Book Review- The Shining (1977)

The beginning

The Shining (1977) is among the most famous novels written by the celebrated American Horror writer Stephen King. After the sensational success of ‘Carrie and Salem’s lot’, the author followed up with yet another spine-tingling and bone-numbing story of the paranormal. Although King had written a number of novels before, this was his third published novel and as of date a bestseller, with a huge fan following. Adapted onto the screen many times, the 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation went on to become a hit and later on, a cult classic. Normally, I am more of a fantasy loving person. Though, I am not a big fan of horror; the only reason I started reading this book is because I was curious about  Stephen King’s style of writing, a contemporary legend. Often horror movies and novels fall in the traps of horrible clichés, becoming more comical than scary. But I decided to brave those by reading this novel as I wanted to step out of my genre of comfort and broaden my perspective. In the end, it was quite an experience.

The tale

The story of ‘The Shinning (1977)’ revolves around the Torrance family and their twisted experiences in the grand Overlook Hotel. It begins with the irrational move of a man to take his family to a place which was going to be completely snowbound for a few months. Jack Torrance, after being kicked out of his job as a teacher for hurting a student physically, takes up the job as a winter caretaker at the magnificent Overlook Hotel. The Overlook is an opulent, posh hotel with a big-wig guest list every summer, including a few Presidents in the past. Every winter, however, it becomes an empty shell full of secrets and horror: an isolated world so cut off, it introduces claustrophobic mania, as in the case of the previous caretaker. Jack pays no heed to this and sees the job as a perfect way to get back on track. His son Danny, a child with psychic abilities, is very apprehensive about the move because of the gruesome nightmares he suddenly has– a warning from his “imaginary friend” Tony. However, he supports his father’s decision, like his mother, as he adores him. The small family moves in, just as everybody is leaving. They meet the cook Mr. Halloran, a man who also has psychic abilities. He recognizes Danny’s ability, or “shine”, and has a private talk with him, warning him about the sinister presence in the Hotel. He advises the child to ignore whatever he may see and to steer clear of the mysterious room 217. He leaves, telling Danny to call him if he ever needed him. The three Torrances are now left all alone in the large hotel. As the days pass  Danny has  visions and goes into catatonic trances, while Jack starts poking into the past of the Overlook: a bloody and macabre story of murders, illicit affairs, covered-up deaths and other unexplained events uncover. Slowly even Jack begins to sense a paranormal presence in the Hotel– an evil demon lurking beneath the floors they walked over, the walls that surrounded them and in other hotel entities like the ancient fire hoses and the topiary animals. Things take a turn for the worse when Danny is unable to control his curiosity and walks into the dreaded room 217 and sees the horror within. By now Jack starts falling under the spell of the entity that is the Overlook. Soon, the Torrance family realizes that the danger to their lives is inside their family and not from the outside. The struggle to keep a dismantling family together finally ends up becoming a fight for survival.

The details

The Shining is a gripping novel, setting the gloomy and uneasy mood from the very early on. It shows the slow degeneration of a good man into a raging maniac, chased by the ghosts of his past. Based partly on incidents from King’s own life, it discusses socially relevant issues like child abuse and alcoholism and the impact they have on the lives of people. It also describes how isolating a person in a place with no escape for too long brings out hidden schizophrenic qualities. Metaphorically, isolation and ridicule causes anti-social behaviour in people later in their lives. The narrative style of the novel is brilliant, often exposing the readers to the thoughts going through Danny’s, Wendy’s, Mr Halloran’s and of course, Jack’s head. The hotel, described as a living entity, is majestic and fearsome, creeping behind you all the time, but vanishing in the shadows when you turn to look. The surrealistic and paranoid mood made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Above all, the character of Jack Torrance is the quintessential tortured anti- hero. The readers initially empathize with him but eventually grow to be revolted by the thing he becomes. King has done a marvelous job with this character describing his fall accurately, raw and stark, without gloss. The story has a very strong female character: although it is a Jack and Danny show throughout, Wendy Torrance is a strong-willed and brave woman who will go to any length to protect her son. The surroundings of the Overlook hotel also add to the mood: set in the Rockies of Colorado, near the tiny village of Sidewinder, the beautiful summer resort becomes a fortress of homicide in the winter. Surrounded by feet high drifts of snow, there is no escape route over the deadly, frozen roads.

The verdict

All in all, The Shining is a treat for horror lovers, although it may be too soft to people who like extreme gore. For a first-timer in the horror genre, the book is un-put-down-able, thrilling and chilling. Some may say it a bit slow paced, but the period of three months described flies by once the reader immerses himself in the novel. It has the traditional elements of horror, including disfigured faces, disturbing nightmares, images and illusions and inanimate objects suddenly gaining a life of their own. But it also has the elements of a psychological thriller: the twisted mind of a maniac. It keeps the reader guessing for a while and then exposes the evil in all its glory, scaring the day lights out of him. A satisfying read, that may inspire a few nightmares.

Rashmi Rajshekhar

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