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Banquet for the Damned Paperback – October 1, 2014
Few believed Professor Coldwell could commune with spirits. But in Scotland's oldest university town something has emerged from the shadows and is stalking the streets. Now, the young are being haunted by night terrors and those who are inflicted are disappearing. This is certainly not a place for outsiders, especially at night. So what chance do a rootless musician and burned-out explorer have of surviving an entanglement with a ruthless, supernatural evil and the secretive cult that serves it? This chilling occult thriller is both an homage to the great age of British ghost stories and a pacy modern tale of diabolism and witchcraft.
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About the Author
- Publisher : Pan Macmillan; Main Market Ed. edition (October 1, 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1447240928
- ISBN-13 : 978-1447240921
- Item Weight : 12.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 1.4 x 7.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,124,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Students are disappearing from Scotland's oldest university town, many of them connected to a professor who has been experimenting with the occult. An arm is found on a beach nearby. A visiting professor of anthropology begins to investigate students who are plagued by bad dreams and episodes of sleep-walking. Two young members of a defunct rock band show up in St Andrews, lured by the author of "Banquet for the Damned"--none other than the professor who is dabbling in the supernatural. Soon, one of the rockers begins to experience very bad dreams.
It's hard to sustain horror throughout a full-length novel, and "Banquet for the Damned" at 408 pages has some stretches of heavy drinking, drugs, and really bad sex. There is one unintentionally funny scene where a member of the local coven is cutting up trash bags to protect her carpet and humming "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" from the Shangri-Las, in anticipation of a visit from her Master, who tends to be a messy eater. But, on the whole, this is a terrifying novel. We readers are forced to inhabit the minds of victims, who are sliding slowly and painfully down the slope into Horror.
Bed wetting dream sequences are nice - very nice, even - but they alone cannot sustain a novel. In order for an atmosphere to permeate every page, for the suspense to forbid us from even glancing over the top of the book, we need to be grounded in the setting and characters; we need for their every threat to be a mortal one for us as well. In this, Nevill succeeds admirably.
The novel takes place in the college town of St. Andrews. The setting is perfectly realized in the story, both in its grandeur and in the new darkness that begins to creep within it:
"This is a home for learning built from old stones, with an elegance to its arches and courts, and a mystery endowed by its shadows and legends. But the aesthetics have shifted: he can feel it. Something has arrived to disturb the calm, to wind back time and reinstall a grimmer place where thinkers burned for heresy and darkness brought dread to small grey towns." (p.66)
Coming to the town from outside are the key characters of the novel. The first of these is Dante, a washed up heavy metal musician coming to St. Andrews for his last chance at a big break and a chance to meet his idol. Now, it could be argued that, in a St. Andrews housing laptop computers and cell phones, a leather clad rock musician would be more bizarre anachronism than daring rebel, but such a thought doesn't enter your head until long after you've turned the last page.
The reader sees the majority of the story through Dante's eyes, and his emotions and reactions to events often determine our own. When the story starts, Dante is arriving in the town. It's a moment of hope for him, and, though our expectations are obviously colored by the knowledge that we're reading a horror novel, the reader sees St. Andrews as a new beginning, a place where anything can happen, compared to the routines of Birmingham and our own lives. Even then, though, there is a hint of uneasiness to the whole experience, conveyed by the police investigation underway on the beaches as we arrive.
Hope changes to despair, the change marked by Dante's meeting with Elliot. The lead up to and execution of these first interactions between the two are, quite possibly, the heaviest hitting parts of the book. The depths of Dante's admiration for his mentor, coupled with the disillusioning reality of the man, are agonizing to read about. After that, though nothing truly malignant has occurred to our lead, the town takes on a disorienting, unfamiliar feel that it maintains, to great effect, throughout the rest of the narrative.
