Book name: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Format: print, ebook, audiobook
Publication Date: 1977
Star Rating: 5/5
The Shining is one of Stephen King’s earliest novels. It has been adapted for film, starring Jack Nicholson, and for TV.
The combination of a slow descent into madness and the isolation of a luxury hotel up in the mountains closed for the winter has been a potent one, with The Shining retaining a place in popular culture ever since its publication.
It is often referenced in connection with isolation and mental health, with a casual reference to ‘the shining’ in this context being very widely understood.
When The Shining opens, Jack Torrance has lost his job as a school teacher after hitting one of his pupils.
He’s given up drinking, but his family’s financial position remains precarious.
An old friend gets him a job at the Overlook Hotel outside Boulder, Colorado, so that Jack can make a fresh start.
The hotel closes down over the winter but needs a caretaker to stay there even when the place is entirely cut off.
The manager is concerned (after a previous caretaker went mad) about having Jack’s wife Wendy and son Danny up there with him at all.
He’s also aware of Jack’s employment history and previous struggles with alcohol, and during the interview Jack gets grilled on both subjects.
Jack has a history of violent behaviour to go alongside the drinking, having broken his son’s arm in the past.
In a brave attempt to repair their finances and try again with their marriage, Jack and Wendy head to the Overlook for the winter with Danny.
Jack’s dark tendencies are rooted in his violent father’s behaviour and struggles with addiction. Much of the early part of The Shining is devoted to establishing the family’s past issues.
The Overlook has its own disturbing powers and, much as the Torrances hope for a fresh start, Danny is already dreading moving there.
Danny has an invisible friend called Tony. Lots of young kids invent one, but there are plenty of hints that Tony is real and dangerous.
Tony is able to show Danny things that will happen in the future. A doctor does his level best to rationalise that away, but the reader is not convinced that this is all there is to it.
Instead, it seems clear that Danny can see things that are hidden and glimpse the future because of what is called ‘the shining’.
When Danny arrives at the Overlook, he meets someone else who can shine. The cook, Dick Hallorann, conducts a conversation with Danny inside their heads.
This is the first time that Danny has spoken to someone who shares his gift of foresight.
The initial months pass fairly smoothly. In fact, Jack experiences a surge in creativity and seems likely to finish writing his play.
The relationship between Jack and Wendy improves, and Danny is able to some extent to put his concerns about the Overlook from his mind.
At this point, there is the suggestion that far from being a ‘bad place’ of horror fiction, the Overlook might have a regenerative effect.
However, with the onset of winter the hotel becomes entirely cut off. Jack spirals amid the isolation as the hotel’s dark power takes a firm hold upon him.
Danny is no longer able to resist visiting the hotel room mentioned to him by Dick Hallorann, and when he goes there he sees a dead woman in the bath.
The Shining in book form is a slow burn with Jack’s existing violent tendencies established well before the family reach the Overlook. The isolation of the winter and the strain of Danny’s shining then combine to push Jack over the edge.
A combination of the location’s evil and his own propensities gradually drive him to madness.
I loved that The Shining as a book had the space to explore the history of the hotel and the ways that it is haunted. There was also plenty of room to establish Jack’s myriad difficulties before the family have even heard of the hotel.
Whatever challenges Jack faces at the hotel, he brings plenty of his own along for the ride.
The Shining is such a great story. Full of psychological insight in the first half and then action in the second, it is set in a vivid location that absolutely seems real.
Thank you for reading my review.
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