Doctor Sleep

Title: Doctor Sleep

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Following a childhood haunted by terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance has been drifting for decades.

Finally, he settles into a job at a nursing home where he draws on his remnant ‘shining’ power to help people pass on.

Then he meets Abra Stone, a young girl with the brightest ‘shining’ ever seen. But her gift is attracting a tribe of paranormals. They may look harmless, old and devoted to their Recreational Vehicles, but The True Knot live off the ‘steam’ that children like Abra produce.

Now Dan must confront his old demons as he battles for Abra’s soul and survival…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I re-read The Shining before i dived into this book, and I’m honestly not sure if that was a good thing to do or not. Immediately it’s obvious that King’s writing style has improved in the years between books. It’s just more natural and I was instantly drawn into the world, the familiar characters, and the aftermath of The Shining. My hopes were quickly set quite high.

The Shining is a tough act to follow, and obviously King knew that. Doctor Sleep felt quieter, to me… and I liked that. It’s not trying to out shine (pun intended!) its predecessor, but do something different while expanding on the supernatural lore of ‘the shining’, as well as the nature of addiction. And the first half of the book had me hooked. Seeing Danny Torrence as a boy, dealing with the trauma from The Overlook and the ghosts that followed him (figuratively and literally); growing up and dealing with the trauma less-well, turning to drink. The story really gets going when Dan finds himself in Frazier, knowing this is where he needs to be.

This book has a lot more characters than The Shining. The Shining was limited to the Torrances–a family of three–and a few supporting characters(/ghosts), but Doctor Sleep has Dan, Dan’s friends and colleagues, Abra and her family, as well as the numerous members of the True Knot. They are a lot to keep track of at first, but the main players soon stand out. Billy, the first person Dan meets in Frazier, was an instant favourite for me. He was just so pure and lovely, and i was immediately thinking, “he’d better survive this book!” Another favourite was Concetta, Abra’s grandmother. A poet, a strong and independent woman, and just so level headed and no-nonsense.

Less-great aspects to the characters were the fact that it was the men who see all the action. It’s Dan, his AA BFF, and Abra’s dad who road trip around and confront some bad guys. All the friends Dan makes in Frazier are blokes. We get Abra, who’s strong and sassy and takes no shit. I loved her. But we also have her mum, who’s shown as being very emotional and reactive, compared to her husband. Even Wendy, Dan’s mum and determined fighter from The Shining, is reduced to a woman who needs to be protected by her young son and who smokes herself to death… she deserved so much more. And there’s Rose the Hat and Snakebite Andi… the crazy evil ladies. And of course at least one of them needs a sexual abuse back story that’s passed off as character development. In fact there were several points were all the female characters (bar Concetta; she was too old, but yes including 14-year-old Abra) were unnecessarily sexualised. Might have just been a throw away line… no big deal, you might say… expect there’s no point to it! It’s a throw away line with no purpose but to frustrate the shit out of me and give a hard side-eye the author.

As much as it was interesting to learn more about ‘the shining’ and Abra’s abilities, what I really loved most about the book was the exploration of the human horrors. So, very much what i liked about The Shining, now i come to think about it. Dan’s alcoholism, the depths he finds himself in and his struggle to claw himself out, his AA journey and the friends he makes along the way, and most of all the secret he keeps for so, so long and how it ate at him. It was that story line and its conclusion that i was most invested in and most emotional about.

The True Knot were a fascinating new aspect to the book. An old group (in more ways than one) of people with certain abilities themselves, who travel around the country and feed off of the ‘steam’ that children with ‘the shine’ possess. Rose the Hat, their leader, was especially intriguing and equal parts wonderful and terrible. The group’s entire history and way of life was interesting, and I would love to have read more, perhaps got to know a few more characters. Where the True Knot fell down for me, is as the horrifying bad guys. Yes, they were the bad guys, and yes, they were horrifying… but at no point did i think they’d have a chance of winning. As the reader, i know we know the bad guys aren’t going to win, but the stakes have to be high enough that i worry for the good guys. I was never worried for the good guys. Splitting the group up, a botched kidnapping, along with Rose the Hat’s constant poor decisions and gradual decline into rage and irrationality… the stakes were never high enough.

When i re-read The Shining i had to put the book down and take breaks because it made me so anxious and only increased the tension with every page. In contrast, i found myself putting Doctor Sleep down and not picking it back up for several days at a time. I was enjoying it, sure, but the successful outcome for the good guys was so clearly inevitable that the ride to get there wasn’t that enticing.

