10-pages-in book review: The Ruins

by DaniGirl on September 19, 2007 · 4 comments

in 10-pages-in, Books

What’s that, you say? A long, long time ago, I used to write book reviews on this blog? Hmmmmm, maybe I remember that, way back in the distant recesses of my brain.

For the most part, I haven’t written a book review here in ages simply because I haven’t read a book worth reviewing. Most of the summer has passed in an enjoyably mind-numbing fashion, reading the likes of James Patterson and other paperback pulpy nothingness. I just finished Kathy Reichs’ Break No Bones, and I was planning to write a review on that one, but I accidentally finished it before I could get a 10-pages-in review written. (I really, really like Kathy Reichs. I can’t stand that TV show, Bones, based on her protagonist, but I do love the books.)

But really, this post is not about the books that I have not reviewed (although, apparently, that is a post in itself) but the book I am currently reading and about to review forthwith and without further ado: Scott Smith’s The Ruins.

The storyline is straightforward. A group of four young Americans (two couples linked in friendship by the females) are on an extended vacation in Mexico. They befriend a single German fellow who sets off in search of his missing brother, and by happenstance more than circumstance, the four plus a fellow Greek tourist who speaks no English (nor Spanish, nor German), accompany the German fellow on a trip out to some local Mayan ruins to search for his brother. And then things quickly begin to go very, very bad.

From the first pages, the book has an unremitting tension that fairly hums through each page. Even before things begin to go badly, there is little doubt that it will. Foreboding haunts the reader from the start, pulling one inexorably onward, and menace coalesces like a fog with each hastily-turned page.

The Ruins, like Smith’s previous book A Simple Plan (later made into a movie, which I never did get around to seeing, starring Billy Bob Thorton and Bill Paxton) is in essence a book about how very ordinary people deal with very extreme circumstances. Smith uses the circumstances of the novel, which are extreme but far from inconceivable, as a lens to explore a concentrated version of basic human behaviour and interaction. I’m half way through the book, and though each of the characters has been roughly sketched out – one is more heroic, one more self-absorbed, one a whiner and one silently stoic – I haven’t yet seen a lot of character development. And yet, because each of these characters is Everyman, I understand each of their unique motivators on a personal level. I can’t imagine that’s an easy feat to pull off, as a writer!

I can’t actually say a lot more about this book without starting to give away some of the plot, and I really don’t want to do that. Suffice to say that if you, like me, have strange phobias about weeds and common garden plants, you might want to read this one in the daylight hours. Half way through this book, I’m quite glad I can probably ignore what’s left of my garden for the rest of the season, and deal with the weedy interlopers and aggressive perennials come springtime. By then I should have forgotten the parts of this book that made my toes curl like the tendrils of so much creeping ivy.

This book is a wonderfully suspensful novel that I suspect may trip over to the realm of genuine horror by the time I work my way through it.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Loukia September 19, 2007 at 9:14 am

Would you classify this as horror… Stephen King-ish? I think I’ll be reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter as soon as I finish The Time Traveller’s Wife.

2 alison September 19, 2007 at 10:27 am

Since the poolside-reading weather is over, this sounds just the thing for winter fireside reading with a glass of red. Thanks for the review.

3 DaniGirl September 19, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Funny you should mention Stephen King, Loukia, because there’s an endorsement from him on the cover of this one saying something like “best horror book of the year” or something to that effect.

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