I recently re-read this novel, having first read it about two years ago. On the first reading, my initial impressions were of a well-written and interesting story featuring a good mixture of nicely drawn characters. I felt the same on reading it the second time.
The story follows a group of people who have been brought together by a mutual desire to commit suicide. This might seem a morbid premise for a book, but I didn’t find it depressing. The story is told from the point of view of one of the group, a 35 year old geographer called Grace.
The group’s leader, a drama tutor called Daniel, has organised a trip for them all to Slovenia. The excursion lasts for three weeks, during which they take part in various games and activities designed to help them learn about themselves and others. At the end of the three weeks they have the opportunity to either end their lives or change their minds and choose life instead.
I particularly enjoyed the way the relationships between characters developed over time. That is, indeed, one of the main threads of the story, and I found it convincing.
The author, Hilary Custance Green, has asked for honest reviews of this book and so I’m going to mention a few things I might not otherwise include in a review. As I was reading, I tried to be critical and take note of anything that stood out for me in any way.
The main thing I noticed was how well written the text was, and how refreshing it was to read a book with section headings rather than chapters. As far as I can recall, I have never read another novel laid out in this way but I found it a satisfying and enjoyable approach. For example, on page one there is the heading ‘Devon – Day nought‘ and on page six the next heading appears: ‘Trieste – Day one‘, followed on page ten by ‘Divača – Party game‘ and on page 14 by ‘Lunch – Questions‘. Presenting the book in this way created the impression of a diary or itinerary, and gave the book a sort of forward momentum that made me want to keep reading.
To my mind, there was very little to criticise about the book, but I have a few small points to mention. Firstly, some of the games the characters took part in were hard for me to visualise and I suppose that was slightly frustrating at the time, although it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.
Secondly, it surprised me that each character had a specific historical reason for wanting to do away with themselves. In normal life I think a lot of people reach the decision not because they’ve done something awful in the past, but because they feel hopeless and can’t see any point in living. However, this issue was perhaps addressed in Daniel’s admission that each individual in the group was selected from a larger pool of people who contacted him about their suicidal wishes. It was implied that he had deliberately chosen those who cited particular events in their lives.
The only other thing I wasn’t sure about was the way in which group members reacted when each person gave their reason for wanting to commit suicide. It seemed to me that some of their responses were unlikely, although this was perhaps a deliberate ploy by the author to put across different points of view.
None of the above criticisms in any way spoiled the book for me, and I only include them in an attempt to give a balanced review.
To end on another couple of positives, I was impressed by the quality of the book’s print and paper. I was also very pleased with the bookmark that came with it, which gives a list of the story’s characters, alongside their ages and professions. Since there are 11 main characters, I found the bookmark especially useful in the early stages of the story.