The last niggling thing… Abra’s emotions. The rage and the strength were clear throughout the book, and that alone would be interesting to explore. That would make Dan’s advise to her at the end of the book perfect and fitting. No, the thing that niggles me is that smile, those cocky lines, and her enjoyment. She didn’t simply get angry and need to break something… she got angry and wanted to hurt someone. By about two thirds of the way through the book alarm bells were ringing for me. Abra was so, so powerful, but every time she grinned, got sassy, or expressed pleasure in her actions I recoiled a little bit. Honestly, Abra was the scariest thing about this book. I really thought that would have been addressed more than it was at the end of the book. If King isn’t planning another sequel that deals with a grow up Abra turned bad, then this book really dropped the ball on her character.

Overall I did enjoy this book, mostly Dan’s story and battle with alcoholism, and seeing him make a life for himself. I would be interested in another book with an adult Abra… to see how adulthood treats her, like we’ve now seen for Dan. For all the things i’ve moaned about, the things i loved about the book, i loved.

Book vs Film: The Shining

I’ve written about film adaptations before, and how sometimes they can be better than their source material. But recently I decided I wanted to go a little deeper, and write more full-on analyses of books verses their cinematic counterparts. I do have a film degree, so I’ve decided to put it to use by creating this series. Don’t know how often it will be–at my whimsy, currently. But this was fun to write, and I want to do this again. So I will.

In an attempt to keep things fair and orderly, I’m breaking the comparison down into four broad sections: tone, characters, story, and craft. With The Shining, at least, I feel that these are the main areas to cover. When I do more of these in the future, I may end up adding or taking away sections. I’m open to improving the formula.

Book: The Shining Author: Steven King Year: 1977
Film: The Shining Director: Stanley Kubrick Year: 1980

I’ve been a horror fan since I was a (very) young kid, getting my teeth into countless horror films and books before I was even 10. So, when I tell you I wasn’t impressed with The Shining when I first watched it (years before I first read the book), just know it wasn’t because I didn’t like horror or hadn’t already enjoyed a hell of a lot of horror films. I can’t remember the specifics of what I thought at the time, because it was so long ago. I just remember the film feeling pretty… empty and insubstantial. And I think I was put off reading the book for a number of years after that. But when I did read the book, I ended up loving it. I found it genuinely scary and several moments in particular have stayed with me since.

When I re-read the book this month, it rekindled my aversion to the film. The film is wildly popular, raved about by cinema critics, and touted as a classic… but I just don’t see it. I discussed it with a few people who also didn’t love the film so much, and decided, in the name of fairness, to give the film a second go too. When the notebook and pen came out, I knew a book vs film analysis was going to be written…

Tone
The tone is what I’m most impressed with from the film. It immediately sets the mood with chilling music and grand, scenic cinematography. And this holds up throughout the film. At a couple of points the music gets a little too high pitched, but overall the music is wonderfully creepy, building the tension and putting me on edge. There are some incredible shots in the film, and in fact the cinematography throughout the film is perfection. It’s one of the first films to have used a steadicam, and it’s used brilliantly. Following Danny racing around the empty hotel in his trike, long single-shot scenes across large rooms, and getting lost in the hedge maze… they look amazing and they also help emphasise the enormous space and how isolated the family are in it.

Of course, the book doesn’t have music or cinematography to help set the mood of the story, only words. But it manages it. The descriptions of the wind howling around the outside of the hotel; the feeling of going from a hotel full of people, to a family of three with lots of space to explore, then gradually to individual isolation from each other; there is also the internal struggles of the characters and how and why they deal with the deteriorating situation. The fact that the book manages to make hose pipes, topiary animals, and playgrounds scary is a sure sign it’s getting the horror right. It also excels at building the tension. At first there is ebb and flow—tension and release—but as the story unfolds the tension mounts until I could barely read a chapter without needing a breather.

Characters
The characters in the book are complex, multifaceted, and sympathetic. I felt for them all, in various ways. Danny’s innocence and emotional maturity, Wendy’s self-awareness and determination, Dick’s easy-going nature and effortless likeability. Jack is by far the most complex character, between who he wants and is trying to be, and who he finds it too easy to be when he stops trying. It is these characters, their histories, and their choices that add meaning and depth to the story. As well as helping to provide a satisfying, but still open to some interpretation, ending to the book.

Meanwhile, in the film… the characters leave a lot to be desired. Danny is a mumbling vacant child reduced to a bit part, Wendy too quickly becomes a simpering mess only capable of screaming and shaking her head, Dick is firm and defensive with no clear reason to want to brave the snowstorms to save the family.

