Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Shining: Stephen King, August 30—September 10, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
A recovering alcoholic is appointed winter caretaker of The Overlook hotel and moves his wife and son in for the winter. However there is an evil force inside the hotel, and Jack’s five-year-old son Danny has a psychic power that it really wants to use.
Jack Torrance is a classic anti-hero. A former drunk, he lost his job, beat his son and mistreated his wife before the novel even began. He has almost no redeeming features but is a tortured soul. He has hopes and dreams, and bitter regrets. He doesn’t mean to be a bad person, he just ends up behaving like a total jackass at every turn.
Jack and Wendy’s backstory is teased out over more than half the book, and he comes off as the least unlikeable. Wendy is a weak, snivelling whinger and Danny, cursed with the “gift” of ESP (or “the shining”), frets and worries so much it’s hard to maintain sympathy for him. But Jack, whose head we spend a lot of time inside, is just a flawed everyman. An everyman that you really want to believe when he says this is his turning point and he’ll finish his play.
The creepiness is amped up throughout the narrative which, for the most part, is centred around the family who become isolated after a snowstorm. Although the malevolent hotel has a lot to answer for, it’s the darkness inside ourselves that provides the true horror. The Overlook uses Jack to get to Danny because he can be manipulated. His own abusive father is they key to his character, and it’s a terrifying exploration of what we are really capable of.
The hotel is described with such a rich history it feels like a real place. It’s disturbingly easy to imagine being there, seeing things out of the corner of your eye. The tension is amped up consistently. The only real bug bear is King’s prevalent use of parenthesis: a new line, in brackets and italics, without any capitalisation or punctuation of any sort. It’s used for flashbacks, premonitions, general thoughts, asides and appears far too frequently to not be infuriating.
Rather than use people to explore horror, The Shining uses horror to explore human nature. It’s creepy, claustrophobic and very hard to put down.