Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Shining

This entry is part 94 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

I’m not sure I’ve ever finished writing one blog and transitioned straight into the next before.

It’s too organised. It smacks of professionalism, and that isn’t me.

Yet here I am, having just tapped the last few words on my Salem’s Lot blog minutes ago, starting my The Shining review.

Look at me go.

Even better, I’m pretty far ahead of schedule. As I sit here, tapping at the keys on my new iPad’s keyboard (new to me, I should say) it is Friday 12th April 2019.

Tomorrow (that’s Saturday, for those not so confident counting the days of the week) will see the release of my Sirens review.

Can’t remember what I wrote for that, it’s probably crap.

A week after that will be Carrie, then there will be Salem’s Lot all of which means I am writing this blog almost a month before it is due to be released.

Again, very organised.

Of course, I’ve cheated a little.

I have less than twenty books to go on this challenge. The finish line is in sight and I am desperate to reach it.

It shouldn’t be too hard. At times during this challenge, I’ve finished three, four, and even five books in a week.

Though it has to be said, those were shorter books.

Beyond The Shining I am facing another five Stephen King books, all of them long and one of them the ridiculously lengthed The Stand. A 1,200 paged monster. Plus there is the Harry Potter series, the final four of which are longer than is natural for the type of story and audience.

It has facilitated a change in approach.

First up, I’ve given up my writing. Just until I get the reading done.

I know, it’s a mistake, and one I’ll probably hate myself for. I had a bad start to the year after the release of All Your Secrets in January, but after I got going I quickly wrote sixty thousand words of a new book and am incredibly pleased with it.

I should be pushing on. Looking to finish it and it’s sequel so I can fulfil my target of getting two books out next January, despite that annoying roadblock of my first child appearing in the middle of the year.

Just kidding, future child!

I might regret it, but it’s a decision I’ve taken. Once I get my reading done I can focus on my writing. That’s what makes sense right now.

The other decision I’ve made highlights truly what a weirdo I am.

Until now, I’ve read the books in whatever order and reviewed them in the same order.

This makes sense, this is normal.

Then I came to this run of books and found myself filled with dread.

If I keep going on the way I’ve been going I reasoned I’m going to have a number of weeks when I only read one book.

This I could not stomach.

I started my challenge on a Thursday and throughout I have rarely failed to finish only one book on any given week within this challenge and the thought of doing so several times in a row made me feel sick.

So, I’ve played around with the reading order. Working it so I pair larger books with smaller. Medium with medium.

What this means is that while I’m reviewing The Shining now, right after my Salem’s Lot review, I did not read one after the other, I actually read the first three Laura Caxton books by David Wellington in between, and while The Stand will be the review to follow The Shining I have read Harry Potter one, Zom-B, and Harry Potter two, before starting that.

It’s a slightly odd way to work, but it allows me to fulfil my weird reading order needs while keeping everything moving. So long as I don’t get lost, it should be the ideal way to work.

Stephen King

As mentioned in previous blogs, I will not be assessing my thoughts on Stephen King ini this blog, but please do check out my previous King blogs for a catch up:

The Shining

One of the best compliments for a book, I think, is when you finish reading it, look back, and can’t imagine how such a story took so many pages.

The Shining is a perfect example of this, as the story is remarkably simple.

A recovering alcoholic, who fears he might be like his abusive father, takes his wife and young son to an isolated hotel where he has been made the caretaker for the winter months. During these months, snow will cut off the hotel from society, and Jack Torrence (said alcoholic) and his family will be the only inhabitants. What Jack doesn’t know is that his son has “The Shining” (telepathic and prophetic abilities), and the hotel (with its own psychic powers) has drawn the family there, wanting the boy to die so his powers can be absorbed.

Alone with his wife (Wendy) and son (Danny), Jack Torrence is driven slowly mad by the hotel, culminating with his attempted murder of them both while they (with the help of the returning Chef who also has limited Shining abilities) try to escape.

That’s all there is to it, but as ever, it is all about character for King, and you can immediately see why this is one of his most successful novels.

By trapping a recovering alcoholic in an evil hotel, he is given scope to drive Jack slowly insane. Something he does with great skill, never rushing towards his end goal. Allowing it to happen naturally, so by the end, we completely believe Jack has turned from a kind if troubled father into a monster ready and willing to murder the two people in the world who mean anything to him.

This descent is helped along, and expanded upon, by a carefully laid back story. One that shows us how Jack’s alcoholism and temper developed. How he feels remorse for losing his temper and breaking his son’s arm in the past, and how he lost his job as a teacher for punching a student he caught slashing his tyres.

Atop this is his rememberings of his own father, who he loved deeply but who often abused him, his siblings and, most often, his mother. Jack starts by loving his father but hating him for his unforgivable actions, but by the end of the novel, he sympathises with the monster, having become convinced his mother deserved her beatings for stepping out of line.

All of this is what’s so wonderful about The Shining. Yes, there are killer hedge animals and a brilliant isolated setting which turns from a quiet, peaceful place to a madhouse as the hotel ups its ante in trying to get Danny, but this is all just trappings. The real thrust of the story comes from Jack and his slow decline into madness. It comes from inside his own head as he becomes convinced that his family deserve what the hotel wants to give them.

He is supported, too, by a small but effective cast. Danny drives along the supernatural parts of the story, getting visions throughout of what is to come, allowing King to use his favourite foreshadowing techniques to build a sense of dread.

Even Wendy and Halloran, the chef, who are perhaps less well painted than Jack and Danny, add to the story, helping in their own ways to build towards the climax. A climax that we can see coming right from the beginning but which loses no effect because of it.

Written by a newly successful author, teacher until recently, with a heavy drinking problem, it is easy to see how King identified with Jack Torrence. And it is maybe this that makes the Shining one of the best character-driven horror novels ever written.

Next Time

As mentioned above, we are back into the world of Stephen King next week, with his largest novel (and the largest I will face for this challenge) The Stand.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Salem’s LotMan vs Bookshelf: The Stand >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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