And Jack. He’s not helped being played by Jack Nicholson, who is a strong actor, but has such a singular presence, that he seems to bring very little subtly to the role. His performance later in the film, when Jack has completely lost his mind and is hell bent on murder, is great. However, his performance is lacking at the start of the film; everything he says sounds sarcastic and I can’t tell if he’s supposed to mean what he says or if he’s just a dick character all around.

There is just so little insight into Jack as a character—his troubled childhood, his troubled adulthood, and his troubled fatherhood. We’re given facts—he’s an alcoholic on the wagon and he once dislocated his son’s shoulder—but there is no emotional investment into his character; we see none of his inner turmoil, which was so vital to the story in the book. There is also no investment into the relationship he has with Danny… in fact they don’t even interact other than a few lines and one very awkward, creepy scene where Danny sits on his knee. That relationship was so vital to every member of the family’s character in the book, but in the film it’s barely a footnote.

Ultimately, I didn’t care about any of the characters in the film.

Story
In the book the story is very much linked to the characters. What happens and why depends a lot on the characters’ motivations, beliefs, and choices. Danny knows the Overlook Hotel holds bad things, but loves his dad and understands he needs the job so makes no attempt to stop them from going. Jack being manipulated by the hotel and its ghosts into horrendous acts he would never have be driven to otherwise (or would he?).

The book also has great pacing, switching between character point of views, showing the family’s lives over months, gradually shrinking their world down until it’s just the three of them in the hotel… alone with its own malicious characters.

And of course, all that insight and build up pay off with an ending that is wonderfully weaved together in many ways (foreshadowing and threads of details all paying off), but also very open to interpretation (exactly how much did the hotel manipulate Jack, and how much was who he really was, deep inside?). It left me satisfied while also left me with thoughts to chew on.

The film’s story is much simpler… because it lacks the character depth, and leaves only the cold facts shown on screen. Man goes mad and tries to butcher his family. The end.

One part of the story I really think the film failed on was Tony. Tony is Danny’s “imaginary friend”. In the film he lives in Danny’s mouth and involves a crooked finger for some reason. That is… pretty much the extent of that. Without the full insight into Tony—who he actually is and his relationship with Danny—there seems little point to him in the film? He simply makes Danny seem a bit weirder for his shine… perhaps even possessed.

Another part of the story I can’t fully get behind is killing Dick of immediately after he gets to the Overlook. Now, killing him I’m not opposed to. In all honesty, I half think King chickened out of going that far in the book, after he set it up with Dick sorting his will out immediately before he gets the call from Danny. But. But having him trek all the way across the country, just to stick an axe in his chest the minute he arrives seems… frivolous. He comes to rescue Danny, but they never even set eyes on each other? There is no meaning in his death—it’s just for a bit of gore and to up the minuscule body count.

The pacing also seems very off in the film, with all the main action and turning points taking place in one 24 hour period. It’s very slow and steady for the most part, setting the tone and creeping into this eerie and peculiar place. Then everything happens in a single day. The woman in room 237, Lloyd, Jack drinking, Grady, the pantry, the bathroom… all in one night. It makes the story feel very uneven, and without the character and emotional depth it’s all just for show with no meaning behind it.

Craft
The book, while not King’s best writing, is pretty solid. It’s evocative, memorable, creepy in the right way, and is easy to read without being simplistic. The alternating points of view give a wide insight into the characters and the story, as well as help with pacing and plot progression. There is some subtle and some not-so-subtle foreshadowing, though all the threads play out well even if it was obvious what was coming—it’s how they got there that was the more interesting part.

I also love the parallels between the play Jack is working on and his state of mind. His thoughts on and feelings towards the play mirror that in reality, in a way. Those characters are a way for him to relate to himself and those around him. When he’s feeling in control of himself and genuine with his past, he is in control of his characters and has insight into their motivations. When he’s angry, out of control, and making excuses for his behaviour, he hates his characters and finds their actions insufferable.

Neither the book nor the film aged well in some respects, and namely the use of some choice language. They bother suffer, in that regard, of being a child of their time… but it’s still uncomfortable.

The craftsmanship of the film is a mixed bag. My favourite part is probably the reveal of the writing Jack has been working on. Spending hours and days alone with his type writer, tapping away… When Wendy rifles through the pages to find the same line, typed over and over again in different formats… pages and pages of it. That is the kind of detail and insight the film needed more of. It showcased Jack’s state of mind, without him even being in the room (read: without Nicholson’s eyebrows, stink eye, and sarcastic voice). The only problem is it comes too late in the game, and is conspicuous by its solitariness… there are no other interesting moments like this.

