Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep read by Will Patton

Doctor Sleep audio-book cover.The following is a review of the audio-book edition of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining and narrated by Will Patton, first released in September 2013.

I came to listen to Doctor Sleep with the advantage of having just recently read The Shining. Although it is not essential that all read The Shining beforehand it is certainly recommended. The first two thirds of Doctor Sleep concern the life and times of Danny Torrance, the young boy from The Shining, and what happened to him following the terrible events at the Overlook hotel. The first thing that struck me was that although Doctor Sleep and The Shining obviously share much in common, there is still a decidedly different feel to each. The Shining, by its nature, is a claustrophobic, insular book with a main cast of just three but Doctor Sleep has a more epic feel to it, both in terms of involving a war against an ancient evil and in the larger size of the cast.

So what has happened to Danny Torrance after his experiences in the Overlook Hotel? He is still haunted by those events and has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence.
Meanwhile, on highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Now working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, where his remnant ‘shining’ power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying Dan is slowly getting his life back together. He then meets Abra Stone, a very special 12-year old girl he must save from these murderous paranormals.

Over the past decade I have listened to over a dozen Stephen King audio-books and they are all either good, very good or superb. For Doctor Sleep I would put the first two-thirds at very good but the final third as just good. The narrative reminded me strongly of Wolves of the Calla as a major part of that fifth Dark Tower novel involved the life story of Father Callahan, a recovering alcoholic who once wandered America to escape his past and his fears, finding solace at the bottom of a glass. And as the book begins we discover that Danny is now a alcoholic, something he thought he would never become after witnessing they effects alcohol has on his father, and as we follow Danny from place to place King recounts his life since the Overlook burned down to the present day. Initially it makes for compelling but of unavoidably depressing listening as the life of an alcoholic is nothing but tragic – this is something Stephen King understands from first-hand experience (write about what you know as the old adage goes). But thankfully we get to see redemption due to friendship and the AA, but just as Danny is once again beginning to enjoy his life, working and helping old people in a retirement home, the ancient threat of the True Knot rises to cross his path and that of a very special little girl.

I enjoyed the the first two-thirds of Doctor Sleep immensely, finding Danny’s life both fascinating and heart-breaking. It was a dark tunnel down which he was travelling and one which I hoped there was light at the end of. But the final third was a problem for me some major characters began behaving in classic horror-movie idiot style – doing the stupid things you know they simply shouldn’t and probably wouldn’t do. And so the book looked like it was going to finish on a bit of a dud note for me but luckily things picked up again as the end neared and King delivered a fine coup-de-grace, as he does more often than not. When trying to pin-point the other reasons I felt the spell broke for me slightly I would mention that as the book enters its final third becomes more action and less character-driven and the Stone family (Abra, her parents and her great-grandmother) began to irk me somewhat, with the parents in particular being rather stereotypical, something I feel King is hardly ever guilty of. But the overall impression of the book was definitely positive and I would happily recommend, but feel compelled to mention that I felt it lost a bit of its mojo towards the end.

The book is read by Will Patton, a winner two Obie Awards for best actor (Fool for Love and What Did He See?) and the narrator of almost 50 audio-books. As with all Stephen King audiobooks the quality of the writing helps the narrator, especially with credible dialogue, and Patton is comfortable with both male, female, young and old. At times you forget that it is just one person doing all the voices, which is always a very good sign. I liked Patton’s voice and reading style and would certainly listen to more books read by him.

8.5/10

Doctor Sleep (unabridged) by Stephen King
Narrated by Will Patton
Length: 18 hours, 32 minutes
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Doctor Sleep is available only from Audible.co.uk

I definitely recommend the Doctor Sleep audio-book as I think it is one of King’s “good” books. And if your are on the look-out for more then I can strongly recommend It (read by Steven Weber), ‘Salem’s Lot (read by Ron McLarty), 11/22/63 (read by Craig Wasson), Under the Dome (read by Raul Esparza) and all the Dark Tower audio-books (now totalling 8), read wonderfully well by George Guidall and the much-missed Frank Muller.

The Dark Tower series read by George Guidall and Frank Muller

Cover image of The Gunslinger audio-bookI read the Dark Tower books as they were published, ordered each new instalment as it was released, and thought the first three books were excellent. However, I found the going tough from there until, after reading book six, The Song of Susannah, I simply gave up. But I found that the story never left me and found it increasingly difficult to remember exactly why I never finished a series on which I had dedicated so much time.

