søndag 1. mars 2015

Book review of Adam Nevill's "The Ritual"

After thinking for a few months that I'd like to read "The Ritual", I finally felt time was right for it. Although I just have to read some horror fiction every now and then, my relatively broad literature taste doesn't allow me to linger in one genre for long. Relatively satisfied by "Apartment 16", another book by Adam Nevill, which I read last fall after a recommendation by one of my colleagues at the bookstore, I was even more excited to read "The Ritual". Although I like literary chills now and then as well as the feeling of being gruesomely entertained, I'm all the more a sucker for more of a poetic language and some notions of the meaning of life tucked in every now and then. While perfectly capturing the feeling of dread and anxiety, portraying social alienation and conveying some real good imagery, "Apartment 16" still didn't go down to the depths of say Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves". In short, "Apartment 16" was "really quite good" but not sublime. Nevertheless, "really quite good" was definitely enough to make me come back.

One is often drawn to literature for personal reasons. I like the feeling of being able to psychologically connect to or relate to the main characters, which I did to large extent with one of "Apartment 16"'s main charcters (Seth). Now, apart from my previous experience with a Nevill book, "The Ritual" appealed to me for the reason of the story being set in North Sweden, on "a hiking trip in the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Cirle". We follow four men which are again followed by some, for most of the book, unidentified predator, malicious being, a something, both in waking state and not least while dreaming, certainly or uncertainly, at night. In a forest, of course. In a huge, for the most part impenetrable forest, in the murky, half way sickly, rainy North Scandinavian September month. The four men are now in their early or mid-thirties. Three of them; Hutch, Dom and Phil, are more or less what we'd call firmly established with what appears to be steady finances and a safe and stable life. Only drawbacks are that especially Dom and Phil have gained a lot of weight and are not really fit for the trip. They look older and act Established with capital E, Rooted. Bound. Put. Chained. The fourth member of the group, Luke, on the other hand, is working in a record store, having changed jobs frequently. He doesn't identify with work the same way the others do. He is not married and appears not to be interested in being so. He is still a free spirit, somewhat rebellious and above all not desiring the chains of household. However, lately, his fire seems less bright. His social life has declined and although he still attracts women and gets some release of hedones that way or in other ways, life isn't as fun as it used to be. And though he definitely has had some good from his lifestyle, poverty seems to eat into him. And envy, perhaps. And disgust. For Dom's and Phil's lifestyles. This feeling, however, is reciprocal. Although quite clearly miserable in their marriages, Dom and Phil frequently lets sarcastic comments slip on Luke's failures with money and carreer. The comments are not appreciated. However, Luke is in wonderful shape and turns out to be best fit for the horrible adventure the group finds itself in. Tension between the friends, conflict and the outcome of these conflicts adds depth to the story, as well as contribute to the chill and excitement. Will the group rot from the inside? Should it? Will chances of survival for one or more of them be higher if breaking up? What will destroy them? The bad presence following them, surrounding them, even entering their minds at night? Or will it be the dividing lines cutting deeper and deeper between the main characters?

As can be guessed from the title, the evil power is let's say "cultish", and the scary things that happen can definitely be called ritualistic. "The Ritual" portrays evil, not just conflict. Evil will also briefly be commented on, proving that this book has solid thought and understanding behind it. And is it scary? You bet it is. Still, although I probably wouldn't say I'm an expert on the horror genre, I have read some books and seen lots of movies and might be a bit hard to impress. I wasn't overwhelmed. But I was solidly entertained, and the book did disturb me somewhat. However, there is still, luckily, the feeling that the writer has a good sense of life, and although this book clearly portrays some really dark stuff, you are still left with the feeling of the universe having some meaning. There is some goodness here too. And the most beautiful about this book is the way the main characters grow and learn.

I'd give "The Ritual" top rating. It's a 6/6. It's entertaining, for sure. Although the language might not be that inventive, neither the build-up and not even the plot that much, it flows well and it is thoroughly done. The characters are convincing. So are their reactions to what happens and their changes in perspective as a consequence of it.  I found the book entertaining throughout, although there were times I was asking myself what I was hoping to get from this book. I probably appreciated this book even more because I really felt sympathy for Luke and related a lot to this character. Deep forests are exciting in themselves, so it's a good choice of scene. Although not really going that deep into Swedish or Scandinavian culture or society, what was there was convincing enough. It seems the author has done his job well on "The Ritual". The book succeeds in what seems to be its main aims. It entertains. It disturbs. But it is also a psychological journey. There is something more to it than just entertainment, still without in any sense being preachy or whatever.

It's a great book. Read it. 

I got it from the Norwegian bookstore ARK, but it can also be found at say Adlibris or cdon

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