Letting the film down the most, in my opinion, is the acting. I’m not going to blame this all on the actors, either… partly to blame is the dialogue and the directing. A lot of the dialogue is awkwardly unnatural, with long pauses between speech and no natural rhythm of conversation. The best lines where the ones lifted directly from the book, honestly.

There were a couple of jump scares, with a scene cutting abruptly to a title card “Monday” along with a sudden jolt to a high pitched, tense musical note. And I just found those wholly cheap.

The film does have some iconic scenes, and I do believe that is mostly down to cinematography. The bloody elevator, the girls in the corridor, redrum, Jack frozen in the snow… and of course, “Here’s Johnny!” (but… who the fuck is Johnny??)… they’re memorable because they look good. Just a single frame captures the essence of the scene. And I do love the idea of Danny literally running circles around his dad in that hedge maze.

Final Thoughts
I can understand why the film gets talked about so much. Cinematically, it has done some really incredible things. Visually and musically alone I can see why it became a classic. The mood and build up created by the cinematography and soundtrack is incredible… but there is so little to the story of the thing. Ultimately the film feels hollow.

The film is highly over-analysed and theorised about, and I understand that, too… because there is so little of substance. I love an open or ambiguous ending, but the film leaves the audience with so little material to actually work with. Of course, anyone who actually wants the answers could simply read the book…

Ultimately, I would argue the film is very much full of style, but has no substance. It looks stunning, but scratch the surface and there is nothing of significance underneath. And I’ve found this with the other few Kubrick films I’ve seen. I would happily watch any of them again… on mute, in the background, while I was doing something else.

 

Winner: The Book

 

Do you agree? Have any arguments to add? Was there something I missed? Let’s have a friendly debate in the comments!

The Shining

Title: The Shining

Author: Stephen King

Summary: Danny is only five years old but in the words of old Mr Hollorann 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 being to shine…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I first read this book about 15 years ago. I loved it then and (spoiler:) i love it now. I decided to re-read it ahead of reading Doctor Sleep for the first time, and I’m really glad i did. I remembered part of the book really well, but other parts were a total blur. It was wonderful to re-visit the scenes i loved enough to remember, and the story was still suspenseful enough because I couldn’t recall all the details of what happened.

The main thing I remembered from when I first read the book was how genuinely scary it was. The particular moments that stayed with me had been the topiary animals and the fire hose. On this re-read those moments were still scary, but there were more scary moments. The tunnel in the snowy playground, the lift whirling into life in the middle of the night, the wasps. But more than that, I think this time I had more appreciation for the more human horrors. Jack’s alcoholism (and, underneath that, his deep insecurities), his father’s abusiveness, his mother’s passivity, and Wendy’s history with her mother and how she could see that playing out again in herself. As much as this book has horror and supernatural elements, it has human issues at its heart.

I loved all of the characters, to some extent. Danny was so smart and pure for his five years, with this psychic ability he didn’t understand. In the hands of an adult with more information this whole story could have ended much quicker… or have not taken place at all. Having all the knowledge and so little of the understanding in the hands of a child feels heavy and meaningful. Dick Hollorann was a clear favourite. He was so genuine and lovely, instantly connecting with Danny and having the drive to do everything he could for a kid he’d met for a hour several months ago. Wendy. Wendy i love, and i love her growth over the book from “Danny’s mum” and “Jack’s wife” to a strong, smart woman kicking as much arse as she needed to to keep herself and her son safe. From flashbacks and early stages of the book, she seemed too complacent and reluctant to rock the boat. But when shit gets real she steps up without question and does what she needs to.

And then, of course, there’s Jack. I love who Jack wants to me, who he has the potential to be, and who he almost is right at the start of the book. As the story developed, I slowly began to hate Jack… but in a way that I loved and was really well done. He begins in a good place–despite some poor choices ending him up in a difficult situation, he seems ready to move on and start again. He obviously loves his wife and kid and wants to do right by them. But as we slowly learn more, exactly, of Jack’s past and as the time spent isolated in the hotel increases, he becomes more and more of a horrible, self-centred, egotistical maniac.

Now, the thing i love most about this book is the possibilities. There are never, really, any definitive answers. I can see several possible reasons for what happens in this book… and i accept them all. One, the Overlook and the evilness contained within it completely manipulated Jack and forced him into the actions he took. Two, the Overlook was able to manipulate Jack and get him to do the things he did because Jack already had the potential to be that person; to some degree he thought and felt those horrible things and the hotel then amplified them and drove him to depths he might never had reached without its influence. Three, the Overlook has very little or no supernatural evil spirits and it was all simply cabin fever that drove Jack mad and induced a group hallucination. And really, anywhere along that scale. There are details and moments that could point in favour of one explanation or another, but I really don’t think there is anything to state definitively what happened. And i LOVE that. I could play devil’s advocate and argue any of the options and I would enjoy doing so.

