The reunion of four University friends not only offers a chance to escape from the stresses of the everyday, but also an opportunity to behold the wonders of the outdoors… Or at least that was the plan. The last thing Hutch, Luke, Phil and Dom needed was to get lost within a virgin forest in a foreign country; a Scandinavian wilderness that just feels wrong. When they bare witness to something hanging up a tree – something dead, everything changes from then on.
(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)
Collecting dust on my bookshelf, amongst the other two hundred unread books (more or less), for a few years now, I finally decided to pick this one up and give it a go. I didn’t know what exactly to expect at first, but the whole “man versus nature” aspect appealed to me, and thus I found myself thoroughly impressed with the initial direction of the plot. Even to imagine getting lost in such an ancient maze of untouched forest, where daylight itself refuses to penetrate, definitely makes my skin crawl. Even so, I’m not usually all that affected by horror in general, and even though I didn’t feel terrified or frightened, I certainly felt a sense of unease and foreboding. The writing was a main factor in creating such responses; so darkly atmospheric with sentences that conveyed so much, from every stab of fear to every thread of hope. If not for the very drastic change in story in the second half, I’d have rated it five stars.
I didn’t even find the characters entirely likeable, but not because they were poorly written – on the contrary, they were painfully realistic. The ones who picked on another out of a jealous attempt to hide their own crumbling lives, the one with obvious commitment issues and lack of purpose, and lastly, the one with the level head. However, even despite Hutch being the one to try and keep everything civil and together, he shared a particular shallowness with Luke in regard to continuously calling the other two “fatties”. They had their flaws, as we all do, and as all good fictional characters should. Luke, whom I eventually came to feel sympathy for, was probably the worst, as his views on women were verging on being downright sexist. He clearly had his problems with anger management as well, but what that man experienced, his helplessness – I couldn’t help but hope he’d survive the whole ordeal.
As for the complete shift titled “South of Heaven”; I didn’t hate it, but admittedly it appeared quite silly at first. Going from the struggles of survival in the wilderness whilst hunted by a mysterious creature, to being held captive by a metal band consisting of face-painted teenagers – it was confusing to say the least, but after a while I settled into the craziness and accepted it for what it was. The trio; Fenris, Loki and Sutr, were void of sanity of any kind (as you can tell from what they called themselves), but even though they were all sorts of ridiculous, the old woman and what dwelled within the attic succeeded in returning the eerie tone. From stitching together the pieces given, the inhabitants of the house were children of the “moder”, which added a nice touch. It then begs the question, why did the woman need Luke to do her dirty work in dispatching of the disrespectful teens when she could’ve called the monster? Well, if you revere something, if you worship something, it stands to reason you don’t want to piss it off by expecting it to do pest control.
Still, the rambling on of Christianity, and of how evil they were as Vikings, it got a little tedious after a short time. I’m all for Norse mythology and how religion played a role in the origin of the forest, but I don’t need dialogue that seems never-ending to get the point across. I rolled my eyes, I facepalmed, and I missed the simple yet effective quality of the first couple of hundred pages. Again, I state it was close to being a well-deserved favourite, but the last half just wasn’t as good.
In conclusion: I’m definitely interested in Nevill’s other works now, as I appreciated his ability as a writer. I favoured the first section of this particular novel, but the change in direction jarred me.
Luke took three mouthfuls of water from his bottle. It tasted of rubber and of the forest around them: the cloying of damp wood, rotting leaves and cold air. He detested it. He smelled of it too. They were almost a part of it now. Just a few bright colours of the man-made fibres they wore marked them out as any different to the thoughtless, relentless decay of season and nature. It would be so easy now to just sink to the ground and get recycled, to be eaten or rot away. The endlessness of it, the sheer size of the land and their total insignificance within it nearly shut his mind down.
© Red Lace 2016