SUICIDE forest is real. the Japanese call it Aokigahara Jukai, which means “Sea of Trees.” Each year local authorities remove from it more than one hundred bodies, most found hanging from tree branches and in various states of decay. Abandoned tents, moldy sleeping bags, dirty daypacks, and miles of ribbon litter the forest floor. It is said the area is haunted by the ghosts of the suicides, and local often report hearing unexplained screams during the night. Signs warn visitors not to leave the hiking trails. These are routinely ignored by thrill seekers hoping to catch a glimpse of the macabre. Most find their way out again. Some never do.
Man, I loved this book. Why you might ask? It features some foreign tourists going somewhere where they had no reason to go to, straying off the path, not telling anyone where they were going (until they were in the middle of it), not carrying enough water and food for a proper hike, not having battery packs (I have an Anker which keeps my phone charged for 5 whole days and my laptop too), not carrying a map or any type of compass and being general dumbasses.
I mean, who the hell takes psychotropic mushrooms in an assumed haunted forest? Dumbasses do!
The story is good because the place is real. The story works because all decisions seem plausible at the time they were made and based on the information then available. The story is freaking fantastic because there is no supernatural element and all the thrills and scares are from legit factors.
I loved how it talks about Japan, about how foreigners are viewed in Japan, about the reality of suicide as means of escape and how sensational tourism has made some pretty private places public.
“So how about it? We wanted to kill some time? Camping in a haunted forest sounds sick.”
Suicide Forest, or Aokigahara Jukai, was unlike any other forest I had visited before. The variety of evergreen conifers and broadleaf deciduous trees grew too close together, bleeding into one another, confusing your eyes and creating the illusion of impassable vegetation. Their branches formed a tightly weaved canopy overhead, blocking out much of the sunlight so it was darker than it had been only minutes before in the parking lot. And everything inside this shadowed, sepia-toned world seemed twisted and primordial and…wrong. That’s the best way I can describe it. Nature gone wrong. The spruce and hemlocks and pine couldn’t root deep, because beneath the thin layer of windswept ash and topsoil the forest floor was an uneven layer of solidified magma left behind from when Mt. Fuji last erupted roughly three hundred years before. Instead, many of their roots grew aboveground, a tangle of gnarled, woody tentacles crawling over the protruding bluish-black volcanic rock in a desperate struggle to gain a foothold in life and survive. Consequently, several trees seemed to be a victim of their own success, toppled by their inability to properly anchor their massive weight, so they either leaned at angles, caught in the indifferent embrace of their neighbors, or lay flat on the ground, among all the other crooked branches and rotting deadfall. In fact, it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine the forest was sick and dying had it not been for the profusion of bright green leaves and mosses and lichen and liverworts, which painted everything with a much needed coat of color.
“Sort of like Middle Earth, I reckon,” Neil said, breaking the silence that had stolen over us. “The Ents. Treebeard.”
To the right of me, strewn on the ground, were a number of innocuous items that wouldn’t have been out of place in anyone’s home. But here, in the middle of the forest— this forest—they were a ghastly sight. There was an old, torn umbrella. A ruined handbag, covered with dirt and dead leaves. A pack of Seven Stars cigarettes. An empty bottle of Smirnoff vodka. A broken mirror, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, a tube of lipstick. And, perhaps most disturbing of all, an upside-down doll nailed into the trunk of an adjacent tree.
Ethan is the one telling the story and you know he will survive. You get to meet his girlfriend Melinda, a late invitee and past flame of Melinda’s (John Scott), Ethan’s work friend Neil (who develops a severe food poisoning and nearly dies), a Japanese student named Tomo, and recently met Israeli travellers 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.
“What does that bit say there?” Mel said. She pointed to a placard next to the English one. It was smaller, the words written in kanji. “Don’t go in woods,” Tomo translated. “You get lost.”
Ethan and 6 others go into a well known place for suicides in Japan and get lost when they go off the trail. Neil gets severe food poisoning. Ben is found hanging the first night they are there after taking mushrooms from John Scott. Nina accuses John Scott of killing Ben. Their phones disappear. Tomo dies the second night and Ethan notices that even though Tomo was hanging from the tree, he also had a spot on his head where he’d been hit. Ben has one too. At this point they know that they are in a forest with a killer.
Fast forward, they are fast suffering from dehydration, hunger and lack of sleep. Neil is dying due to massive water loss from the food poisoning. John Scott breaks his leg (described very graphically) as he falls from a tree. Instead of heading towards the parking lot, Ethan, Mel and Nina go towards a ranger’s house they spotted in the distance in the opposite direction. Chaos ensues. Even after they barely escape, the trauma follows them back home and Mel and Ethan are faced with the shadows of the Suicide Forest back in America. Never free.
This is a thriller, not quite a horror novel. Sometimes it gets real depressing and it deals with rape, suicide and death a lot so if you want to avoid any of these triggers, don’t read it. I personally truly enjoyed it and I can’t wait to see other books from this series
Twenty feet ahead, hanging from a branch by red suicide ribbon, was a crucifix made with two small sticks and string. Then I spotted another. Then another beyond that. They were everywhere. At least a dozen. Each of them was swinging slightly in the wind— There is no wind .