Fiction Doctor Sleep

Published on September 22nd, 2013


Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

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Blurb: King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. The instantly riveting Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals. (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013)

Margaret Atwood, The New York Times

“Wild ectoplasmic partly decayed vampire horses would not tear from me the story of what happens next, but let me assure you King is a pro: by the end of this book your fingers will be mere stubs of their former selves, and you will be looking askance at the people in the supermarket line, because if they turn around they might have metallic eyes. King’s inventiveness and skill show no signs of slacking: Doctor Sleep has all the virtues of his best work.”

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Matt Thorne, The Daily Express

“While I did not find this novel quite as scary as King’s early books, this was mainly because I was reading it in daylight rather than under a blanket with a flashlight in the early hours of the morning. It is as addictive as anything he has written: a triumph from the world’s finest horror novelist.”

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Steven Poole, The Guardian

“What the novel lacks in brute fright … it makes up for with more subtle pleasures. The scenes where Dan accompanies elderly hospice residents in their final moments are tonally very well judged: here King finds a mode of the supernatural that has a melancholic beauty while avoiding spiritualist blather. (These moments are punctuated by quotations from TS Eliot. Ezra Pound and WH Auden, as well as lyrics from the Village People, crop up elsewhere, making an unshowy point about literary inclusiveness.) And there are some wonderful secondary characters, including Abra’s great-grandmother Concetta, an Italian-born poet, and the twinkly old dude Billy, who runs the local tourist railway.”

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Sam Leith, The Observer

“King is a very remarkable and singular writer. He can catch dialogue, throw away an observation or mint a simile, sometimes, brilliantly. And, at the same time, he often writes as if he’s submitted a first draft without even rereading it. The main impression, especially here, is of pace: of something written fast, loose limbed, benefiting from its casual felicities but not going back to polish them. Storytelling is everything – and by golly does he know how to carry the reader. The same on-the-hoof quality has always been evident in his world-building … King is a bricoleur. And that is part of what makes his stuff scary: his universes aren’t consistent or predictable.”

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Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph

“… a tremendously exciting sequence of chases and battles, with a denouement on the site of … well, perhaps you can guess. It is all of quite a different order from The Shining: there isn’t the same claustrophobic, elemental terror that has caused so many people over the years to develop a phobia of hotel lifts. The members of the True Knot are a memorably loathsome bunch, but having brought them vividly to life King cannot make them as frightening as the more nebulous beings that terrorised Jack Torrance.”

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Doctor Sleep has its own vivid frightscape, one that’s not too derivative of The Shining. And it’s scary enough to match the first book, though not better or scarier. Mr. King has in recent years created much more fully imagined characters than he did in his 100-proof horror days; Under the Dome was full of them. The trade-off has been a loss of bloodcurdling apparitions, like those in which The Shining specialised … Doctor Sleep is on the long side, but it tells a very quick and nimble story. It makes up in suspense what it lacks in nuance, and its special effects are easy to visualize.”

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James Lovegrove, The Financial Times

The ideology of AA flows through Doctor Sleep. This is a novel about making amends, admitting and accepting one’s wrongs and surrendering to one’s “Higher Power” – literally so, in Dan’s and Abra’s case. King’s own successful battle with addiction is addressed frankly in his memoir On Writing. His novels are themselves often exercises in self-exorcism: writer’s block, a persistent fear, has featured in many of them, not least The Shining. Here, in Doctor Sleep, we have the author ousting one more demon, bringing it screaming into the daylight to burn to ashes. It’s a gripping, powerful novel, all the more so for being patently heartfelt.

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Keith Donohue, The Washington Post

The Shining, published in 1977, is a young writer’s book. King, who turns 66 this month, has learned many new tricks of the trade. One key difference between the earlier novel and this sequel is how immediately he now plunges into the action. But Doctor Sleep inevitably takes a different tack regarding its main character’s central flaw. We get a more nuanced view of the cause of, and remedy for, alcoholism. Despite its many horrors, Doctor Sleep is more assuredly a novel of redemption, well-earned in the end.”

