Notes on The Ruins

Not a review, but a report: I spent several hours last week (when I might have been doing more productive things) reading Scott Smith’s The Ruins, partly because I was in the mood to just kick back and read something relatively unchallenging, partly because some nice publicist at Knopf was kind enough to send me a copy (this kind of thing doesn’t happen enough), and partly because I was curious based on the early reviews to find out to what extent the book was SF or fantasy as opposed to a ‘mundane’ horror thriller.

So I’m pleased to report that the book is indeed engaging reading, in the sense that it is suspenseful and hard to put down, and it is better written and with more complex character relationships than one might expect from a routine beach-read.

That said, I’d also like to report (*mild spoiler alerts*) that it is not SF or fantasy in any fundamental way, though it’s certainly horror and a thriller. There’s a fine line here perhaps, which is why I thought it interesting to bring up. Four Americans and a couple others become trapped on a hill in Yucatan Mexico, confined on the hill by local Mayan villagers because they have become ‘infected’ by something growing on the hill that, it seems, has killed all others who’ve reached the hill before them. The book might approach SF if the author gave any consideration to *how* this something came to exist, plausibly — or fantasy, if that explanation involved, for instance, Mayan legends or the legacy of horrors past. But there is no ‘explanation’; a scene late in the book explicitly dismisses the concern to provide any such thing. Thus it’s a horror novel of affect, following the fates of a set of victims, without offering any perspective on what this ‘means’ in or about the outer world. It’s certainly *effective* in doing that (cf. rules for reviewing), but the result is (why this is a report, not a review), I found the book less rewarding than I had hoped.

Two other notes– First, the story from the perspective of the Mayan villagers would be an interesting one; they’re protecting a dark secret, playing out a ritual of sort so that some might survive, though they perhaps do not understand their role in the larger scheme of things. And Second, the story does not concern visiting or being trapped in any Mayan ruins, as some reviewers seem not to have noticed.

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