Top critical review
An Interesting Horror Novel Set in Japan
Reviewed in Australia on 12 May 2019
"... many Japanese think the forest is now haunted by yūrei, or the souls of the dead."
Ethan, his girlfriend Mel, some friends and acquaintances, decide to spend the night in Aokigahara after their Mt. Fuji climb is postponed due to bad weather. Things start off alright, but soon one of the group is dead, they are lost, and something is hunting them.
Before going into my review, I need to say that obviously, if suicide is a topic that makes you uncomfortable, you may not want to read this book. I will also add a warning for rape here . It is not graphically portrayed, but is mentioned, and is a plot point.
So, I was quite excited to read this book. I was a Japanese major at university, and so it is always exciting to read books set in Japan. And of course, this book was set in a real, supposedly haunted location, which is another topic I find absolutely fascinating.
I found myself very engaged with this book. The characters were all different from one another, and I was keen to discover more about their pasts and what led them to Japan. The character we spent the most time with, given that the book was written from his first person perspective, was Ethan. I empathised with him, though he did make some stupid decisions, even before everything went wrong.
The pacing worked well I believe. It started off a little slow, but this allowed me to get to know some of the characters better, and feel the atmosphere of a camping trip in a creepy place. We would also have glimpses of the past as Ethan thought back. For the most part, these flashes were unobtrusive and helped develop Ethan further, but sometimes they felt out of place and irrelevant.
The setting was done well. As I said, the suicide forest is a real location, so it already garners a certain amount of legitimacy. It was written to be a claustrophobic, and some how unnatural forest, as if the history of it seeped into the roots of the trees to shape them, and I loved that.
I did have some problems with the book. Firstly, there was an unnecessary deer injury/death (animal deaths are one of few things that bother me in fiction, yet I see it a lot, given that one of my favourite genres is horror).
The reveal toward the end of the book, though unique, was a bit of a let down. It definitely wasn't what I was expecting, which in itself isn't a bad thing, but it felt strange and unsatisfying.
The ending also felt rushed. We discover what is happening, get to the major conflict, and it goes by very quickly. The epilogue, slightly out of place, also felt rushed, as if the author wanted the story to end. Things are tied up a little too neatly, while also being open ended, which is an unsatisfying juxtaposition.
All in all, I enjoyed Suicide Forest. While there were problems with it, it was a fun and easy read that put an interesting spin on a well established sub-genre of horror, set in a real world location. I would recommend this book to horror enthusiasts, unless suicide and rape are subjects you cannot stomach.