Yet another maundering on horror fiction, this time occasioned by my finishing the first horror novel in years that I’d say, on balance, I both enjoyed and found mostly successful. The book in question was Adam Nevill’s award-winning, The Ritual, and…yeah, interesting. I’m not going to go into a whole of detail here, but will touch on some of the book’s themes in a slightly spoilerish way, so if you want to read the book without a clue what’s coming next, it’s probably best if you stop reading now.
What I liked about The Ritual was that it managed to address both of my points of dissatisfaction with modern horror: 1/ a lack of genuine tension and 2/ a dearth of imagination when it comes to the fantastical elements – the monsters. The only trouble for me was that it dealt with one of these aspects in each of the two very different halves of the book.
The first half, in which a quartet of friends get first lost and then hunted in ancient Swedish forest, is all about the build up of tension: proper, page-turning, read-through-the-night-to-see-what-happens-next-stuff, but there’s nothing at all new in it. It’s a classic scenario, well played and excellently evoked in the palette of the modern horror film (grim, grey, trees, rain, lots of shouting), but in the end that’s all it is.
And maybe that’s all it needs to be to bring us to the point where part two can start, which sees the hero rescued, after a fashion, and becoming the “guest” of, um… Bad News. Sorry, but it’s pretty much impossible to convince me that a metal band (even a black…especially a black metal band…with Scandanavian accents…actually what we’re talking here is Strijka (number one rock band in Oslo, for now and for all time)) is scary. So the only recourse was to find them funny. And there went the tension. What the second half did have however was the revelation of the horrific mythology underlying the whole thing. And even if was a riff on the Lovecraft’s Shug-Niggurath, it was a very good riff and one that was new to me.
So, all in all I enjoyed the book. It had tension and invention, and that’s all I ask. Maybe I’m slowly turning back to the dark side after all.