Ritual Limited (Sept. 13, 2021)
I immediately knew Adam Nevill’s writing style, and storytelling was for me within the first few chapters of Cunning Folk.
Nevill opens with a horrific scene of a man which readers can only guess spells misfortune for the protagonist, Tom, and his family (wife Fiona and daughter Gracey).
Nevill then takes us to present day, where Tom‘s family arrives at their new home in rural Southwest England. The property is a massive but ruinous-looking house, one in which the tragic history and condition made affordable.
When they arrive, Gracey and Fiona notice the far more attractive home and botanical paradise belonging to their next-door neighbors. Tom promises young Gracey that once he’s through with it, their house will be way better.
From there, Tom puts all their hopes and dreams for their future, as well as their entire savings, into their rugged abode.
Remind you of anything?
My mind jumped to Amityville Horror and, from there on, knew this family was in for it — BIG TIME.
Once we enter the musty fixer-upper, readers are suspended on a pendulum, swinging into the furthest line of obsession and delusion before descending to reality. And it all comes back to the next-door neighbors, the Moots, or as Tom begins to refer to them, cunning folk.
Shortly after, Nevill seems to prompt a daunting question — what happens when a higher power, a cunning, sinister one, extinguishes gravity?
Which side does the weight rest on? Delusion? Or reality?
Nevill uses this unnerving dynamic to develop a growing sense of isolation and paranoia with an all-encompassing pace. Then, all at once, he hacks Tom’s world to bits (in some ways, quite literally).
Just wait until you get to the chainsaw scene.
The obsessiveness of Tom’s character and the unraveling devastation that befalls him and his family echoes folk horror movie mongrel Ari Aster, while still reinventing supernatural story structure without feeling redundant.
Not to mention, there are insane and ungodly frightening wicker-people mirroring Tom, his wife, and young daughter, kept in the neighbors’ old caravan.
It’s that precise matrimony between the classic dreadful storytelling of Jay Anson and modern Aster-style foreboding that makes Adam Nevill’s versatility and originality gleam in all its bloody glory.
I didn’t love the magical figure Tom seeks guidance from, mostly because I think I would’ve actually liked to see him at the godforsaken house. Still, I became entranced by Neville’s cut-throat depictions of occult lore via that character.
I promise you, readers, you’ve never read anything quite like this.