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A lire absolument en anglais
le 14 décembre 2013
Stephen King is a daring author, and dare he does. He has no pangs of conscience or any type of spasms when he does something that most people could consider dangerous or trite. It will end up being neither dangerous nor trite but frighteningly enticing and heart-warming.
In the present case he dares to give us the sequel of The Shining (1977), the sequel of the life of Dan Torrance, the son of the caretaker Jack Torrance of the famous Overlook Hotel in Colorado who escaped with his mother Wendy their doom when the hotel’s furnace exploded and the hotel was burned down to the ground. They escaped thanks to the help of the shining of the son and another shining character, Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s cook in the summer.
But when you dare you must have a lot of imagination to renew the characters, the theme or themes, the story itself to avoid any repeat or weaker version of events. And renew he does, Stephen King.
Dan Torrance’s life is picked some twenty years after this catastrophic winter of old. He has become what his father was, even worse in many ways, and he is an alcoholic drifter. Who cannot hold a job more than a few weeks or a few months, just long enough to earn what he needs to pay for the next alcoholic binge. And the last episode of this descent into the ever darker underground hell of alcohol is even more than we can imagine. Or is it really? It sure is not for the famous Alcoholics Anonymous, the AAs. These have heard even worse stories.
But Dan Torrance get willfully – at least the willful acceptance of being driven by the whip of alcoholic desire if not fascination – lured by a junkie woman into her bed, or rather some kind of cruddy mattress-filed pallet in some slummy tenement. He wastes, when drunk unconscious, all his money from his last job on some heroin and when he wakes up she is by far too far-gone to wake up and she will have to sleep many more hours. Yet she has not OD’ed, which is a good thing though it makes the next step ugly.
We are back in the descent to hell in the car of an elevator after the cable has been cut off and the car is dropping at neck-break speed in the shaft.
The heroin or cocaine is there lying on the coffee table. A toddler appears in a diaper. He wants to get the candy on the table but Dan takes it away. Dan discovers the girl’s purse, takes the seventy dollars it contains, leaves the big wad of coupons and food stamps and leads the toddler to his mother with whom the toddler curdles while the mother spoons around him. And then he leaves town and drifts away. Dan will learn later that the girl more or less vanished out of life and the child was beaten into a dead pulp by the mother’s brutal brother.
This is the starting point of an end that could be tragic. I won’t tell more of this very first part of the novel.
Strangely enough Stephen King redeems that Dan in a city known as Frazier that owns a touristic small train, and where he meets the train’s engineer and the city manager who was an alcoholic himself once and this latter character introduces Dan to the more than world-famous Alcoholics Anonymous. And the real stuff of the story can start in the novel and it will cover fifteen years.
The redemptive mood is new in Stephen King. In a way it is the positive characterization you find in the Dark Tower novels. But the Dark Tower novels are only a never-ending and ever-restarting cycle from a beginning to an end, from an alpha to an omega, hence not a redemption. It is an un-breakable Buddhist dukkha cycle: birth-life-death-rebirth or if you prefer Beginning-Adventure-End-Restart. But in this here novel we do have redemption. Dan is redeemed but that is not easy.
The main heroin of the novel is not Dan himself but a girl Abra who has a stronger brand of shining than Dan and she is – of sorts – a niece of his. She is under a menace from some strange “monsters” and she will beg for help Dan’s doppelganger Tony (short for his middle name Anthony), his imaginary inner mental friend and accomplice. Dan will pick the task and will volunteer. The girl is fourteen at the end of the book, after the redemption, and she is a toddler, later a little girl and still later a teenage girl in the novel,. It is not the first time a girl is the main character. Remember Cell or even Carrie. But in this case she has a tremendous power and she is a meddler as well as an eavesdropper thanks to her strong brand of shining. She cannot resist meddling with some horrible killing of a young teenage boy, a baseball player, and she decides to get the murderers down.
Then Stephen King has to invent a new species of monsters not to trample the flower-beds and the private gardens of many other writers. The Overlook Hotel had ghosts and some still exist. The land there is evil and it will be the back base of the monsters Stephen King invents. This gang of monsters are disguised in Recreational Vehicles (RVs) that gives them great invisibility and mobility. They live on and from a special essence that can be extracted through suffering leading to slow death from children who have the shining. Not only children, but especially children because you can get more from these and it is a lot more fun to torture children. These monsters are associated under the name of The True Knot.
