Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Ritual by Adam Nevill

I came across this new horror novel when our Macmillan rep handed me a copy. He knew I enjoyed genre fiction and the previous month I had gone gaga when he handed me a proof of Embassytown. My initial action was to add it to my 'to be read' pile, which is extensive. I knew I would get to it one day but put it off for some time because there was always something else grabbing my attention. Then I was struck down with a bad cold.

I spent two days on my couch feeling sorry for myself and I needed something escapist to take me out of my misery. I discovered this book in the pile and read the first line:

"And on the third day things did not get better."

Great opening. I had to keep reading. And as I read, becoming increasingly more absorbed I realised that this was a gem.

The story follows a group of four men who were friends at school and have recently reconnected. They're on a hiking trip in Sweden and take a shortcut through an old part of the forest. As usual with shortcuts in the horror genre, this is a big mistake - there is something ancient and terrifying waiting in that part of the forest. I can't really say more without spoiling the element of surprise, which really hooked me in and kept me on the edge of my seat.

Adam Nevill is a great writer, his sense of place is impeccable. He really sets a dark and haunting tone very early on, simply through his description of the forest and the way it affects the characters. I was there with them as they trudged on through their ordeal. The second element to make this novel so strong is the characters and their relationships. They are men who were friends. Trapped out in the forest they realise how little they now have in common, how much has changed since they were young and the petty politics of the group threatens to consume them. The protagonist is flawed, full of anger, regret and jealousy, both loathing and loving himself. The final element is the surprising nature of the narrative. The novel is written in such a tense and engrossing way that there are plenty of surprises - escpecially in the third act.

The third act of this book shouldn't work but it does. That's all I can say without giving away what happens. I found myself trying to anticipate what the end would be, and I felt it drawing nearer even though there were still well over 150 pages to go.

This book is well worth a look. Tense, genuinely scary, dark and menacing with some wonderful evocation of place and brilliantly flawed characters. I haven't had a better experience with a horror novel in years.
The Ritual is released in July and is available to preorder now at Shearer's Bookshop

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