Review - Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
Do you want to play the game?
Once a year, a road appears in the woods at midnight and the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons, inviting those who are brave enough to play her game. If you win, you escape with your life.
But if you lose...
It’s almost a year since Becca went missing.
Everyone else has given up searching for her, but her sister, Sara, knows she disappeared while looking for Lucy Gallows. Determined to find her, Sara and her closest friends enter the woods.
But something more sinister than ghosts lurks on the road, and not everyone will survive.
Rules for Vanishing was my final book of 2019, and an excellent read it was too. It's incredibly creepy and mysterious.
The format of this novel is very interesting. It's presented as a kind of literary "found footage" affair. That is, it's a collection of notes and files hacked from a doctor's files. A lot of the text is therefore written testimony from Sara, told in the first person. Interspersed with this are transcripts of interviews conducted between the doctor and his assistant and Sara and other principle characters. There are also a number of transcripts of video evidence, and other exhibits including text conversations and chat messages.
So format wise, there's certainly a lot going on here. It has a lot of fun with it too. There are words crossed out from written testimonies and footnotes adding additional narrative detail. It plays around with timescales too, with the interviews all being effectively set after the events of the story, looking back at what happened, and the video evidence being more of a primary source.
For me, this really worked well. I was unsure at first, as it felt almost like it was putting a barrier between me and the story, making me experience it second or third hand. But after a little while I found myself getting really pulled into it. What really made it for me was the use of the unreliable narrator. There are parts where the written testimonies diverge from the video evidence and these were done brilliantly. That alone was enough to sell me on the format of the storytelling. This was really clever, masterfully done and incredibly creepy.
Now on to the story. The story is great. It starts off in a contemporary setting, a high school where kids are invited by text to play a game. But once the road appears it becomes a lot more fantastical. More so than I was expecting, to be honest. I went in thinking it'd be a blending of contemporary and fantasy, but it's more of a "stepping into another fantasy world" book really. After that there's the road, a series of quests with an unknown destination and barely understood rules. I'm not going to say much about what they encounter on the road, every reader should take that journey anew, but I found it increasingly unsettling and creepy, with echoes of King and Lovecraft. And there are plenty of twists and turns along that road.
Rules for Vanishing is creepy and clever, with a winning format and superb use of unreliable narration.
I'm giving it five moons.
Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall is published by Walker Books and is out now.
I was given an early copy in return for an honest review.