Wednesday, January 27, 2016

... book review: _Suicide Forest (2014)_ by Jeremy Bates...

Picture from Japan Times. Signage is used to discourage suicide attempts noting "all life is precious".

I recently mentioned that this time of year, right before the semester began I have been trying to read a ton of fun reads. I have been developing a dark tourism course for the fall 2016 semester. This novel, which is part of the RVA book club, goes right along with my theme. The other possible texts and articles I’ve been reading for the course are non-fiction; but, I’m thinking this horror novel by Jeremy Bates might be a nice way to break-up a sensitive subject. Instead of a real story, here is one that is based on the forest. 

Suicide Forest (2014) by Jeremy Bates
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.

What begins as an excursion to climb Mt. Fuji turns into an almost stereotypical horror movie nightmare when the group of friends enter Aokigahara Jukai. What I enjoyed most about the reading the book, aside from not being able to put it down, was that I felt like I was going along on a hike with a group of people I somewhat knew.

American ESL teacher Ethan Childs planned to climb Mt. Fuji with Mel, his girlfriend, and a few friends. A looming storm and meeting Israeli tourists Ben and Nina changes the plans of the group so that they decide to sleep overnight in Aokigahara Jukai. The forest, which is known for being a place where people take their lives, is also a vast forest with limited trails. It is incredibly easy for travelers to get lost.

What begins as a fun excursion suddenly becomes more than upsetting when one of the group members apparently commits suicide… or was it suicide?  The group becomes lost as they continue to hear strange noises in the woods. While I noted that this feels like a stereotypical horror movie scene, the author takes his time to build up fear in the reader. Are the strange noises in the forest human or are they ghosts?

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot but the visuals in the text are great. I could see the forest; and, I could see the characters and scenes that the author wanted me to see. The other parts I was purposely left in the dark. It's a little bit old school Blair Witch. It’s one of my recent favorite past-paced horror novels.


  1. I've long since been out of college but your courses sound wonderful and so much fun. They offer a Vampire reading course at the University of Tulsa. I'm trying to talk my son into taking it so I can reap the benefits without having to actually go to class. :o)

    1. Thanks! My vampire course is pretty popular. We'll see how students like the Dark Tourism.

  2. A lot of people were really upset by the movie coming out possibly based on this. It is felt it is all for Western entertainment and trivialises the massive problem of suicide in the East where depression is considered shameful and you can't really get help.

    Not trying to degrade your course or anything which I am sure is great, I thought I would just mention this as it seems related.

    1. This Bates novel and the recent movie _The Forest_ don't follow the same plot. I haven't seen the movie but I understand that it along with the Bates book reference Wataru Tsurumi's _The Complete Manual of Suicide_ (1993) so in my brief Internet search it appears the movie is based off of a screen play. I completely understand where you're coming from regarding Western entertainment's trivialization; that is actually part of the course. One of the course goals is to understand why people travel to places associated with "Dark Tourism". If I include this novel, this course is in development and hasn't yet been taught, it will only be because the book directly focuses on why tourists visit the forest; and because the articles relating to Aokigahara often include pictures and may be too heavy to discuss. Of course, I will be including articles about Auschwitz and the American Civil War so the course will not be a light and fluffy one by any means.