Book Review: The Reddening by Adam Nevill

The Reddening is an intense, chokehold of a novel. It grips from the start and holds you down as it makes you consume the horrors within.”

 

It’s been two years since Adam Nevill’s last novel Under A Watchful Eye was released by Pan MacMillan. In that time, Nevill has seen his novel The Ritual get the Hollywood treatment and find a new audience through Netflix. But perhaps the biggest change has been the launch of Ritual Limited, Nevill’s own publishing imprint. Following on from his short story collections, Hasty For The Dark and Some Will Not Sleep, The Reddening is the first novel that Nevill has brought to the market himself.

The Reddening is billed as a folk-horror thriller set in the south of England, along the Devon coast where Nevill now lives. Perhaps it says something about Nevill’s mind that he can walk and swim along some of the country’s most beautiful coastlines and his mind fills with the abhorrent and the horrific. Setting is an integral part of this story and Nevill’s mastery in describing the coastline and its community is one of the strengths of this book.

The story centres on two women, Katrine and Helene who become entangled in a chain of increasingly twisted events following the discovery of a series of prehistoric caves. Both drawn to the Devon coast for differing reasons, the two women find themselves drawn into a web of murder, the occult and ancient darkness.

Nevill has done a superb job of drawing all of the characters in this book, but his portrayal of Kat and Helene stands out. Horror is often (rightly) derided for its use of female victims. Nevill is having none of that. His female characters anchor the story. They’re strong, vivid, and believable characters. They have agency and drive the story onwards. Nevill immediately draws his readers to his characters through their circumstance and backstory without ever labouring the exposition. Kat and Helene stand out as some of his best character work so far, at least in this reviewer’s opinion.

Some of the other key players, a twisted folk musician and his family, are expertly drawn. Their motivations are not only sinister but also sound. Other minor characters are fleshed out and amply support the two strong female leads.

Across his career Nevill has shown range and flexibility in his subject matter. The Reddening finds him on more established ground than Lost Girl or No One Gets Out Alive. More akin in subject matter to Under A Watchful Eye or Apartment 16, The Reddening shows Nevill flexing his muscles and showing how his craft has improved novel on novel. The storyline is dense without ever getting clogged or overly complex. Here Nevill powers through the story, dragging his characters deeper into the mire that they can barely comprehend, let alone understand. Where there is a need for exposition, Nevill weaves it in through exhibitions, press conferences and newspaper clippings.

The Reddening features some of the most powerful horrors and imagery of his career to date. Deftly describing the horrors of the caves beneath the surface, Nevill’s skill at unfolding the horrific breathes life into forgotten deities and the bestial actions of prehistoric people. Whereas exposition can sometimes weigh a book down, the scenes where Kat and Helene find out more about the “red people” and their beliefs are claustrophobic and affecting.

The story opens with acts of senseless and brutal violence. Victims are extinguished in a disturbing manner, setting the scene for the subculture that lurks below the idyllic setting. From that point on, not only do the characters never feel safe but when they are exposed to the “red people”, a trail of blood and bone and meat follows them. The overall feeling of a tightening noose throughout this novel is palpable. There is a tension and disquiet about this book that is affecting, it is a fever dream of a story. Nevill has built an occult presence and system of beliefs so plausible that one might wonder whether there are elements of non-fiction in these pages.

As with the art world in Apartment 16, Nevill creates another tormented artist, this time a musician as a conduit for the otherworldly. Littered with knowing references and a layered world of its own, Nevill’s music scene is authentic and utterly plausible. Drugs, booze, violence and resentment power these particular characters, dragging them and the reader, deeper into the jaws of those that dwell below the ground. Various scenes of this novel may bring to mind Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand, itself a story about unsettling folk musicians. Who says black metal has all the fun with the occult?

As previously stated, The Reddening is the first novel produced by Ritual Limited. It has to be said that the production of the book, as well as the execution of the story, is exquisite. The hardback version is arguably one of the best looking horror books produced in the last decade. It feels like a luxury product and shows the efforts that Nevill has put into producing his work, both on and off the page. It far excels anything put out by a major publishing house in the horror genre.

The Reddening is an intense, chokehold of a novel. It grips from the start and holds you down as it makes you consume the horrors within. With The Reddening, Adam Nevill cements his places as Britain’s finest contemporary horror novelist. This tense, compelling tome is one that lingers long after the cover closes and its horrors will spring to mind on every summer holiday on the south coast for years to come.

DAN HOWARTH

Publisher: Ritual Limited
Hardback: 420 (pps)
Release Date: 31 October 2019

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