Rules For Vanishing – Kate Alice Marshall

Ok, I like to think that I’m actually pretty good with horror, I admittedly don’t enjoy zombie or those possessed doll/orphan/foster child type films but vampires/monsters, psychological horror, ghost stories, urban legend type horrors have always been fun and not scary for me…. until now.

Kate Alice Marshall you shook me with this book because it is properly {bad word} creepy and you can’t trust a thing that is happening… I admittedly though did a very stupid thing and read this in the dark after midnight on a ‘Tinyfae isn’t sleeping’ night.

TW: Deaths and dead bodies, discussions of attempted suicide, child abuse (violence)

Content awareness: strong language

It’s almost a year to the day since Sara’s sister Becca went missing, whilst many think she’s run off with a boyfriend or ~whisper it~ dead, Sara believes she is lost inbetween worlds as she was obsessed with a local ghost legend and ‘The Game’ associated with it.

When a mysterious text message invites the entire school to play Becca’s childhood friends rally behind Sara and follow her into the woods…

9 teens begin the journey on the road, but how many will make it?

1-5-1, 1-4-3, 2,5,2

Ok this is an epistolary novel (you may know I’m strangely fond of narratives that employ this in some way or another) sewing together transcripts of interviews, phone footage, group chats, emails and inbetween the written testimony of Sara Donaghue whom as we quickly discover is not a reliable narrator, but whether it is her, the events on The Road, or something else is unclear.

‘Have you guys ever watched like, a single movie? We get on that road and about thirty seconds from now some hook handed m**********r is wearing our guts like a scarf.’

The novel starts off all high school horror film, I can almost taste the classics of the genre with the slightly Gothy Outsider, the Blue Eyed Beauty, The ‘edgy’ Drama Club Lesbian, The Jocks, the Nerd and so forth but this quickly moves into different waters with the characters stepping outside their tropes especially disability representation with a girl with speech impediment, a boy wearing hearing aids and many of the group able to use ASL- this in itself is not your usual kind of High School movie.

“{No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality;} even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”
Anthony quoting The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (italics added by me)

There indeed seems to be some inspiration from The Haunting of Hill House not merely in quotations by two characters but in nods from plot elements; writings on walls, at one point being trapped in a mansion type house; and use of terror both from the characters none of whom by the midpoint we can completely trust and a sense of foreboding to enact a reaction in the reader.

However, unlike Jackson in this case Marshall does not have us guessing whether this is psychological manifestations in the narrative sections, when we are on The Road, we are terrified along with Sara by what she sees and the phone footage captures. But in the interviews we realise that there is an unreliable narrator and we have to ponder why, through the lies and forgettings. Is there something paranormal at play, broken psychological, or criminal, and the tension by these interjections and challenges both adds to the horror in The Road and After.

Don’t leave the road
When it’s dark, don’t let go.
There are other roads. Don’t follow them

In between the moments of dread and terror, and sometimes just incredibly creepy building and building like a shaken bottle of fizz there are these scribblings and whisperings, rules and strange codes that hint to us of a deeper narrative undulating beneath what we are being presented with.

As these stitch together across the course of the book we are left in this fretful state of anxiety because we do not know where we stand or whether we can trust anything. Certain sections will have you flipping back through the book in astonishment or horror of how did you MISS this development that sneaks in and makes you then almost paranoid to not miss the next weavings of shock.

This ultimately unsettling feeling that asks you to trust your gut then continuously rips that away is utterly brutal, but brilliant.

Two by two by two by two

Ultimately Netflix needs to get on this book prompto, seriously with their adaptations of books especially in the horror and Young adult genres this is perfection.

Utterly creepy, chilling unsettling terror that leaves you wobbling ‘is that creaking and scrabbling just trees in the wind?’ . Fantastic stuff.

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall is published by Walker Books in the UK & Australia, and Viking in the US.


6 thoughts on “Rules For Vanishing – Kate Alice Marshall

    1. Thank you! It was such a fantastically twisty and terrifying book I had no idea where it was going which was actually a brilliant experience- and yes I agree genuinely scary!


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