Monday, March 31, 2008

Book Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith

Have you ever become so wrapped up in a book that it consumes you, it won’t let you put it down? Upon the conclusion you’re left slack-jawed and worn out. A few days later, you still can’t shake the feeling and the story continues to eat away at you from the inside out?

Well, having finished Scott Smith’s horror novel The Ruins (in preparation for the upcoming film adaptation), I can attest to those very emotions. Like a vine, The Ruins wraps itself around you, slowly at first, then tightening and tightening its hold so that it is near impossible to put down until the very last page.

Things start lazily enough in the book. Couples Jeff and Amy, Eric and Stacy are having one last fling together before they each head off to college. They are enjoying three weeks in Cancun, relaxing on the beach and drinking their cares away. They become friends with a German named Mathias as well as a group of Greeks, who don’t speak any English but go by Spanish names. One day, Mathias tells them about his kid brother, who set off into the jungle to follow a girl he had met to an archeological dig. The two couples, along with “Pablo” from the Greeks, decide to accompany Mathias into the jungle to try and find his brother.

After a long bus and taxi ride, they come to the jungle path they must take. They encounter some indifferent Mayans before eventually finding the ruins. There is no sign of Mathias’ brother or an archeological dig, but the group soon discovers the horrifying truth about the ruins when they remain trapped there.

I haven’t been so taken and enthralled with a book in quite some time, but The Ruins blew me away. Smith writes simply at first, but keeps buffeting the reader with an ominous feeling, one where you know something very bad is coming very soon. When trouble finally arrives, it’s far worse than you ever could have comprehended and it just keeps getting worse!

The characters are likable and relatable; I found a piece of myself reflected in each of their personalities and moods. The way Smith is able to capture both the good, the bad and the ugly in his characters makes them that much more real and “alive.” They each have their faults and make mistakes, but this is what makes them so relatable and their fates all the more horrifying.

The story itself and how it unravels is terrifying and even believable. Who hasn’t had the fear of being lost and trapped in some faraway place with no contact to the outside world and little hope of rescue? Who hasn’t been afraid of strange sounds or things in the dark? Of creepy crawlies? Of not being able to communicate when it means life or death? The characters’ realistic reactions to all these fears are very believable, their choices make sense and you can easily imagine yourself caught in the same situation making the same dreadful decisions.

As for the gore, there is plenty of it! Things get (literally!) under the characters’ skins and there are broken bones, bodies skinned to the bone, self-mutilation, strangulation, regurgitation and a fair amount of blood flow. Certain descriptions in the book had me covering my mouth in disbelief and disgust (in a good way, you know!) all the while feeling as helpless as the victims. I am definitely holding back because I don’t want to give anything away, but horror fiends will not be disappointed!

The Ruins is an emotionally intense experience, a book that manages to coil itself around you and draw you in. If you decide to read it before going to see the upcoming film that releases April 4th you had better set aside a few days, because once you pick it up you’ll find it extremely hard to put down!

Available from Amazon!

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