(2011) Adam Nevill, Pan Books, £12.99, trdpbk, 418pp, ISBN 978-0-330-51497-2 / £7.99, pbk, ISBN 978-0-230-75492-8
Four old friends who have drifted apart, attempt to renew their deteriorating friendship by going on a hiking trip into Scandinavian woods. Lost, they find a carcass in the trees and an abandoned house, with something strange in. Starting on their journey again, they realise that something is following them.
While the idea of being lost in the woods is a familiar one, the premise is treated with skill. The narrative stresses the sensations of being tried and hungry, with dwindling resources. The fact that two of the party are badly out of shape becomes a plot point as a factor that holds back the pace of the group. The narrative conveys a sense of being trapped and hunted by something unknown, while trying to manage in the open air. Yes, this is a familiar narrative, that other films and stories have handled, but that does not mean that has lost its impact.
However, the plot changes focus half-way through the book. Then a new threat emerges, in the form of people initially taken as rescuers. However, these people are less interesting, then the idea of the presence in the woods. Despite a couple of creepy scenes in the house, they could have been cut out of the narrative altogether. Also when their true nature is revealed, they are the sort of figures that for all the murder and torture ascribed to them, are very difficult to take seriously.
Also in the second half, there are explanations given about the inhabitant in the woods. The risk here, is that when you start explaining the nature of some threats, the impact is weakened. It stops being an unknown force of nature still clinging on, in hidden woods and becomes just another monster. This means that the climax feels weaker because we know what we are dealing with.
While I appreciate that all of this is subjective, the change in the plot, lessons the impact of the narrative for me. I wanted the group to remain in the woods, with flashbacks to how their lives had gone wrong and what personal fears where emerging. I am not going to deny that I kept reading and it held my attention. This is a good story, I just felt that it could have been a great one, had it kept with what it established in the first half.
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