Sunday, January 25, 2015

Death in a forest

Suicide Forest

By Jeremy Bates

Publisher: Ghillinnein Books

Pub. Date: December 16, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 


Let's talk about death.

Death is always a touchy subject. Well, not just death, which is often a benign abstract thing that we tend to voice in impersonal and hypothetical tones. But dying. That’s a tough one. Not the dying you do when you are old and gray and ready to go. The type of dying that comes to you, a friend or a loved one suddenly, uninvited, and usually rudely. The ones you want to avoid but can’t. Accidents. Murder. Suicide….

Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates is about that type of dying. He places his tale is a very real place. Aokigahara in Japan, also known as the Sea of Trees or Suicide Forest. It is a popular place for people to go to commit suicide. Up to 100 suicides happen in the forest every year. In Bates’ creepy but riveting novel, the main character Ethan, along with six others, plan to hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro but are prevented by the weather. They then choose, with some reluctantly agreeing, to camp overnight in the famed Suicide Forest. The others include Ethan’s girlfriend Melinda, a late invitee John Scott who knows Melinda from before, Ethan’s work friend Neil, a Japanese student named Tomo, and recently met Israeli travelers Ben and Nina. We find out that all of them have their secrets and brushes with death or even suicide. Ethan is the first person narrator, so we find out most about his own past but all of them reveal bits and pieces of themselves as the story develops. It is a slow development but the author is quite good at that sort of thing. He is also very good at building atmosphere and describing natural environments. You will feel like you can visualize the forest. In fact, I looked at photos of the forest after reading the book and they perfectly matched Bates’ literary description! The novel reads more like an eerie psychological drama until everyone wakes up after a night in the forest and discover one of their group is hanging dead from a tree branch.

Suicide Forest holds you to the end. Narration, dialog, and descriptions all pull together realistically to place you in the moment. This is one of those books that invite you to read it in one sitting. Lovers of visceral horror may be disappointed, at least until the end, but those who like tense character based horror and thrillers will be rewarded. As for myself, I was intrigued on how Bates used each character to illustrate various reactions to tragedy and death from the ones who tries to stay in control to the ones who go into denial to the ones who fall apart. It becomes a little lesson in grief and coping. Yet it never loses sense of the story and keeps you wondering what is really happening. At first I was a little off-balanced by the climax as I was expecting something else, but soon I realized it worked as it was and I relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

From the book’s cover that read “World Scariest Places !”, it appears that this may be one of the series of novels using actual places on Earth. It is an intriguing concept and one I hope the author continues with. His first experiment is clearly a success. Suicide Forest is for the reader who likes his thrills slowly revealed and full of psychological and interpersonal drama but still shocking and scary. Suicide Forest may not have you buying a plane ticket for Japan to camp amongst the corpses but it will still transport you to the forest and reveal its secrets.

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