Are you sitting comfortably? Got the lights on? Wearing undies with reinforced gussets? Then you’re all set for today’s jaunt into the particularly creepy, horror novel set in Japan, Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates. I received a copy of this one from the author for review and it certainly lived up to the series tagline “The World’s Scariest Places”. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Just outside of Tokyo lies Aokigahara, a vast forest and one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan…and also the most infamous spot to commit suicide in the world. Legend has it that the spirits of those many suicides are still roaming, haunting deep in the ancient woods.
When bad weather prevents a group of friends from climbing neighboring Mt. Fuji, they decide to spend the night camping in Aokigahara. But they get more than they bargained for when one of them is found hanged in the morning—and they realize there might be some truth to the legends after all.
Bates has done a brilliant job here of capturing the natural spine-tingliness of a place in which many have died by their own hand. The multiple death factor, coupled with the organic spookiness of dark, ancient woodland certainly provide the perfect setting for an unwitting set of hikers to experience nefarious doings. The best parts of this book are the slow build to the really terror-ridden parts of the story, and the dramatic twist toward the end of the book. For the straight horror fan, this book has everything – there’s gore and violence, ghosts, suspicion amongst the group, a potential stalker, and an ever-present, unseen menace hovering over the whole shebang.
Oh, and it’s set against the beautiful backdrop of Mt Fuji.
There were only a few annoying niggles in this tome from my point of view, and these generally had sorted themselves out by two-thirds of the way through. Initially, the antics of the main character group had me thinking that I’d accidentally picked up a schlock-horror book for the YA set, as none of the group seemed to be able to act (or think) like an adult. The childish egging on and teasing by some members of the group to convince others to continue further into the forest seemed very YA-like, but more so was the way in which the characters caved in to this teasing. Is this a collection of Marty McFly wannabes, I thought, who lose all sense of reason when someone calls them yellow? It seemed to me that if I didn’t want to go hiking in a suicide forest, being called a pussy would be unlikely to change my mind. Again, this was a small but persistent annoyance during the first half of the book.
Another niggle was the character of John Scott, who appears as a hanger-on and generally brash, buffoon. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the writing of the character, I just found him to be a pain in the arse to read.
Finally, I had one or two small issues with the plot of the book, particularly when it becomes clear that the group is completely lost and have spent much longer than expected in the forest. This mainly centred around the fact that there were people on the outside who knew where they were (such as their driver Honda and the wife of one of the group) and it seems strange to me that these people wouldn’t have raised the alarm when they didn’t turn up as expected. This is one of those times when I fear I was being too logical though – horror wouldn’t be horror if the pretty girl didn’t descend into the lightless basement on her own now, would it?
There is quite a bit of unexpectedness in this book that raises the level of excitement and interest in the story. First off, the fact that Aokigahara exists at all is pretty quirky, as is the range of opinions held about it by the Japanese characters in the book. These range from general indifference through morbid curiosity to utter terror. The actions of “the suicides” as they are referred to, such as leaving makeshift gravesites and ribbons to mark their places, are an interesting psychological piece that helps both group and reader to connect with the sense that there may be more than just possessions left behind in the forest.
The story also has a fantastic blend of straight, atmospheric, supernatural horror and visceral, violent, injurious horror – I’m generally not a fan of plain violent bloodbaths, and sometimes a plain ghost story can get a bit predictable, so Bates has created a nice balance here that kept me in throes of terror right to the end.
The twist in the tail of the tale certainly took me by surprise, but Bates has gone even further by extending the story of the survivors after their escape from the forest. Just when I thought all the creepiness had crept its last, one final jab made its way under my carefully placed headgear. So all in all, there’s a lot going on in this tale and it will certainly keep you guessing until at least the second-last page.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. “Enjoyed” in the sense that it completely freaked me out and I had to sleep with the light on, grasping one of Mad Martha’s dreadlocks for comfort. I will not deny that I even emitted a little scream when, after having put the book down two-thirds of the way through for the night, the dog snuck into the room, giving the impression that the door was opening on its own. Such is the effect the story had on me.
Recommended for those who want a pervasive and memorable scare.
Until next time,