Another thing that struck me was a line from Grady, a previous winter caretaker who murdered his family several years before:

“Your wife would object to that very strongly, Mr Torrence. And she appears to be… somewhat stronger than we imagined. Somewhat more resourceful. She certainly seems to have gotten the better of you.”
Grady tittered.
“Perhaps, Mr Torrence, we should have been dealing with her all along.”

This actually made me pause and think… “What if they had?” What if, for whatever reason, the Overlook had got into Wendy’s head instead of Jack’s. Manipulated Wendy into throwing away the snowmobile battery and murdering her family? And again, i can imagine multiple possibilities, all of which i could see happening. One, Wendy is less easy to manipulate because she doesn’t have as many underlying issues as Jack, and so she throws off the hotel’s influence more easily. Two, a similar situation as with Jack; she is manipulated into these malicious acts and causes some harm but is ultimately beaten by Jack’s determination to save his son, Hollorann’s rescue, and Danny’s love. Three, Wendy is stronger and more resourceful than Jack, simply poisoning their food or slitting their throats in their sleep. I would actually love to read a re-telling of this book with the Overlook manipulating Wendy instead.

Overall i really loved the pacing of the book. How much it managed to keep me on edge, even when i knew how it was all going to end–i couldn’t remember enough of the details to figure out exactly how they got there. At points the tension was so high i had to take a break, putting the book down while i did something else for 10 minutes. The suspense was also nicely broken up by chapters showing Hollorann’s journey across the country back to them at the Overlook. He was trying to get to them as fast as he could, but the anxiety of his travel did not match that of the events unfolding at the hotel. Slowly though, as Hollorann got closer and closer, his storyline also became more tense, until the last eight chapters of the book had me strung out on a knife edge. I loved it.

Lastly, the only real reason this book didn’t get five stars is because, let’s be honest, King is not the best writer. There are a few issues that I can’t ignore. Mild, but still utterly present… sexism, racism, unnecessary and awkward sexual interactions, and generally clumsy, cliched literary devices. All (mostly) forgiven with an eyeroll and acknowledgement that to me he is a good-but-not-great author.

I do have other thoughts on the book, but they are mostly tied into its relationship and comparison to the 1980 film adaptation. So many other thoughts, in fact, that before I start reading Doctor Sleep, I have decided to re-watch the film and spend some time writing a “book vs film” analysis. Just like reviews of the book and the film, comparisons have likely been done to death… but i just have so many opinions on this, that i need to get them down on page and share them. So, if you have any strong opinions about The Shining, stay tuned for that soon!

TTT: If You Like Horror

TTTThis week has been the first topic in a good long while that has actually appealed to me. However, that didn’t make it easy. In fact, this was pretty difficult. I don’t think I read enough “super popular books” to have a base to recommend from. Nor do read enough in any genre to really have enough books to recommend. Well, with the exception of maybe one…

Lo, I present to you my top ten books to read if you like “super popular author” Stephen King, or the horror genre in general. There is a range of horror represented here, but all kinds of horror Stephen King has dabbled in (because really, what type of horror hasn’t he dabbled in?)

The Haunting of Hill House – A classic haunted house horror story with a psychological twist. This is possibly my very favourite horror novel, ever.

Haunted – Erring on the graphic line of the horror genre, but being no less creepy for it.

I Am Legend – Science fiction meets creature feature. The true horror in this book is its tense psychological terror.

Apartment 16 – Very reminiscent of Stephen King, generally. Demons and ghosts and creepy happening in this flat.

Prince of Thorns – A true horror in that this book deals with violent murder, rape and war in a post-apocalyptic Middle Age-like setting.

Pandaemonium – More of a horror comedy, i’m sure Christopher Brookmyre doesn’t know how to make his readers not laugh, even in the midst of, well, pandemonium.

The Midwich Cuckoos – Everyone in a small town falls asleep, during which time all the women become pregnant. Creepy horror at its very best.

Tiny Deaths – This as a book of short stories, all written around the theme of death. Some are more horrifying than others, but what’s more horrifying than facing your own mortality?

Party Monster – Is outrageous horror a thing? This book makes it a thing. Sex, drugs, murder and dismemberment with the Club Kids!

Florence and Giles – Starting off as a quiet and unassuming creepy house horror, this book evolves into something supernatural before dealing an altogether different twist.

