Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Shining (1977)

Author: Stephen King |  Page Count: 512

'A shaft of light coming from another room, the bathroom, harsh white light and a word flickering on and off in the medicine cabinet mirror like a red eye, REDRUM, REDRUM, REDRUM— '

The Overlook Hotel, aptly named in more ways than one, has an attic filled with memories and a basement filled with recorded history, printed and imprinted, waiting to be rediscovered. Sandwiched between the two catalysts are the guest rooms, impersonal spaces haunted by deeds more permanent than the people that temporarily occupied them. They say every hotel has its ghosts, but the ones in the Overlook are more active than most other places.

As struggling writer Jack Torrance receives the details of his winter assignment at the Overlook, the reader gets a detailed rundown of the building, albeit from a biased perspective. It's an efficient device that also gives us our first insight into Jack's thought process. He's a quick-tempered, ex-alcoholic who's seriously lacking in paternal skills. Even when he's trying to be pleasant and caring it's hard to like him because his inner-bastard is always present, waiting for an opportunity to gain the upper hand. More often than not, if he does a good deed it's in the hope that it'll be noticed and go toward balancing out his meanness, not for any inherent sense of rightness for its own sake.

Time-bomb Jack's five-year-old son, Danny, is the most fascinating character. He wants to ease the tension that exists between his parents. He takes the weight of responsibility for their happiness onto his young shoulders and won't do anything to upset it, even if it traumatises him. He's a mirror opposite to Jack's selfishness.

Danny has a level of intelligence not often found in someone his age, but what sets him apart even more from the norm is his special insight into what people are thinking. Unfortunately for the boy, the feelings he receives must share space with childhood fears and a very fertile imagination.

The conflict of the already broken family unit trying to hold together while their environment tries to tear them apart is the main focus, but there's horror elements, too, internal and externalised, that are more chilling than terrifying.

It's a long book with a lengthy build-up period. I admit I got bored more than once with some of the superfluous aspects of the many backstories, but each time was short-lived because King's fluidic prose pulled me back into the action when he returned the story to the present. Also, I'd hoped for an ending more memorable than the one given. It wasn't a letdown, but it didn't outclass what preceded it. It's one of those 'the journey is better than the destination' novels.

3½ unquiet guests out of 5

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