on 16 September 2014
I enjoyed this one. From the very beginning, reading the prologue, I thought "Right then, chaps. Here we ruddy well go! Let's 'ave it!" and sat up with anticipation. I read the first few chapters and then hit the hay, but with great enthusiasm. I went to my mate's house for the weekend (without my book) and every now and then found myself thinking "Corr, I wonder what'll happen next?" then when I got back, I read the rest in one go because I just *had to know, dammit!*
I'm not going to post any spoilers here (because that ain't my bag, unless the book is terrible (but I always give fair warning when I do)), but there were a couple of bits I could've done without. The one thing that *really* got on my nerves was the lead character, whom I really liked to begin with. Without giving anything away, he comes across some proper moody, supernatural s*** where the impossible becomes possible and nightmares become reality and the supernatural becomes natural. He witnesses this all first-hand. Then later, he gets told somewhat of a conclusion, and dribbles on about "How it's not possible!" (like Scully in 'X-Files'. Remember how she sees all those Aliens, Zombies, Mud Monsters, Smoke Men, but still feels the need to question Mulder on EVERYTHING?? It's a bit like that).
Still, without taking that into account *too* much, this is definitely a page turner. The thing I love most about Adam Nevill's work is his attention to detail. He puts a lot of research and location/history building into his stuff and should definitely be recognised for it. And the Old Friends are just fantastic.
A lot of people are complaining about the ending (which, yeah...may have been a *little* too mad for my taste and expectations), but what you need to understand is this; for example: I loved 'The Ritual' but hated the ending. After reading this (which has references to 'The Ritual' (and don't worry, he's written it in a way so there's no spoilers, in case you're yet to read it, so you'll only spot them if you've actually read it) which made me think "Oh wow, what a cool conclusion!". So who knows, maybe we'll get answers in the next one (God, I hope I'm not wrong and jumping the gun on that).
Anyway, really good book, and great value for money. I recommend this author.
on 18 May 2016
As part of my ongoing, continuing mission to read all of Adam Nevill's novels in published order, I come to last Days, which was the novel I believe I first started to really hear amazing things about this writer. I was always aware of him, having bought all of his books as they came out, yet had never managed to start one (don't ask me why, my reading habits are arbitrary and sporadic at best). Yet having read three of his books prior to this, and enjoying each one very much (with The Ritual being both a particular favourite and, I feel, a huge leap forward in an already talented writer's abilities and vision), and with the aforementioned growing praise, I was very much anticipating this particular work.
The plot is, on the surface, pretty basic; an independent film-maker (comprising only of himself, a cameraman and a 'studio'-bound editor) is asked by a film company to create an historical documentary concerning a notorious cult form the 70s. Part of the contract involves visiting specific and relevant locales around the globe, and also a large payment/advance. Being financially in the red, the young film-maker - Kyle - agrees, while at the back of his mind is the suspicion that it's all too good to be true. Well, it *is* a horror novel, after all...
Like The Ritual, Last Days begins without much of a preamble, dropping you right into the thick of the story almost immediately (there is a short prologue which presages and foreshadows the horrific, supernatural events to come, but I felt the book would have worked just as well without this) with Kyle being offered the commission and given a slight history of The Temple Of The Last Days and Sister Katherine, the leader of the infamous cult. In fact, though the first chapter is essentially expositional in nature, it's very skilfully woven into an interview/job description scene, and the information on offer is both essential to the story (for various reasons) and deeply interesting. It also sets the tone for much of the book for almost 50% of the story is delivered through interviews and reminiscences; it is, after all, an attempt to write a novel which is, essentially, 'found footage' in style. Yet for me, these passages never feel like information overload, or, indeed, as though they are taking away from the 'action' of the story (in fact, despite its large size, I found the book immensely readable). Personally, many of these passages offered the most chills and evocation of true horror; there's something to be said for an authentic, second-hand telling that can surpass a conventionally told story. There's a passage early on in The Ritual where a character is describing something he has seen in the forest, and this was one of the most terrifying parts of that book for me. I think Adam manages to really tap into a deep and convincing sense of character in order to make this style work. Which is just as well, as Last Days has a lot of second-hand relating of events.
Yet, as with the leap between Apartment 16 and The Ritual, I feel Adam has, yet again, made a jump both with his style and with his ambition. Though the surface story might feel a little ho-hum - evil cults, rumoured devil worship, murders and ghosts - both the execution and the way the story unfolds are anything but conventional. I put this down to a couple of things; firstly, his prose is, aside from the odd sentence or two, crisp, sharp and to the point. Adam seems to have eschewed long, flowery descriptions in favour of to the point writing. That's not to say the words are dull and pedestrian; it's merely that he has clearly looked at what is extraneous to the story and has only retained or written that which is absolutely necessary for each passage, each scene. Secondly, he writes with an absolute earnest conviction that, for me, refuses to be disbelieved. The characters - while potentially irritating, I don't know, I don't give a fig about needing to 'like' a character in order to enjoy a well-written story - are solid, three-dimensional, follow logical lines of reasoning within the context of events, and react with convincing and increasing levels of fear and dislocation as they go deeper into the cult of Last Days. I also felt the themes that were bubbling under - or coming to the fore in a few instances - helped to heighten the narrative. Adam isn't simply writing about vile occurrences for the sake of it; he is not merely attempting to give us a few cheap thrills to make us watch the shadows. No, with this novel, he is tapping into a wider sense of the horror of mankind. Yes there are supernatural shenanigans going on, but as the story progressed, I felt it was as much - if not more - about the worst aspects of the human race; its greed and hunger for power, for domination over others, for excess, and for bloodshed. It's something that's been on my mind for a few years and in Last Days, many of my thoughts coalesced and became clearer. For me, this is the true mark of a great horror writer (and, indeed, a great writer); the ability to tap into social consciousnesses, to be able to use your writing to examine and dissect themes and concepts that aren't necessarily a part of the main plot, to examine what it is to be human and to shine a light on our darker natures; literary horror writing, in other words.
But of course, there is still a horror story here, and there are some fantastic, chilling set pieces. In attempting to create a 'found footage film' in book form, Adam has succeeded beyond expectation. There are genuinely freaky moments where the main characters move through a darkened building with inly the light of their camera to illuminate the spaces, and the sounds and barely-glimpsed movements are as good as footage from the best examples of this kind of cinema (ironically though, I feel that the book is almost unfilmable due to the long interview sections; any movie would only be shadow of this deep work). Then there are the moments when things emerge from the walls and ceilings, twisted, skeletal forms which are given pages and pages of expert build-up before they appear, over many chapters, until your nerves are utterly shredded at the thought of them. It's a great technique, building on and connecting small details that grow as the story progresses, serving to anchor the idea of these creatures in the mind almost without you realising it; and when they finally do appear, you're already halfway terrified. I also loved the wider mythology, the cult itself, but also the forebears of it and the idea that it is merely the latest of a rippling, echoing occurrence down through the ages. In a way, there are hints of Clive Barker's old style with regards to ancient cults, tribes and the like, but in Last Days they are far less magical and more mired in bleak brutality. I also liked the slight shift in tone towards the end. I've heard some folk complain that Adam has a tendency to go off at a tangent at the end of some of his books; I can't attest if this is one of them, though it does veer - as The Ritual did in a very slight way - into more action territory than horror towards the end. But this absolutely worked for me. It still retains tension and chills, yet feels very logical within the scope of previous events. It didn't come from left-field and provides an appropriate finale to the novel.
However, as with almost every book I've read in the last ten years or so, it's not without its occasional fault. There are the inevitable typos, rare but irritating, the occasional sentence that, I felt, could have done with some restructuring (a personal thing but worth noting), and my biggest annoyance; the constant misspelling of Glock (as in pistols, and spelled in the book as Gloch). I also felt there was a lack of research with regards to the firearms; it's stated at least once that the pistol torch is fitted to the rail on top of the gun, but pistol rails (if they even have any) are on the underside simply due to the fact that the weapon's sights are located on the top. It might seem a small thing, but it did have me groaning each time. Still, it didn't really mar my enjoyment all that much, and I only mention it in the interests of highlighting the advantages of research. instead of a completely 5 star book, it's maybe a 4.8, but I've rounded that up to 5 anyway.
But regardless, it's a powerful, epic and immersive work, which definitely succeeds in its ambitions. It also marks another leap forward for Adam in his immense talent, and I'm heartily looking forward to his next works. Onwards, to The House of Small Shadows...