TTT: Film and TV

TTTThis was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. I love books, and I love films and TV shows, so imagining some of my favourite books in that media should be loads of fun. Right? Except it wasn’t so much. It’s not that it wasn’t fun, it’s just that, actually, there are a lot of books i’ve read that I don’t think would translate well to the screen. That a lot of the things I loved about the books would be lost. Some subtly, or a character’s inner conflict, or the underlying meaning of the entire book. So, it ended up being quite difficult to choose 10 books, to be honest.

This entire list also comes with a proviso: I would want to see these books made into films or TV shows that I would have creative control over. I would want them on the screen like they are in my head. I would get to decide what parts got left out and any details that would be changed. So often film adaptations let me down, but if this is my top ten—it’s my top ten.

American Gods – This is already getting a pilot for a TV series, but as far as i’m aware there is no cast, no date, and no guarantee of a full series. But yes, i’d have a lot of fun making this into a TV show. Actually seeing Wednesday and his merry band of ancient gods.

The Night Circus – The rights have been bought to adapt this into a film, but it doesn’t appear to be moving anywhere. I would be more than happy to be brought on as director. The visuals in this book are extraordinary, and I can imagine them working for the screen incredibly well.

The Girl with all the Gifts – This kind of plot is exactly what the horror/zombie film genre needs. Also that ending. Yes. It’s not even this specific book that i’d (necessarily) love to see on the big screen, but a film that takes the well-worn genre and adds some twists, approaches it from a new angle and generally does something different.

Apathy and Other Small Victories – Although this adaptation would need a voice over, I wouldn’t mind, because it would be hilarious. I’d even allow the narrator to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. It would be cliché, but clichéd perfection.

The Vesuvius Club – Considering Mark Gatiss has written for both film and TV, it’s not a big surprise to find his book on this list. It’s just… perfectly set up to be a film (film series, even, with the two sequels). Imagine an Edwardian debonair James Bond-esque character with questionable morals and an even more questionable sexuality. Add hijinks, a sex club and an potential apocalypse.

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye – I picked this book because it’s my favourite, but really, any Brookmyre book. He has about 18 of them, you could close your eyes and blindly grasp at them and you’d snag a good one. The characters, the action, the plot… it’s all so larger than life, it’s so easy to image watching it on screen.

Tiny Deaths – I’d love to see these short stories adapted into a series of TV programmes. They all focus on death as the subject, but are so wide-ranging and interesting. It’s also something I can see going beyond the book, with more writers and more stories.

It – Okay, this has already been adapted into a film. Both the book and the film were a huge part of my childhood. And guess what? I’ve always preferred the book. There is something in the book that the film just fails to capture (as most book-to-film adaptations do). From my youth i’ve always wanted to write a screenplay for a new adaptation, ergo, it makes my list.

Plugged – This book in another that I can so easily see working well as a film. It’s not got a huge amount of depth to it, it’s a more typical action-driven story with some real characters and some interesting details and settings along the way. A classic action comedy.

Apartment 16 – Really now, I love the horror. This book has some great and varied aspects that could work so well on screen. Such creepy, subtle shiver down the spine moments, as well as some more straightforward gruesome creatures. And an apartment building setting; corridor after corridor, door after door, a slow creaking lift… it’s just perfect.

TTT: Authors

TTTI found this one pretty easy. There aren’t too many authors I read just because—without knowing more about the book itself. My original list had about 13 names, and it wasn’t too hard to cut that down to 10. These authors are ten names that have me reading any book by without question.

Christopher Brookmyre – Comedy, crime, satire, well-rounded characters. The day a Brookmyre book doesn’t make me laugh out loud will be a very sad day indeed (and a day that will never happen).

John Wyndham – Insightful science fiction. This man has not written a word I haven’t loved.

Patrick deWitt – I can’t even categorise deWitt’s genre… sharp, witty contemporary. Is that a thing? With only two books written, i’m already 100% hooked.

Stephen King – Horror. As King has said himself: he is the literary equivalent of a bigmac and fries. It’s not the most nutritious meal, and you don’t want to eat it every day, but it’s bloody tasty when you have it.

Shirley Jackson – Horror. Jackson is more classic horror. More chills and meaning. More genuinely scary.

William Golding – Another author who is hard to pigeon hole, because his subject matter and message vary so much from book to book. He is consistently well-written and interesting, though.

George Orwell – Intelligent, insightful and ahead of his time. I’ve only read a couple of Orwell’s books so far, but I look forward to more.

Aldous Huxley – I file Huxley close to Orwell, but not because of Brave New World and 1984, as you might expect. Mostly because they strike me as two people who would have interesting conversations—they both have worthwhile and intelligent things to say.

