Category Archives: hodderscape

The Shining by Stephen King

review-projectThis is the second part of the Hodderscape Review Project, wherein myself and a group of other bloggers will be reviewing one book per month from the wonderful personages over at Hodderscape. This month’s was awesome and triggered a mass re-read of one of my favourite authors in the entire world – The Shining by Stephen King.

Corridors are always spooky, always

Corridors are always spooky, always

Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control. As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that, too, is beginning to shine …

I have a great skill when it comes to questionable life decisions. My favourite is probably the one I made when I was nine, when I discovered Stephen King’s It at a friend’s house and decided that I was so repulsed by the fate of Georgie in the opening pages that I clearly had to read this book in its entirety. If you doubt my commitment to clownian motion, there’s footage somewhere of me hiding under a table from a birthday party*, completely engrossed in It, accompanied only by a wilting slice of chocolate cake.

Twenty years changes nothing. Give me a Stephen King book and I’m lost to the world.

Pleasant family vacation spot, innit

Pleasant family vacation spot

I’m not going to mess about: I loved The Shining, I still love The Shining, and I love the movie too. I don’t need to talk about the movie; others have discussed it vs the book better than I ever could. This is a film I discovered thanks to a particular scene in Twister, by the way. Yes. There is one thing we can thank Twister for, and for a change it’s not Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Child looks terrifying here.

Child looks terrifying here.

But the book, you guys. It’s about as haunted as a book can be. It’s haunted by the author, the film, the director, and the huge impact it had on popular culture. You can’t help but feel the echoes from every reference you’ve seen, read or heard vibrate through it to the point where you’re not quite sure you’re reading alone. Every re-read you discover something familiar but unsettling, like those times you’re caught between two mirrors and you can see your reflection repeating off into infinity. It’s so, so weird. And oh my god so satisfying.

The first time I read the book I was reading as a horror fan, lapping up the oppressive atmosphere and the hints at the twisted, sordid past of the hotel. This time it’s as a King fan, enjoying how he builds each character up and whittles away at them, exposing fault lines at the same time as exposing them to the dread forces of the Overlook which infect and affect each of them differently. Danny would be an annoying, precocious little kid in another writer’s hands, but thanks to King’s skill with pacing and details, he isn’t; his own father turns on him, he faces the horror in Room 217, encounters terrifying topiary animals, and little psychic Danny is sympathetic throughout. His fear is goddamn contagious because we’ve all been a frightened child, only he’s actually got extreme dark stuff in front of him that few people face – even if you dismiss the supernatural elements, Jack Torrance’s insanity is scary enough. I can’t wait to read the sequel and see how King handles Danny’s problems in adulthood. Cannot wait.

It was a nice surprise to remember that Wendy is so much more of a person in the book than the Wendy of the film (there’s some agreement on this issue) – it lends more of a feeling of the family as a cohesive unit being destroyed than of one man’s descent into supernatural insanity. It’s the single aspect where I feel the book is stronger than the film: the tension over Jack’s madness in the book is fuller, more rounded, where in the film you always know he’s going to crack because Jack Nicholson has villain eyebrows. He totally does. But in the book, King makes everything feel close and real and warm, and Kubrick’s film about terrifying but only slightly supernatural madness feels weirdly distant from a book about dark forces in a claustrophobic space acting on a small and fragile family. The emotional core is strong enough to amplify the fear of everything from the big, dramatic events to the smaller moments that other writers would have ignored (or, say, overlooked. Heh.). It’s a perfect example of the genius of King; a simple moment when the family hears an empty elevator on the move had me put the book down so I could go downstairs for a cup of tea and a break from the oppressive Overlook atmosphere. And who the hell else can make topiary that scary?!

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The Shining isn’t my favourite Stephen King, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s Breaking Bad, The Godfather, The Hobbit, Super Mario. The thing that everyone will assume you’re familiar with, the cultural touchstone, the haunted house horror. Even for people who don’t like horror there’s a family story at the heart of this, a dark and brilliant psychological side, which any fiction reader can savour.

Reader, I loved it. And the sequel, Doctor Sleep, sounds so good:

 

An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon. King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. The instantly riveting Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals. On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant ‘shining’ power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes ‘Doctor Sleep.’ Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival …

It’s out this Thursday and has a picture of a cat on it. The internet will love it.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” 

Stephen King

*Someone else’s. And, brilliantly, I managed to slip away while they played It.

 

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – @hodderscape

review-projectThis is the first part of the Hodderscape Review Project, wherein myself and a group of other bloggers will be reviewing one book per month from the wonderful personages over at Hodderscape. This month we got a great one – The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, an old favourite of mine, and one that I really looked forward to re-reading!