So, after stumbling across the audio-book of the first book in a series of seven, The Gunslinger, I decided to listen, back-to-back, to the entire series. And it provided me with the most enjoyable 132 hours and 45 minutes of commuting time that I have ever experienced, so well do the books lend themselves to the format and in George Guidall and Frank Muller they showcase the talents of 2 excellent voice actors.

Yes, I still had big problems with the sixth book but it did not detract from the overall magnificence of the production.

For those who know absolutely nothing about the Dark Tower books, here is a brief outline of  Stephen King‘s magnum opus.

Set in a world that is weirdly related to our own, The Gunslinger introduces Roland Deschain of Gilead, of In-World that was, as he pursues his enigmatic antagonist to the mountains that separate the desert from the Western Sea. Roland, the last gunslinger, is a solitary figure, perhaps accursed, who with a strange single-mindedness traverses an exhausted, almost timeless landscape of good and evil. The people he encounters are left behind, or worse, left dead. At a way station, however, he meets Jake, a boy from a particular time (1977) and a particular place (New York City), and soon the two are joined, khef, ka, and ka-tet. The mountains lie before them. So does the man in black and, somewhere far beyond… the Dark Tower.

The Gunslinger is the shortest book of the series, and accordingly the shortest listen at 7 hours and 24 minutes. The narration is very good with George Guidall (who has recorded over 900 unabridged novels) fitting perfectly with the book’s western feel. But good as The Gunslinger was the second book, The Drawing of the Three, saw a change of narrator as Frank Muller took over the reins.

One thing is obvious – Frank Muller was born to read these books. He is simply magnificent and the way in which he brings each character to life is stunning. When I first heard him speak in Roland’s voice it was like hearing the voice I personally had for the character repeated back to me.

I had never heard of Frank Muller before but a little research showed that it was he that Stephen King always wanted to narrate his work and I instantly realised why. It is difficult to find the words to describe how good he is and so I will repeat an earlier point – when I read a book the characters will form a look and sound within my mind and somehow Muller managed to capture these perfectly (and I know I will not be alone in finding this).

However, my research into Muller also uncovered the tragic news that, in early June 2008, he died at the age of 57 following a courageous six-year battle to recover from a devastating motorcycle accident (Stephen King reads a dedication to Muller at the end of Wizard and Glass). And from that point on the recording was always tinged with a touch of sadness.

The following 2 books, The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass, were great, with the latter book being much more enjoyable second time around. The 5th book, Wolves of the Calla, finds George Guidall once again behind the microphone and although he might not scale the same aural heights as Muller, he was the perfect choice to complete the series and, after a short period of transition, I found myself once again comfortable in his capable hands.

And then we come to Song for Susannah and I remembered the 2 reasons why I hadn’t enjoyed the book first time around. Firstly there is the fact that King had begun to write himself into the story. Not as a brief cameo (which would have been acceptable) but as an almost demi-god that was all-powerful. I found that this broke the spell under which the series has previously held me and King almost seemed intent on shouting “This isn’t real you know! These are just figments of my imagination!” from the highest peaks. To enjoy a series such as this you need to suspend your disbelief and as such the direction the author took seemed a peculiar one. Secondly there was the way the Japanese were portrayed in a section of the book. Now this might be by explained by stating that they could have been Susannah’s thoughts and words but it seemed completely out of place and reminiscent of George Lucas and his cringe-inducing Trade Federation in the newer Star Wars films. I have read a lot of Stephen King and have never found him the least bit racist (quite the opposite in fact) and this is why I was so surprised by the base ridiculing of the Japanese race.

And so, more than 10 years after I read the first page of The Gunslinger, I finally reached the 7th and final book, The Dark Tower. And once King himself finally (and belatedly) took a bow, the story moved towards a fitting climax. In fact, the ending still resonates with me now, many weeks after having listened to it, and I could not see a way in which it could have been done better. And so the decision to listen through the series in its entirety was rewarded amply as the series became a fine companion over the period of many months. As winter turned into spring and as spring turned into summer, I followed Roland Deschain across the desert all the way to the foot of The Dark Tower itself. It is a journey I will never forgot and one I will always remember fondly.

If, like me, you have a lengthy commute, I could not recommend more highly that you spend that time in the company of Stephen King’s epic, so wonderfully brought to life by Guidall and Muller.

Listen and enjoy.

9.3/10

The Dark Tower series (unabridged) by Stephen King
Narrated by George Guidall (The Gunslinger, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower) and Frank Muller (The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass)
Length: 132 hours, 45 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks