As with all of my reviews (I hope), this review is spoiler-free. If you’ve already read Doctor Sleep, please see Sleep-Along posts for more discussion of plot details.
You may already know that Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s 50th published novel, is a sequel to his third published novel, The Shining (Doubleday, 1977). The Shining was the author’s first hardcover bestseller, according to Wikipedia, but it seems the reason the book remained near and dear to his heart all these years later was the main character, five-year-old Danny Torrance, Danny’s mother, Wendy, and their friend from the Overlook Hotel, Dick Hallorann.
In the author’s note (In the audiobook edition, this is read by the author) to Doctor Sleep, Stephen King mentioned how someone on a book tour for Bag of Bones asked him if he had any idea what happened to Danny from The Shining, and added that it was a question that would pop into his own mind at times (such as on long turnpike drives). He said he would also wonder what might have happened to the family if Danny’s father, Jack Torrance, had found Alcoholics Anonymous, “instead of trying to get by with what people in AA call ‘white-knuckle sobriety.'”
Doctor Sleep fills you in on what happened to the traumatized Danny Torrance in the years after the events in The Shining, with his mother and Dick appearing only briefly. The bulk of the story takes place when he is in his 30s and a recovering alcoholic, having used substance abuse to bury his memories and his psychic abilities. (The book, not the movie, is what the author’s going by, so if you’ve only seen the movie version of The Shining, you might want to read the book or listen to the audiobook first.) The other main characters in the book with powerful psychic abilities, Abra and Rose, are both female. Their stories begin as separate threads before coming together with Dan’s booze- and pill-soaked life story.
Doctor Sleep is going on my list of favorite audiobooks of 2013, but I don’t think I’d recommend it if you’re not already a fan of Stephen King’s more recent novels. At 554 pages, Doctor Sleep is long! The pace seemed slow to some reviewers who wanted less character development and fewer sidelines, but the novel is more of a psychological thriller than a gory bloodbath. The author is probing the nature of what it is to be human – how easy it is for a life to go wrong, for example – not just trying to scare the reader. Although the story made me jumpy plenty of times, I’m not a die-hard horror reader. Some reviewers thought the villains of the story, Rose and the rest of the True Knot, weren’t scary enough, and I can see their point, but they fulfilled their role as an evil counterweight in the story. Again, they were scary enough for me! There is also a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous and the nature of addiction, which I personally found fascinating, but other reviewers didn’t enjoy.
In audiobook format, at over 18 hours, Doctor Sleep needed two MP3-CDs to fit. Audiobook narrator Will Patton is incredible! He does Abra’s voice, both as a child and a teenaged girl, very well, with no falsetto, along with the voices of all the other female characters. He succeeds in making the tense parts of the story suspenseful without adding overly dramatic flourishes (e.g. gasping or excessive breathlessness) to the words of the author. In fact, Doctor Sleep is going on my list of extraordinary audiobooks, too, Better on Audio – coming soon!
King, Stephen, author
Patton, Will, narrator
Simon & Schuster Audio
September 24, 2013
18.5 hours on 2 MP3-CDs
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this audiobook from the publisher.