An excellent result of our reliance on Dante's narration comes about when Dante is, essentially, hypnotized. The scene is like suddenly having the color on your TV cut out, leaving you with half the picture. We can still see Dante's actions, still understand the world around him, but, without warning, we can no longer make any sense of his thoughts. While an effect like this could easily become nothing but baffling, or perhaps just a cause of apathy, it's unsettling and dream like, here.
Our closeness to Dante, however, does bring with it the occasional problem. While our view of Elliot is tempered through the viewpoints of the school's administration, our grasp of Tom, Dante's friend and band mate, is left entirely to Dante's eyes. As a result, while we come to understand and rely on the intricacies of the two musicians' relationship, we never come to care for Tom as a character, rendering any threat to him unmoving to us beyond what effect it has on Dante.
One of my main problems with Nevill's Apartment 16 was that the source of the horror, when it was finally revealed, proved to be unequal to the buildup. While I won't go so far as to say that the source of Banquet's terror is as frightening as our corner-of-the-eye glimpses of it, it doesn't disappoint.
A large part of that is the second of Nevill's two major viewpoint characters, Hart Miller. Hart is a researcher who studies the kind of night terror epidemics that have gripped St. Andrews. His carefully documented, scientific means of looking into what's going on in the early chapters of the book give the town's collective nightmares far more believable weight than they otherwise would have had. Later in the novel, Hart's research into the occult, browsing through a collection of real and invented sources, fleshes out the novel's menace without defanging it.
To refer back (or forward?) to Apartment 16 again, the secondary point of view in that novel, Apryl, felt like she had no existence outside of the strict confines of the plot. In some ways, Hart is the same thing, but here that very one dimensionality becomes the springboard for the character's growth. Up until this point, Hart's life has been wholly focused on night terrors and, at first, the events at St. Andrews seem as much an opportunity as a threat. As the book progresses, however, and as the danger grows more and more personal, Hart tries to take a step back - and realizes that, not only can he not flee the darkness in the town, he has nothing to flee to. Though not uplifting reading, the character's questioning of both his efficacy and purpose are powerful moments.
A large part of Banquet for the Damned's atmosphere comes from Nevill's prose. The writing here is never flowery - think a gateway rather than a stained glass window - but its simplicity belies the clarity, precision, and feeling that comes through every word. Take the opening paragraphs of the novel, for instance:
"It's a night empty of cloud and as still as space.
Alone, a young man walks across a deserted beach. His eyes are vacant, and his mouth is loose. The steps of his unlaced boots in the sand are slow, as if they are being taken under duress, or as if he is being led.
Guided away from the jagged skyline of St. Andrews town, he moves west towards the Eden Estuary and the Tentsumir forest beyond, until the distant streetlights become nothing more than specks winking at his back. As if beckoned, he then moves to the base of the dunes, where the shadows are long, and the sands cold." (p. 1)
It consists of short sentences and basic vocabulary, yes, but the amount of information (the man is orienting himself by the landmarks of the town, for instance, so it's clearly the focal point of his life, here) and, more importantly, mood, that comes through is tremendous.
Banquet for the Damned succeeds in almost every way that counts. The novel's atmosphere - a chilling, claustrophobic darkness that leaves you trying to stay awake with cup after cup of coffee in the hope that you won't find yourself, in the dead of night, on some forsaken forest pathway - is rammed home by precise prose and well drawn characters. If you're a reader of horror, Banquet for the Damned deserves a spot on your shelf - perhaps between Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and The Shining. Though, of course, that'd mess up the filing system something mighty...
Still, you could do much worse if you're looking for a fun supernatural romp.
Top reviews from other countries
Read it before you die.
I love the way he drags you back into the past to give you an idea of whats happening in the present.
Glad Adam Nevill wasn't my history teacher at school. Superb book.
So I put a bit of pressure on myself and decided I'd read all his novels, one after the other...