J D Salinger – Some authors are just in a genre of their own, and I think Salinger is one. He has such a way with words, so simple, but so unique for his characters. He gets across concepts and personality so swiftly that it looks easy.

Ursula Le Guin – Science fiction that holds such imagination and exploration. I adore Le Guin a lot. I can’t get enough of her work, and hold very high—and possibly unfair—expectations of her.

The Stand

the-standTitle: The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition

Author: Stephen King

Summary: First came the days of the plague… Then came the dreams…

Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death. his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ve owned this book for many years, but at 1421 pages, i always found it far too intimidating to start reading it. For the last two years one of my aims has been to read fewer, but longer books. So, i finally convinced myself to pick up this beast and get on with it. I feel very accomplished right now.

The book spans just pre-apocalypse, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, which suited my apocalypse-loving reading habits to a tee. I did especially love the first half of the book, with the plague slowly spreading, and the population slowly and then more quickly dying off. I loved the army trying to cover it up and the media being forced to play it down. It happened very much the way i could see it happening for real. Also, i went through both a sinus infection and a chest/throat infection while reading this book. Coughing, having a headache and feeling fatigued while reading about a flu-like pandemic killing off 99% of the population is a little unnerving, but totally added to my reading experience!

We follow several characters’ narratives, and at first it was difficult to keep track of people and plots and, even more, it was difficult to get into the stories. Just as things were getting interesting in one narrative, it would stop and you get thrown into another. After a few chapters of each, and once i had my head around who was who, the switching actually became more exciting, as i would remember where that character had been and was keen to get back and see how things would go. I had my favourites, of course, but my most favourite characters were secondary characters. Those the main characters met on their journeys. Tom and Glen would 100% be my favourites, and i loved them the moment Nick and Stu (respectively) met them.

There were two other stand out characters for me, because of how my feelings for them changed through the course of the narrative:

Frannie is the only main female character. She is the only female who we meet pre-apocalypse and whose journey we follow throughout the book. At first, i loved her. She was independent and free thinking. She didn’t follow the typical or easy line that was expected of her, and i admired her for that. But. As she and her companions made their way across the United States and finally settled with other survivors of the plague… she became weaker, meeker, more stereotypically feminine. She cried a lot and was generally extremely emotional and unable to control her emotions, even making decisions on them in committee meetings. She was portrayed as a typically stubborn and selfish woman/wife, who put herself and her family first and insisted her man/husband to the same. By the end she bored me and i massively disliked her, which i disliked.

Larry is another character who took my feelings for and opinions on him for a trip. At first, i disliked him immensely. He was selfish, egotistical and reckless. He was useless; no good for anyone–even his mother said so. Even though his dreams and his journey were taking him east, i thought it was a pretty safe assumption that someone would turn; a character we were made to feel on side for would, for want of a better term, “go evil.” I thought Larry was a prime candidate for this because, although he wasn’t bad, he wasn’t good, either. He struggles with the idea–the knowledge–that he is a selfish person, but i thought he would eventually simply embrace it and head on over to the dark man. Instead, Larry travels not only the United States, but also a wonderful character arc. He becomes the leader of a group of survivors and successfully leads them east, he takes on more responsibility when they reach the new community, and he–well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending. Suffice to say he fights adamantly against his selfish nature and wins, though continually struggles and wonders if he’s winning at all. In many ways i think he was the best of them all.

The second half of the book i had a lot more issues with, generally. There was a point when the whole feel of the narrative seemed to shift. It was as though time had shuffled forward a year or two, instead of only a week or two. All of a sudden the survivors had set up a base and were in touch with large groups who were making their way there. Larry’s group had suddenly gone from four to fourty. Nadine was suddenly in a grey area, being lured by the dark side and i kind of hated her. The shift was sudden and jarring and took a while for me to settle to. I think the missing transition was never made up for, and the second half just didn’t have the build up that the first half had.

By the last leg, i think the editor on this book had given up or fallen asleep. You can say i’m nitpicking, but i wasn’t looking for inconsistencies, they were simply very obvious to anyone who cared enough to pay attention. So, four people are instructed to walk over 700 miles with only the clothes on their backs and to not carry anything. This is adhered to in so much as they scavenge for food and water everyday. But. What about the sleeping bags they curl up in every night? Or the coffee they drink every morning that eventually runs out? They’re making this trek for several chapters, so these things bothered me for a good while.

