Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

“This inhuman place makes human monsters…”

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Mass market paperback (Anchor 2012); first published by Doubleday in 1977. 688 pages.

I’ve decided to slowly make my way through more of Stephen King’s work in addition to whatever other reading I take on. I mean, he is supremely prolific, very influential on countless other writers, AND loves corgis. I recently read 11/22/63 and now own the entire set of The Dark Tower books; I skimmed the first one the day after the bar exam but was just so happy to be looking at something that wasn’t law-related that I raced through it without retaining anything so I’m going to reread it and take on the rest.

But about The Shining. I don’t think that I need to describe the plot in much detail at all, since this is an older and very popular book with a very famous film adaptation. What’s important is that each member of the Torrance family, now veritably stranded at the Overlook Hotel for the Colorado winter as Jack cares for the place, is struggling with their own demons, even, and especially, 5-year-old Danny. But aside from the family’s personal issues the hotel itself has some very dark secrets that are unleashed upon them all.

I made the mistake of thinking that since I’d seen the movie I knew what the book would be like. This really isn’t true at all. Even though there are book ghosts and movie ghosts I feel like much of the supernatural was removed from the film and Jack Torrance’s unraveling in Kubrick’s adaptation was more internally motivated: here is a man who feels like a failure at his career; who struggles with alcoholism; who hates his family… it’s not hard to predict what might happen next. In the book, though, the events unfold more slowly and more horrifyingly because King gives us many, many glimpses into the reality that Jack doesn’t hate his family at all and is struggling within himself to keep the horrors of the hotel and of his true nature from taking over, because he loves them and ultimately does want to keep them safe. The endings also differ and I think the book’s ending is more fitting.

I am giving The Shining 4 stars. I think a lot of King’s strength in writing, from his works that I’ve experienced thus far, comes from character development, and it was possible to feel sympathy for the Torrances even when they probably did not deserve it. Some minor issues for me came from his treatment of Danny on occasion. It is understood that Danny is special and has “the shine,” a type of psychic gift, but I felt like some of his thoughts and the way he spoke were just far too mature to be believable for a 5-year-old. Also, maybe I am just getting desensitized but I felt that this book was more eerie and creepy than outright horrific; the scenes that were violent did not really faze me too much and for me it was the buildup that was truly terrifying. I want to watch the movie again now and also plan to soon read the long-awaited sequel, Doctor Sleep.

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Book Review: “The Girl With All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey

“The horror of the unknown is more frightening than any horror you can understand.”

Hardcover edition; Orbit, 2014. 416 pages.

Hardcover edition; Orbit, 2014.
416 pages.

One thing you should know about me that I don’t think I’ve mentioned on the blog yet is that I’m fairly squeamish. For the most part, I’d rather watch any other type of movie besides a horror movie. I cannot stand the sight of someone vomiting whether on film or in person. I can’t even watch certain scenes of shows like Grey’s Anatomy if they’re particularly bloody. So why was I desperate to read this book, which was confirmed to be extremely terrifying and gory? Well… I can’t tell you without giving anything away, but I knew from reading a couple of reviews (some of them a bit spoilery) that I was going to love this. There are specific niches within the horror genre that I will always go for, but I don’t want to say what type without revealing more, and for this book it’s best to approach it with a blank slate. But you should check out the description from Goodreads, which is what initially drew me in:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

By looking at a horrific situation through the lens of a brilliant, gifted (you will see very early on exactly how gifted) child, M.R. Carey makes it possible for readers to feel such a huge range of emotions despite being totally grossed out by many of the scenes herein. I CRIED at the end of this book. In addition to the obvious gore that comes with a horror novel, there are truths in The Girl With All the Gifts about love, friendship, and family. None of the violence is gratuitous; the science behind what unfolds is incredibly believable; the characters are so well-developed for this type of book that the focus is perfectly balanced between them and the plot. Carey is an amazing writer and gives away exactly enough information at the right time to maintain the intrigue and build up to each next horrifying scene. I’m deliberately being vague about everything that goes on because it will be SO much better if you go in blind. This was undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in “my” sub-genre of horror that I enjoy and I gave it an enthusiastic 5 stars.