The Shining, by Stephen King, was my first experience of this prolific author. I do not enjoy being frightened so generally avoid the horror genre in both books and films. However, when the opportunity to read and review what is regarded by some as his first tour de force, I decided that I could benefit from being able to form my own opinion about the work of a writer who, in interviews, has voiced some perceptive thoughts.
The book tells the tale of a young family on a downward spiral. The son has a gift, the Shining, which is presented to the reader in it’s most believable form when described through the eyes of the child. His father is a recovering alcoholic with a vicious temper whilst his mother fights her own childhood demons. Her character is less rounded for much of the story but, by the end of the book, has been developed enough to allow her to play her part convincingly. Both parents have been victims of childhood abuse and the scars affect much of what they do.
At the beginning of the book the father has lost his teaching job and, as a result, the family is in financial straits. To tide them over he agrees to become winter caretaker of a large hotel in the mountains which will be cut off by heavy snow for many months. Naturally the hotel is haunted, although it’s true power is only revealed slowly to the reader as the story progresses. The build up of tension is masterfully done and I can see why so many of King’s books have been adapted for the big screen.
It is also easy to see why this author is a best seller. The book is a page turner, easy to read with a good balance of taut plot and character development. Nothing is overdone and the elements of horror are imaginatively crafted. In the book’s blurb King is described as a master storyteller and I would not quibble with this title.
There was something about his style of writing though that just didn’t do it for me. I could appreciate the clever ways in which the back story was introduced; the varied cast of characters each added something to the tale and were believable; the settings were well described and the hotel in particular was presented to the reader in enough detail to make them feel that they were alongside the family, wanting to shout out ‘don’t go there!’ when advice was ignored and key rooms explored.
The book was clever, slick and well written, yet still I felt a lack of something. It almost felt too text book, as if the author knew how to write a best seller and did just that. It was not formulaic in the way so many popular books can appear, but for all the tension and development it did not touch me emotionally.
Having said all of that, I am still glad that I read it. It was enjoyable and entertaining which is as much as many readers will look for in a book. It was also rather scary. I doubt that I will feel comfortable around topiary animals ever again.
My copy of this book was provided by Goodreads and the publisher as part of a First Reads giveaway.