Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Shining by Stephen King

Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday (1977)

If winter (for those of us in the Southern hemisphere) needed something else to make it even worse it was getting a cold. Me, who never gets colds (ok, obviously, practically never). Ugh! How do some people manage getting a couple of these a year? Perhaps by curling up with a good book? Or, if your brain hurts too much, curling up with a good movie?

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 

Click here for Michael's film review of The Shining
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Jack Torrance is hanging on by a very thin thread. Poor life decisions have led him to a last ditch effort to hold onto a job (given to him courtesy of a friend) and keeping his family is not a foregone conclusion either. Between his drinking and his temper he's got one last chance as the winter caretaker of the Overlook. This historical Colorado resort hotel gets snowed in every winter and he will be the one to keep it up and running. Taking his wife and 5yo son will be a chance for them to reconnect as a family (oh, and he just might finish that play he's been working on for years). One slight problem with this grand plan is that the Overlook is one helluva haunted hotel and it's going to use all of Jack's weaknesses against him.

I must admit I started this book from a place of false remembrance. Lemme 'splain. I thought I remembered this movie. It used to show on HBO when I was a kid and I am absolutely positive I saw it. I must face facts as an adult and realize that I remember nothing of it other than that one iconic scene with Jack Nicholson. However, I had all this story in my head and sort of assumed the book would be similar. As it turns out, even if I had remembered the correct story, the book is not all that much like the movie. So what does all this mean for me? I started reading this book with a very specific set of expectations and boy was I wrong! That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when I kept thinking to myself "where's the hotel already?" it was becoming quite clear that I was a little bored with this book.

As it turns out, Jack's one of those raging assholes who doesn't seem to have any clue he's an asshole. I'm not overly keen on spending 300+ pages with an asshole. But, ok, his kid Danny is cool (and his particular special ability, his shining, is really awesome) and I can certainly sympathize with what Wendy is going through as his wife but I still didn't think the creepy hotel could come fast enough. 

And it is creepy! It's a great haunted house. If you like a scary house that can drive people mad in various, insidious ways this is going to be the novel for you. It's a bit hard as you're watching a family (with a 5yo!!!) get it from the hotel but at least it's one damned scary ride. 

I'm more miss than hit with King's novels but I can always appreciate his evocative writing. He doesn't slam you over the head with it but you'll never be in doubt as to just what kind of creepy crawlies or emotional roller coasters his characters are experiencing. He also uses a great device in this book. With a deft touch he uses paragraph construction and parenthetical statements to keep the reader smoothly along the path of his characters' thoughts. While trying to maintain a reasoned response to heightened emotions - or the hotel - their doubts, fears, or the all-too-real voices in their heads will interject. I particularly like when the family was hearing party noises and Wendy kept thinking
(WHAT MASKS??). It was a beautifully crafted scene. 

As is also typical of King's writing he can be a little retrograde. He'll use phrases like "the investors and their women." Um, ew! Or make a very poor decision to thread through a part of the narrative something called "Can you find all the Indians?" And if you only explicitly describe one of your characters as black and that character also happens to be special you might want to check your TV tropes (not to mention the kind of "default" you set up by only describing an "other"). 

So, awesomely creepy haunted house? Check! Interesting characters? YMMV. Good writing? Mostly check. Super cool gotcha for one of the characters to figure out at the end? Double check! It's spoilerly so highlight if interested: I just loved watching the hotel, via Jack, lose its shit when Danny mentioned the boiler. That was just the perfect ending!

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Watchmen created by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins


  1. Interesting you mention HBO and seeing the movie there. I think a great deal of viewers, of recent generations, came to the film this way and were thus thrown off by Stephen King's source novel. Me, ahem, being older…er, ancient…definitely approached from the opposite perspective. The novel was the template and the film differed…sometimes greatly. While I'm mixed when it comes to Kubrick's film adaptation (and since he co-wrote the screenplay, there's no excuse he only shot what was scripted) I'm definitely in King's court. An early book by him that really started to pull in new readers with its publication. Without a doubt it was once of those tomes people were discussing at work, during lunches or breaks, and sharing with others once they were done with it. It was great to do this novel again (I did the audiobook, read by Scott Campbell, and it was just a page-turner like I remember). My daughter even read it, and watched the movie with me. Let's just say she was less than pleased with the film. Great pick, Rachel. Thanks.

    p.s., there are three version of the next movie we'll do out. Theatrical, Director's Cut, and Ultimate Cut. Which would you like to do?

  2. Like I mentioned above I'm not always drawn in by King's novels. I admire his craft but tend to get put off my his stories (with a few notable exceptions). However, I'm not at all surprised to hear this was a watercooler type book. There is a ton to discuss here. There's so much going on: the family, the precog, the haunted house, the alcoholism, the shinings, etc. It's one of those books that I can easily understand why so many people love it... even if it's not really for me.

    How did the audiobook manage to do with the parentheticals? As I was reading I wondered what your experience would be since I just assumed you'd be doing audio. :) It was my favorite thing about my reading experience. I was hoping it translated into the audiobook.

    Super cool that your daughter did this one with you. Dare I hope for a future guest post in one of our movie/book posts?


    In regards to Watchmen I say you choose. You've got to do the movie review and, anyway, I don't even like the movie. I'm really looking forward to checking out the source material as I've heard it's better. I'd always been curious to check it out after the initial release of the film (iirc there was some dispute as to whether it was a good adaptation or not) but never got around to it. Which do you prefer?