trying to finish writing a play, plus his marriage is in trouble and he’s trying to cope with the guilt of hurting his son. A friend helps Jack to get a job as caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, where the family will live during the closed season. The hotel’s sinister history, Jack’s worsening mental state, plus Danny’s psychic ability – ‘the shining’ – set the scene for a creeping and atmospheric horror story.
I think this book is so effective because the horrors are not only supernatural, they’re real – domestic violence, alcohol addiction, mental illness, parents’ fears, children witnessing terrible scenes. I was really gripped by it and genuinely frightened at many points. I only had two issues with the book. In common with most other Kings I’ve read (and I suspect, those I haven’t), it’s too long, with some unnecessary details and diversions. 100 pages could have been cut to make the story tighter with no loss of momentum. There are also some repetitions of words and phrases – such as ‘suddenly’ and things being like ‘piano wire’ – which I couldn’t help noticing. My edition had quite a number of typos, too.
Overall, I found this a very unsettling novel and a great example of a book that I liked more on re-reading.
First published in 1977. My copy was published by Hodder in 2011. The copy I read back in 2004 had a picture of Jack’s face on it, inspired by the famous film poster.