The biggest disappointment, i think, was the defeat of the dark man and his people. Because, really now, the good guys did nothing. Nothing. I mean, they did stuff. They sent spies, they walked to Las Vegas, they laughed in his face and made some noise. But they did nothing to aid in his destruction. Ultimately, the good guys could have stayed home with their feet up drinking tea and having naps, and the dark man and his people would have killed themselves. I won’t go into mega spoilery details, but if you’ve read the book, stop and think it over. What exactly do the good guys bring to the fight? Nothing. So, really, it all felt kind of pointless to me…

The second biggest disappointment was the superfluous last 60-odd pages. I am not a fan of drawn out here’s-how-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after endings. And okay, this wasn’t exactly the “happy ever after” stuff, but it dragged on after the anti-climatic climax and urgh. I love books that end with a bang, or an ambiguous ellipsis. I hate books that end and then carry on a bit more and slowly, so slooowly just fade to black. My interest fades to black, too.

The one redeeming feature of the ending was the message to take away. Which, summarised, is “Society sucks and humanity will always kill itself.” In a slightly less crass way, as the book itself says:

Postpone organisation as long as possible. It was organisation that always seemed to cause the problem. When the cells began to clump and grow dark. You didn’t have to give the cops guns until the cops couldn’t remember the names… the faces…

And that idea, that theme, is slowly hinted at, revealed and explored throughout the book. And is 110% why Glen Bateman, the sociology professor, was the best character in the entire book; he saw it coming right from the start, but still fought hard as all fuck for humanity.

This is the seventh book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: Made into a TV (mini)series, over 500 pages and features supernatural powers.

TTT: Character Spin Offs

TTTWanting more from a book, a book that leaves the reader craving more, is a sign of a great book for me. And for me that will most often come in the form of characters. Characters make or break books as far as i’m concerned, and characters that I love or hate and want more of, will always make a book. These are some of the most intriguing characters i’d love to read more about in some capacity.

1. Zellaby and Lord Henry from The Midwich Cuckoos and The Picture of Dorian Gray, respectively.
This a towfer, but it’s also something i’ve wanted for a long time. A book entirely about Zellaby and Lord Henry sitting down over a pot of tea and talking philosophically. I want it so much, one day, I may just write it myself.

2. The women from The Godfather.
As much as I enjoyed this book, the sexism made me rage. All I wanted was a book from the female characters’ POVs, essentially showing that they were the ones really running the show. That they were so in control, they could pull the men’s strings without the men even realising it.

3. The ‘kraken’ (because they’re aren’t actually called that) from The Kraken Wakes.
I like stories where the villains have their own, valid, motivations. When it’s not as simple as good and evil, when there is grey area. And in books like that—like The Kraken Wakes—i find myself wanting to know more about the other side of the story.

4. Wednesday from American Gods.
I just found him immensely interesting. How in control, self-assured and mysterious he was. He was weaving this plot, knowing where all the pieces were and guiding them into the places he needed them to be. I would love to have experienced that from his point of view. Also, I just generally want more of him.

5. Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451.
This peculiar young girl who effortlessly helps turn Guy Montag’s life upside down. She’s in, what, two or three scenes early in the book and then she disappears. We never really find out much about her or what happens to her, but I would very much like to.

6. The deaf-mute in a top hat from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.
My favourite line in the entire story:
“An instant later, a silk hat materialised in the air beside me, considerably down and to the left, and my special, only technically unassigned cohort grinned up at me – for a moment, I rather thought he was going to slip his hand into mine.”
How could I not want, just, more of this man?

7. The Triffids from The Day of The Triffids.
Another, perhaps, misunderstood evil creature. Though they did plant themselves (a pun! Ha) on Earth and lay in wait for years before striking when the human race was at its weakest, so maybe not so misunderstood. Still, I love an interesting, complex, plant-based villain. I’d love to read their take over of Earth from their point of view.

8. Tim Vale from One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night and Be My Enemy.
Brookmyre is so bloody good at characters, even his secondary, supporting, fucking fleeting characters are so rich. I’d take more of any of them, really. But Mr Vale… a “security expert”… his back story is just dripping with potential, and I am more than eager to read about it. Also not impossible that he could, in theory, get his own book…

9. The house from The Haunting of Hill House.
I can include inanimate objects on this list, right? Though, ‘inanimate’ might not be a word that describes this house. The mystery surrounding it, the horrors it has contained. I want to experience that with the house, too, not only its inhabitants. Would it be less scary? More? Would it answer my questions, or raise further ones? I don’t mind what the answers to these questions are, but i’d be fascinated to find out.

10. IT from IT.
This villain I would just want to know more about. Its supernatural nature is evident, but no solid answers on what it is or where it is from are ever answered, only that it has been living in, feeding from and influencing the inhabitants of the town for hundreds of years. This is one of my favourite books, and it’s already pretty darn long, but I would welcome more.