Banquet For The Damned opens with a young man waking from what might be a state of sleep-walking, which has taken him to a beach at night. There, he hears strange, disembodied voices whispering and saying his name and is finally pursued by a barely seen, dark inhuman presence. It's a cracking scene and sets the tone for what is a highly polished and extremely well-written ghost story (albeit one with antecedents in other forms of horror fiction). Thereafter, we follow the fortunes of Dante and his friend Tom, as they uproot from Birmingham to relocate to the old University town of St. Andrews in Scotland. Dante has been in correspondence with one Eliot Coldwell, a supposed professor at the University, who once wrote a book called Banquet For The Damned, a sort of treatise on the lamentable deterioration of humanities interest and connection with spiritual and occult practices (Coldwell's contention). Dante, and Tom, the last two members of their fractured band, wish to create a concept album based on Coldwell's book-in-progress. Unfortunately, not all is as it seems...
Okay, my intention was to read this in less than a week as my reading habits have become very ponderous the last few years, and after reading Gary McMahon's Beyond Here Lies Nothing in four days, I thought I was on to a roll (bacon and tattie scone, preferably...)... Unfortunately, it took me near a month to finish, due to ill health, work and my general sloth-like ability to waste time doing nothing. Still, it did not diminish my sheer enjoyment of the story and I suspect that if and when I read it again, I'll love it even more if I can finish it quicker. One other thing that stopped me from giving it my full attention was the fact that I didn't want to read it in the house at night, alone. It was too bloody creepy in places.
The story takes place from a number of third person points of view, giving us a broad overview of what's going on, yet there is real skill involved in the fact that we are as much in the dark as many of the players, even up until the final chapters. The story takes in occult ceremonies, witch-craft, the lingering of evil and violent deeds in geographical locations, cultural and anthropological superstitions, night-terrors and sleep paralysis, all set against the wonderfully, almost Gothic, backdrop of St. Andrews. Superficially, it could be a story straight from the original Hammer studios, yet the prose is beautiful and full of depth, and treats its subject matter with a depth and seriousness that never becomes po-faced. Of course, the pace can be leisurely and there are long passages where little seems to occur between the scenes of dread and outright horror, but these are so well written and informative (whether it's giving background, historical information on the area, or simply developing the characters), that it is a joy to read.
What I think that Adam does so well, and understands so completely about the best horror writing, is that it's more about what you don't see than what you do. Anyone can throw a few paragraphs showcasing a bit of violence or gore, but it takes a true craftsman to give you case of skin-crawl at the simple description of some half-glimpsed shadows. This is the essence of true horror writing, where the author persuades you, the reader, to do the work in your own imagination. Even in the final pages, when by rights we should be seeing the 'monster' in full, it still hugs the darkness and is fleshed out by the readers mind as opposed to a full description on the page. Don't get me wrong; there is some violence, but it's extremely sporadic and is utterly essential to both the story and the atmosphere. Again, it's only a few lines, but what is there conjures up such pictures in the mind that it is all the more disturbing and affecting for that.
As I said at the start, it's very much a ghost story in the style of the greats, such as MR James, Poe and such, but it also pays some due to, in my opinion, the likes of Dennis Wheatley, Hammer and Amicus films, thin shades of Lovecraft and his ilk, even some T. E. D. Klein.
It's not without some minor flaws. I did think it could have been a touch shorter. For a first novel, it's a big 'un and occasionally, I felt that there were parts that were simply repeating what had gone before. Also, and this is a very personal thing, I'm not a fan at all of present tense narratives. I find them hard to get into and often they serve to distance the story from me. I appreciate this is a very subjective thing and no doubt, it has worked very well for many. It's a testament to the book that I still finished and enjoyed it despite this.
So, all in all, if I was giving a score I'd say it hovers between a 7 or 8 out of 10 (I know I've given it a 4 out of 5 above, but its closer to a 4.5 in my opinion...). I'm glad I finally pulled my finger out and I look forward to the next one from Adam, Apartment 16...