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