Either the idea of an alterna-England with re-engineered dodos, actual word-munching bookworms that rAndoMlY caPitAliZe wHEn NeaRby and inventors who create contraptions that can catapult you into books sounds like it could be really, really good fun, or it doesn’t. How about some shadowy Special Operatives constantly on the lookout to safeguard literary treasures from rogues and terrorists because they’re just that important? Can I tempt you with a time-travelling parent who pops up randomly to deliver (usually) pointless but entertaining comments in awfully inappropriate situations? How about we go back to that thing about the dodos. Because they go “plock”, you see.

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DODO ON A PLOCKING SCOOTER

I’m not going to rehash the plot for you. This is the plot summary. It is a good summary. I would suggest reading the book if you want more detail.

There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where the Crimean war still rages, dodos are regenerated in home-cloning kits and everyone is deeply disappointed by the ending of ‘Jane Eyre’. In this world there are no jet-liners or computers, but there are policemen who can travel across time, a Welsh republic, a great interest in all things literary – and a woman called Thursday Next. In this utterly original and wonderfully funny first novel, Fforde has created a fiesty, loveable heroine and a plot of such richness and ingenuity that it will take your breath away.

Eyre Affair

THIS BOOK ALSO CONTAINS: A CRAZY CAR, WORDSWORTH, AND A SLIGHTLY MAD BUT NICE INVENTOR

Suspending disbelief is all very well and good until you get to books like this one and you find that you don’t need to suspend disbelief so much as bash it over the head and leave it tied up in a dark basement for a bit (but don’t do that, that’s nasty, and you don’t look nasty enough for that). This is a book about the fun inherent in reading, in how enjoyable it can be, how silly, how entertaining – the basic marrow-deep pleasure one can take in the completely illogical, totally weird and entirely fictional things that can occur within a book. I have little time for Dickens and even less for the Brontes, but there’s a love of the source material I’m entirely familiar with that underlies everything in the text, and it’s a feeling everyone with a favourite book they hug to their chest when they finish it will understand. At the same time, it finds humour in all of it, from the classics themselves to the very acts of reading, writing and enjoying a piece of literature. It’s irreverent in a way Hitch Hiker’s Guide fans would appreciate, albeit a little too cutesy to properly compare.

As for problems, it’s a bit of a YMMV matter. Thursday Next is an excellent character on paper (let’s pretend I got away with that) but she’s very dry, a bit distant, and oddly stilted at times. I love her to pieces because I feel as if her voice is a bit of a reference to big name crime whodunnits where it’s all a bit noir, a bit edgy, a bit hard-bitten, but it doesn’t help the romance or sympathy we’re supposed to feel for her character. It does allow for the wryly funny bits to be cripplingly good at times but it’s weird to read a first-person perspective yet feel like you’re observing her not through her own eyes and emotions, but through a telescope.

And Acheron Hades. Brilliant villain if you’re watching a pantomime, a Disney movie, or a 1960s tv episode of Batman. He is dark and devious and has some wonderful touches (especially when it comes to his lackeys – the Felixes are my favourite) but it’s undermined by too much melodrama and silliness to really feel threatening. I just found it all entertaining so I didn’t mind, but there’s no real threat to it, and the Dickens-by-way-of-Wodehouse names scattered throughout the book really made it all feel a bit too vaudevillian in a way that didn’t work with the type of story Fforde was writing. The tension and darkness that should be there instead just feel like shadowy references to something else and not really part of the book at all.

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This was the edition I had and lent to someone and never saw again. So upsetting.

But here’s the thing: in a way, it works. It’s escapist, it’s gloriously silly, and, if you want something that doesn’t take a single aspect of itself seriously, it’s enormously satisfying. I first read it when I was in between GCSE and A-Level exams; it took the piss out of high literature in a witty, chaotic, genre-bending way which I’d never read before, and has been a huge influence on my reading and approach to the weirder aspects of genre since then.

It’s a challenge to suspend disbelief and jump right in, trusting that Fforde knows where he’s going, how he’s getting there, and that the wheels of his insane clown car aren’t going to come off when you’re doing 180mph down the Oh My God How Is That Supposed To Be A Thing highway.* It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s not the perfect book. Do you want your weird and wonderful reads to make sense and be logical the entire way through? Then it may not work for you. It is a stark raving mad literary adventure that cycles between being nearly dark and stupidly funny almost too often to work, but manages to anyway, purely due to the crazy spirit of the thing. It feels very much like an enjoyably readable first book, with a lot of authorial promise to come.

PS Thursday’s dad is THE BEST.

* It’s just past the What The Hell Junction and links the town Oh Why Not with the city You Went Too Far. Like the book. Oh, look, I tried to do a funny.