My book club partner is a big fan of Adam Nevill. He recommended Last Days to me earlier in the year and I thought it was just okay. I found the writing style hard to read, not to mention the story was repetitive and capped with a horrible ending. My interest in the real life inspirations for the story were really the only thing that kept me reading. My friend recommended The Ritual at the same time. He thought The Ritual’s references to black metal and Scandinavian setting would appeal to me. So, despite my reservations I decided to give Nevill another chance and picked up The Ritual.
This story focuses on four middle-aged college friends looking to reconnect and recapture old times on a hiking trip through the Swedish back country. Luke is the only one of the four who is unmarried and living a bachelor’s lifestyle. His married and seemingly successful friends belittle his lifestyle and achievements leaving him feeling disconnected, frustrated, and angry
When two of the friends suffer minor hiking injuries the group decides to take a shortcut to their destination. After consulting the map, they decide to blaze a trail through an uncharted, old-growth forest that has been untouched for thousands of years. They find the primeval woods thick and suffocating and quickly become lost. Wet, scared, and tired the men stumble into an ancient cottage filled with animal bones and artifacts of a dark, pre-christian religion. After spending a disconcerting night in the dilapidated cottage they set off to search for an exit. Instead they find themselves hunted by a creature linked to the ancient forest and the people who once inhabited it.
While this book suffered from a similar predictability and repetition of Last Days, I found that I enjoyed it much more. The imagery of the Swedish forest and the ancient pagan symbols and rites intrigued me. While many critics of horror have deemed the scary-thing-in-the-woods plot device as cliché, it continues to make for a satisfying and effective horror story. There is just something primal about it and it’s woven in our psyches through children’s stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel.
The writing and storytelling in this book was loads better than Last Days, which seemed to be stream-of-consciousness in it’s structure and punctuation. This book took a more traditional approach which made it more enjoyable to digest. The author also pulls in interesting elements and imagery from Scandinavian folk lore (Krampus anyone!?) from the black metal subculture. It was fun to recognize the specific images that Nevill used from The Lords of Chaos. (Which happens to be one of my favorite music history books.) I also very much enjoyed the Krampus allusions.
The ending felt like Nevill was trying to execute an epic showdown between good and evil, but it ultimately failed to capture anything epic feeling. That said, it was still a satisfying ending and felt much less rushed than Last Days.
Overall I enjoyed this book. I thought it was a solid horror story. The pacing and action were excellent. The interplay between external events and internal dialog was balanced and the supernatural elements were also well done. I would recommend this book and encourage folks to start here if they are interested in the work of Adam Nevill.