December 18, 2006

Book Review: The Ruins

Posted in Books at 4:56 pm by Calico Jack

I picked up this book on the recommendation of Stephen King, who called it “the best horror novel of the new century.” I’m not quite sure I would agree, especially since I think The Egyptologist (another book on his top-ten list for 2006) is more cohesive and richly narrated. However, The Ruins grabs you in a way that I haven’t felt since reading King’s own Misery a few years ago. I literally read this book in one sitting over the space of a couple hours. From the dust jacket:

The Ruins follows two American couples, just out of college, enjoying a pleasant, lazy beach holiday together in Mexico as, on an impulse, they go off with newfound friends in search of one of their group — the young German, who, in pursuit of a girl, has headed for the remote Mayan ruins, site of a fabled archeological dig.

This is what happens from the moment when the searchers — moving into the wild interior — begin to suspect that there is an insidious, horrific “other” among them…

Smith writes from the point of view of all four main characters, providing an interesting look into each of their minds and how they react to the situation facing them. There are no chapters, only point-of-view changes, which almost requires the novel to be read in one or two sittings. As with many horror novels, The Ruins requires the reader to have a slight suspension of disbelief, although there is a revelation two-thirds of the way through the novel that weakens the story somewhat.

Regardless, The Ruins works — and works well — because of Smith’s ability to convey an ever-increasing sense of dread and hopelessness as these young turists make their way through the depths of the Mayan jungle. Once the antagonist is revealed, the setting never changes through the end of the book, giving the reader a very real sense of literary claustrophobia. Honestly, this book has many parallels to the excellent film The Descent, from the complete lack of backstory about the antagonists to the incising exploration of human nature when people realize that they are helpless against pure evil. Both of these works excel at putting you in the moment and never letting go, as well as sharing a strong fondness for gore. The Ruins is not a book for those who like their horror subtly displayed; some passages are absolutely gut-wrenching in their intensity. But for those who aren’t afraid to take a journey into the darkness, The Ruins is an engrossing, horrifying read.

I wouldn’t recommend reading the reviews on Amazon, as many reviewers give away salient plot points. Just pick it up from your library and curl (wrong choice of words there) up with the book one evening for a few hours. Just remember to breathe.

1 Comment »

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