I finished The Shining early for the February readalong of The Shining hosted by Jill at Fizzy Thoughts. Half on downloadable audio (narrated by Campbell Scott) from the public library and half in a 1977 print edition from the public library. (My first post on the readalong is here.)
Reading The Shining even though I’d seen the movie many years ago was still pretty scary. The book is clearly a product of the 1970s, but it didn’t seem dated in a bad way.
Others in the readalong found it boring, which made me think about how a reader’s setting can influence the experience of a story.
I read a large part of The Shining home alone at night a few days after a blizzard socked us with a couple of feet of snow. Jack Torrance and his little family are warned over and over about how isolated the Overlook Hotel will be after heavy snow in November makes roads impassible for the winter. This feeling of being cut-off and alone plays a large role in Jack’s wife Wendy’s fear and helps to build tension and suspense. Reading The Shining alone in a house surrounded by the quiet of a snow-covered neighborhood, I grew nervous about where the noises in the house were coming from and jumped a mile when I finally heard my husband at the door. Finishing the book the next morning wasn’t nearly as scary, although I was still caught up in the suspense of how the story would end.
Author Stephen King slowly builds up tension, emphasizing Jack and his wife Wendy’s internal responses to the strain of isolation and their gradually growing sense that things are happening that can’t be explained rationally. Meanwhile their five-year-old son Danny knows what is happening through his sixth sense but is too young to do anything about it, and can’t always remember everything he sees in his visions when he comes out of his seizure-like trances. All this contributes to a growing sense of helplessness (crucial to any horror story) in the characters and the reader.
All this is to say, I surrendered to the mood of the story the author was trying to create. I didn’t listen to the audio in the car driving to work; I listened to a different audiobook instead. Trying to give reading suggestions in the library, I usually ask what a reader is in the mood for, since most readers don’t want to read the same kind of book all the time. The Shining is a good one to read on snowy winter’s nights, whether you’re in Maine, where the author lives, or Colorado, where the book takes place. If you don’t have snow drifts mounted up at your doors and windows, at least read The Shining late into the night as the world grows quiet and still all around you, until you can feel – as Jack Torrance does in his basement boiler-room hideaway – the vast, empty Overlook Hotel with all its thirteen floors pressing down on you…inescapable…terrifying…;)
I liked Campbell Scott’s narration on the audio, as does Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick. I thought his flat delivery suited the mood of a story about a depressed, failed, recently fired author who is trying desperately to be a recovering alcoholic and his unhappy, dependent wife, who is worried about her strangely behaving son and concerned that her volatile husband might hurt him again in anger. (Later in the story, though, when there’s more action, the delivery becomes more dramatic. I thought Campbell Scott sounded a lot like Jack Nicholson when he was voicing Jack Torrance’s shouting and cajoling in the hallways of the hotel.)
As with many Stephen King novels, The Shining is stuffed with a lot of details that seem extraneous, but the author’s ability to turn everyday objects into nightmarish ones is clearly evident. I will never look at topiary in the same way again!
The Shining Readalong runs through February. Anyone can join in on Twitter (use #shineon) or comment on the blogs who are joining in. Visit Fizzy Thoughts for details.