This pedophile vein is not new in Stephen King. Many children are abused in his novels in all kinds of ways of any types. It is in fact part of a wider concern. That of blind self-satisfied violence against some particular groups of people: children by sexual perverts, children by their parents, children by their school teachers or other children known as bullies (even female bullies), teenagers of all types and gays of all ages; The best novel along that line is IT that starts with an episode of gay bashing and is the story of a band of children defeating and destroying an underground monster that appears as a giant spider or a clown. Here it is a child, and mind you a girl, again who destroys the band of monsters though this time with the help of an uncle of hers.
The objective is to destroy the True Knot of pedophile vampiristic “steam” drinkers. Steam is the name they give to this essence of the child that is released through suffering when he or she dies.
The new species of monsters is needed, as I have said, not to step on the toes or feet of other writers who have vastly revived all kinds of vampires, ghosts and werewolves. Unluckily - and I think it is a draw back – these “steam-drinkers” are not specified in origin, in real nature and the only thing we seem to know or be told is that they look nice and agreeable to outside eyes, but they are very old in age though not eternal because they can die, what they call “cycle,” or by killed and then die, but they can stay young-looking thanks to the steam they are supposed to take regularly, which prevents them from aging. They look quite ugly in their monster identity when they are on the verge of capturing or consuming a human being. Yet no general description is given. The only thing we know is that they can catch some human diseases, and in the book measles is at stake. Their dying is described in details. They just physically vanish leaving behind their clothes and shoes and nothing else.
Their leader is Rose. Like all others she used to be a human, she had a human name and she adopted a new one when she became a member of the True Knot. She is, in monster-lore, a one-tooth ugly female being that has a high level of shining and she is a locator because she can feel at a great distance people who have that same shining. In fact Abra’s eavesdropping will lead her to reveal her existence to Rose by accidently getting into her mind and in her vicinity.
Rose is a common name or color in Stephen King, along with red and it is often associated to some danger. We can think of the book Rose Madder, of the character Rose in Under the Dome. Red is the color in REDRUM in The Shining. But there is something new here in the fact that the gang is dominated by a woman and the story is dominated by the arch-enmity of this Rose and Abra, two females. Women are not that dominant in Stephen King’s novels, at least in the last three quarters of his books. We have to remember Christine, who is a red magical and evil car but she dominates a high school student, Carrie, her menstrual blood and her mother , Firestarter and her father who could command machines and control the minds of people. Obviously in this last book he goes back to this feministic inspiration. But it is mostly an innovation for a writer whose most important characters are male and whose novels are mostly male dominated like The Stand with a black female seer who dominates from a distance the good side of the surviving human society but the four hostages that are sacrificed within the destruction of the bad side of the surviving humans are all males. Even in The Dark Tower Susannah is a woman but also black and a legless person in a wheel chair, hence not the main central character.
Strangely enough, among these monsters Stephen King clearly states that the women are at least bisexual or even lesbians. Noteworthily no gay men are in any way envisaged and the human side of the story is exclusively heterosexual. There seems to be in Stephen King an impossibility to envisage and state – i.e. accept – any lesbian and what’s more gay sexual relationship as a normal relationship among his human characters. In his older age he should maybe innovate and open his human society to a more open vision of life.
The last element that is strikingly important here is the overpowering force of death, or rather the magnitude of the last transition from life to death, that short instant in which one shifts from here to over there, seen as a big dormitory for sleeping beings of some sort. Doctor Sleep as Dan is known here is a simple man and old people’s home orderly who can communicate mentally with old people on the verge of dying and he can put them to sleep – literally – make them sleep from life to death the way anyone can step from wake to sleep every night. Except that beyond this falling asleep no one knows what they are going to find.
This vision of death is the only reasonable vision one can have and must develop when coming close to it. Obviously Stephen King is in that period of his life when that next stage of his existence is becoming crucial and fundamental.
Just as no one is supposed to go out uncovered and play around bareback just for fun, one must always be ready for the next and third phase in the Buddhist cycle of “birth-life-death-rebirth,” precisely “death.” Death is the essence – the steam – of life and one has to develop the exhilarating contact with it all along one’s life. Death is the light or the star that has to guide us all along in the simple shape of a question that is not rhetorical at all. First the possessive question: “What will I bring along with me when I die?” And one has to realize one will bring nothing along with oneself into death. Then you may prefer asking this other non-possessive question. “What will I leave behind me when I die that is going to be considered as my heritage to be used and enriched by my survivors?” And do not reduce heritage to inheritance. You can even put it in these simple terms before going to sleep every night: “What have I done today that makes me worthy of not waking up tomorrow morning?”
This or these questions are ever present in this book. Stephen King confronts us to death as the most humanizing human act in our human life.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU