I finished reading a novel called The Ruins yesterday. It was a bestseller a couple of years ago, written by Scott Smith who had a surprise bestseller with his first novel, A Simple Plan, a dozen years earlier. Although I haven’t read that first book it became a quite good Sam Raimi film. Reviews for The Ruinswere good when it came out, so I’ve been waiting for the paperback.
It’s a horror/thriller. Two young American couples are on vacation in Mexico, find themselves on a trip to a remote part of the jungle, and find something horrible lurking there.
I’ve got some mixed feelings about the book. It was certainly a page-turner, and I burned through it very quickly. Smith is pretty good at creating tension. The gory bits are indeed grotesque. And he creates consistent, human characters – some are strong, some are weak, all have their vulnerabilities. As in most high-tension situations, the characters sometimes become their own worst enemies.
But it was more bloated than it needed to be, with much more internal reflection by the main characters than was necessary. The tension payoffs never felt big enough to me, and were characterized more by revulsion than scariness. Also, while I’m fine with fantasy and sci-fi elements to horror, Smith really goes way out on a ludicrous limb here. Some reviewers seemed to feel that was brave, but to me it just felt a bit silly. On balance I don’t think I can recommend The Ruins.