I came to this novel via one of my favorite films. I heard that it was the basis for “The Wicker Man”. That turns out to be only vaguely true; some aspects of the novel are reflected in the film, but the novel is entirely its own thing. Indeed, given how subjective and even hallucinatory the prose is, I suspect the book is not actually filmable – though I’d like to see David Lynch give it a go.
Speaking of Lynch, I was reminded somewhat of Twin Peaks, in an odd way. Twin Peaks uses the device of a girl’s murder to investigate the secrets underpinning a small town society, all the secret loves and hidden hates, and the past that is not past. _Ritual_ has a strangely looking glass reflection of that structure. It opens just after the death of a young girl. The reader is strongly led to believe that this death was truly accidental. But the town is so full-to-bursting with secrets and tensions, that it seems to NEED a murder investigation to release the pressure, even in the absence of an actual murderer. Something of a witch hunt is organized – by the local witch!
It’s not a great novel. I found the ending unsatisfying, in an M. Night Shyamalan sort of way. That is to say, it was a clever twist, and properly set up plot-wise, yet not emotionally fulfilling (for me). The prose is often both beautiful and clever, but not as often as the author thinks, with some notable clunkers. As might be expected from a British horror novel of this era, the racial and sexual politics on display are often… regrettable. And none of the characters are particularly likable, which can be a serious problem.
I did find it interesting enough to get through, largely for the prose. I will end with a few quotes that I extracted for my quote file, to give some of the flavor of the better bits:
She was one of those women who have no delta of calm. She was all ice storms and thunder mountains. A rose, to her, was not a natural sculpture in silence, but a beautiful terror on fire.
… the sun is lusting for the sea. Squirting his liquid amber, he hears the submarine call of the mermen and the Kraken. The upper air vibrates like a sheet of crystal as the sun lunges into the water. One long hiss of pain and the water devours the fire. There is only the perfection of the darkness.
‘Yes, well, Inspector, I know it is a bad Elizabethan joke, but I always feel that bad Elizabethan is better than good Modern. At least, there’s entrails behind it. And imagery. Always important when you’re avoiding reality.’