Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Overnight at The Ruins

I picked up a couple of novels removed from library circulation recently at a library sale, along with some VHS tapes I discussed last time. The Ruins is by Scott Smith and The Overnight is by Ramsey Campbell.

I'd read and enjoyed Smith's other novel, A Simple Plan, and felt anything by him would probably be good. Campbell I've never been able to read, but thought I'd take a chance on this book. It turned out I was right about the Smith novel--it was good--but Campbell's book was so boring that I gave up on page 118. I felt like I couldn't finish up the 400 pages of this novel, and when I feel like that I give up. I'll donate the book back to the library and maybe someone else will enjoy it.

The problem with the Campbell book is too much exposition, which seems to be the opposite of The Ruins. Campbell wants to make sure you know how a chain bookstore works. I guess the time he spent working at Borders taught him what he needed to know about padding a novel with stories about stocking book shelves, but frankly I don’t care. I worked for a bookstore years ago and if anything it's even more boring than this novel. Campbell is working on some sort of horror here besides having to face eight hours of customers and putting books on shelves. There is something going on in the background and I assume it works its way into something, maybe even something worth reading about, but I'll never know what it is.Stephen King did a review for The Ruins in an issue of Entertainment Weekly in 2006, and part of his review is reprinted on the back of the book jacket. I guess having King praise a horror novel puts an official imprimatur on it. King said, "There are no chapters and no cutaways…The Ruins is your basic long scream of horror." I agree with King that there are no chapters and no cutaways, but the "long scream of horror" is just basic King hyperbole. He knows how to get his name on someone else's jacket by composing a quote that a publisher can put on the cover of a novel.

The Ruins is simplicity itself. Some young Americans in vacation in Mexico meet a German and three Greeks. The German is going to look for his brother who went off earlier with some archaeologists to the site of some Mayan ruins. He talks the Americans, and one of the Greeks, into accompanying him. Unlike Campbell's novel, The Ruins kept me engaged with the characters until we got to the horror part of the story, and after that it was pretty much like what I'd expect, one horrible thing about another happening to them.

The ruins the people are looking for are hidden by a Mayan village for a reason, but are found by the Americans. After all, it wouldn't be a novel if they couldn't find them and just went home, would it? And when they and the German walk into them the Mayans surround them and refuse to let them out. I won't spoil it for you further except to say that Smith is very careful to allow the horrors to accumulate without getting into any longwinded explanations of it, or even much speculation on its origins. I like that because it allows the characters to get on with trying to survive.

The Ruins is Smith's second novel, but I see that up to The Overnight Campbell has either written or edited 26 books. I'm sure someone, somewhere, is reading a Ramsey Campbell novel and loving it. And that's all I have to say about him.

I liked Smith's first book, A Simple Plan, but if I have a criticism it's that it read to me like it was written to be made into a movie. It was, and a fine one starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton. On the other hand unless some things in The Ruins--like the ending--were changed I'm not sure how it could be filmed to satisfy an audience.

The Overnight By Ramsey Campbell. 2005, Tor Books. 396 pages.

The Ruins By Scott Smith. 2006, Alfred A. Knopf. 319 pages.

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