The Shining by Stephen King (audio)

Another masterpiece by Stephen King! Probably my favorite yet. Spellbinding.

I suspect the storyline of The Shining is familiar to us all, so I will sketch it very briefly. Jack Torrance is a recovering alcoholic; his family has been made unstable, financially and otherwise, by his drinking. He takes a job at the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains as winter caretaker, which involves moving his wife Wendy and son Danny in for some 6 months, for most of which they will be snowbound and cut off from the world. Danny has a unique gift for seeing things: the past, the future, dead people. The Overlook has a uniquely grotesque history.

The Shining is a masterful book in several ways. Perhaps the most obvious is the atmosphere: King’s pacing, building of tension as the story unfolds, and foreshadowing, are precisely designed to spook his reader. Danny’s gift – his “shine” – provides the perfect vehicle for this foreshadowing. The character development is finely done as well. Jack is a conflicted character; he loves his wife and son and wants to do well by them, but he battles inner demons, particularly alcoholism, and this internal conflict is well done. He feels like a real person. Wendy, too, struggles with what’s right for her family; she has considered leaving Jack before and continues to deliberate. And Danny is a sweet child, not inappropriately aged (the way gifted children sometimes are in fiction) – at least not to my limited childless knowledge. He can see more than he can understand.

The hotel has a will of its own and is a character unto itself. Place, or building, as willful force of evil is a device we’ve encountered before, Rebecca being one of the best examples. The Overlook is another. I love how Jack’s research into the hotel’s history seems to feed its power to harass him. I love that the Overlook preys on Jack’s weaknesses. It is truly, deeply creepy in the most delicious way.

And while we’re discussing characters – how about my very favorite, the hotel’s summertime cook, Dick Hallorann? Hallorann befriends Danny, shares his strange gift (although it shines more strongly in Danny), puts the name “the shining” to it for him, and comes to the family’s aid late in the book. Dick is a lovely, colorful character, full of personality and, again, very human conflicts. I like him very much.

The Overlook Hotel’s evil finds an outlet through Jack Torrance. His struggle with alcoholism and growing cabin fever make him a good target; but it remains clear that Jack is an essentially good man. Even in the worst of times, he experiences some personal growth. Wendy, too, learns about her son and their relationship is left looking stronger than ever as the story comes to a close.

I found this book exciting; suspenseful; rich; engaging; filled with people I cared about. Oh, and the audio! Campbell Scott’s narration is divine. I loved his voices for all the characters, and he contributed significantly to the atmosphere which is probably The Shining‘s finest quality. If you haven’t enjoyed this book yet, I strongly recommend that you get the audio book read by Campbell Scott if at all possible! This has been one of my most enjoyable audio reads this year to date.


Rating: 8 roque mallets.

Movie review to come. Briefly: not as good as the book (who’s surprised?), and really only vaguely related to it. EDIT: movie review here.

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