ANDREW GARVEY takes a look at Adam Nevill’s ‘Banquet for the Damned’
My second Nevill book, and the first novel he published (in 2004), this overly long, sometimes plodding story of the summoning of evil things lacks the sheer malevolent brilliance that made my introduction to his work – 2011’s the Ritual – such a fantastic read but is still, cautiously, recommended.
Set in and around a fictionalised St. Andrews University in Scotland (where Nevill studied an MA in Creative Writing) the book’s locations feel absolutely genuine. Following Dante and Tom – two failed heavy metal musicians from Birmingham – as they head to St. Andrews for an unusual project, the book starts well.
Invited to do some research and work on a concept album with the mysterious Professor Eliot Coldwell whose seminal book on drugs, occult rituals and altered states sound like exactly the kind of drivel someone might base a metal album on (Nevill clearly knows this music well), Dante and Tom soon find things aren’t exactly normal north of the border.
After all, a severed arm washed up on the beach is often a sign that a holiday might not be off to the best of starts.
For the first quarter or so of the book, the thing ‘haunting’ local students is brilliantly described. Nevill’s genuinely unsettling version of night terrors and sleep paralysis is the sort of thing that makes it clear he has the imagination and skill to be one of Britain’s very best horror writers.
When things take on more of an occult tone as the plot – slowly – reveals itself and St Andrews’ deep, dark mysteries are uncovered, the book feels somehow diminished. It might simply be the numbing 544 page length (it has that Stephen King-like ‘if this were a hundred pages shorter it’d be amazing’ feel to it) of the story, although some of the dialogue is absurdly bad, too.
Nevill is certainly ambitious. That might be the problem with this book. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie runs just shy of 200 pages. Clive Barker’s debut, the Damnation Game was a hefty 433 but his real breakthrough came with his second novel, the Hellbound Heart at 186 pages. James Herbert’s The Rats was a mere 181 pages.
What’s that phrase about walking before you can run? Banquet for the Damned couldn’t have been told in such a menacing, atmospheric way in under 200 pages, there was really no need for it to be 500+.
Still Banquet for the Damned is worth the effort in the end. All Nevill’s research into the occult is evident and he weaves it skilfully into the story rather than have characters expositioning away for pages and pages, although his somewhat unconvincing American anthropologist Hart Miller is guilty of that at times.
The final, climactic showdown at the end of the novel is hectic, frightening stuff and throughout the book, when Nevill is describing terrible, scary things he’s exceptionally good.

Andrew Garvey
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