February Books 8) The Shining, by Stephen King

I’ve only read two other Stephen King books, Hearts in Atlantis, which I very much enjoyed, and The Stand, which though deeply flawed is King’s most popular book on LibraryThing (interestingly, The Shining is far ahead on GoodReads). I was, however, familiar with MAD Magazine’s parody of the movie version of The Shining, published in March 1981 when I was 13, and still landing some excellent blows – “You have to remember that he committed some AWFUL CRIMES… like murder… and over-acting!”

Anyway, the novel is a bit long but really very good. I thought it was much more disciplined than The Stand, and perhaps the focus on a single instance of evil and horror, rather than nation-wide catastrophe, helps to keep the writing firmly engaged. There are a lot of things that don’t quite get explained – was there really a body in the bath? did the hedge sculptures really come to life? – but that maybe misses the point; in an environment like the haunted hotel, what does “really” really mean?

The three main adult characters – Jack and Wendy Torrance, and Dick Hallorann – are a particular joy in this book. the story of the Torrances’ marriage, Jack’s disintegration, and his attempts to pick himself up, destroyed by the environment of the hotel, are done with a certain compassion which I can’t really remember from, say, Lovecraft (I confess I haven’t read a lot of horror but I suspect this is a general critique). The one point that niggled at me a bit was whether we are meant to think that the awful events would have happened with or without young Danny’s psychic abilities; I guess the fact that Hallorann didn’t trigger the dark forces in the same way leads us to the conclusion that it’s Jack’s personality which is the precipitating factor, and Danny’s “shining” allows for a more vivid account but is actually incidental to the unfolding of the story.

Anyway, a classic that well deserves its reputation.