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Katie Law, London’s Evening Standard

“As much as the novel is about the battle of wills between the forces of good and evil — and there are some fabulously blood-curdling scenes here — at its heart Doctor Sleep is a story of redemption and the lifelong consequences of choosing sobriety over drinking, as King himself discovered after he gave it up in 1988 … Doctor Sleep may lack the raw brutality that made The Shining so intensely, powerfully affecting but it’s still a tremendous return to form after a string of disappointments.”

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Ian Thomson, The Spectator

“If [it] sounds crackers, it is crackers. (Stephen King’s frightscapes are among the most incredible in literature, yet one believes in them unquestioningly.) While Doctor Sleep is a very serviceable sequel to The Shining, it does lack the vertiginous attack and ability to frighten of early King.”

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Roz Kaveney, The Independent

“This is splendid melodrama, but also a deal tighter and less discursive than some of King’s later books. The devil gets some good tunes and the horrible Rose, leader of the True Knot, is a convincing predator whom we see corrupt and turn a bitter young woman with powers. Not all the True Knot started off bad to the bone – but they are now. Just as the climax of The Shining showed us redemption, so this shows us the possibility of becoming something utterly damnable.”

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Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

“There is no way any future director of Doctor Sleep could make it a psychological horror about breakdown. The evil is real, visceral and as one would expect from King, banal: all those folks in RVs “creeping along at forty when you could be doing a perfectly legal sixty-five”, in “gas-hogs driven at exactly ten miles an hour below the speed limit by bespectacled golden oldies who hunch over their steering wheels”. The idea of the True Knot taps into fears about abduction and ageing, abuse and anger … This is indubitably a page-turner, but it might not be a re-reader. I was horrified and impelled, aghast and aching to get back to the story. That said, King is not and has never been a wordsmith – there are passages where cliché and easy simile would stand out were you ever to read it again.”

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John Dugdale, The Sunday Times

“Although he struggles to make his hero’s battle with the bottle riveting, once Dan and Abra are in contact the novel comes to life, as if the veteran author is energised by moving onto his rivals’ turf. When Abra becomes pivotal in the finale, at once girl wizard, warrior princess and teen tangling with vampires, it is perhaps not just Rose who is being challenged. Weakest when most closely tied early on to The Shining, Doctor Sleep is strongest when it subsequently breaks almost free of it, aligning itself instead with the horror-free fantasy fiction that has dominated the past decade.”

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David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

“That’s a terrific moment, as unexpected to us as it is to Rose, and it establishes Abra as a worthy adversary, setting up the battle between her (and, by extension, Dan, with whom she forms a friendship and an alliance) and the True Knot in something close to epic terms. Still, in this interaction — or its aftermath — Doctor Sleep also starts to come apart: not to unravel but to grow predictable. Once the conflict between Abra and the True Knot is established, the novel becomes formulaic, and its tension dissipates.”

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Melanie Reid, The Times

“This is indeed fast food: shallow, brutal and manipulative, but King is witty and has redeeming moral themes — murdered children, isolation, parenting. His cultural observation is acute. There are graphic autobiographical elements in the heroic survival of Danny from alcoholism, King’s own personal battle. Like Quentin Tarantino, King is knowingly self-referential and indulgent, and never not enjoying himself.”

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The Independent on Sunday

“At his best, King’s confidential tone, mixing bad jokes, pop-culture references and home-spun wisdom, could convince you of anything from undead pets to a girl with a temper and telekinetic abilities. But in Doctor Sleep, this “aw-shucks” persona presides to the point of tweeness. Page 121 staggers under down-home similes: the evening is colder than a “witch’s belt buckle. Or a well-digger’s tit”; a hospice patient is as “lively as a cricket”. One sexual innuendo – “The ass of a man is the piston that drives the world” – suggests that King can’t tell his ass from a phallic symbol.”

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