The bus pulled away along the village road, and the parents’ long shadows shrunk behind the condensation-covered windows.
And there you have it.
The children were on their way.
They would never return.
you know* from the get-go that everyone in this book dies: twelve six-year-old children and their three adult chaperones bloodying up the french forest on the worst camping trip/darkest fairytale ever.
and it’s one of the best books i’ve read in a long time. not (just) because i’m a monster, but for the balls of its plot combined with the quality of its writing. i thought i knew what i was getting into; i figured it would be the same kind of fun as Bible Camp Bloodbath, but this book is more than satirical pulp horror—damn good writing and metafictional flourishes elevate it well out of the class of pulpy gore. which is an unfortunate phrasing, but also very apt.
it’s a short book, so things start going bad immediately, and they do not let up, with descriptions at once lurid and matter-of-fact. there’s an early scene in which we’re not, at first, sure what we’re looking at, but once it becomes clear, it becomes…real clear. and icky. and that’s before anyone even dies.
overall, the death scenes are dispassionate in tone. after the first one, which is splattery and vivid and goes on for an almost comically long time, the writing around the deaths grows cooler, more casual. the novel broadens into a more psychological-anthropological-cerebral kind of take than i expected, and there’s an effective displacement technique that comes from shifting perspectives—the story will sometimes switch POVs mid-paragraph, sometimes several times, which is less confusing than it sounds, and it gives this marvelous
dreamlike nightmarish quality to the experience. it becomes more about tension and atmosphere than about its body count.
still, there are so many ways a body can break.
you know what also breaks? the literary fourth wall!
Somewhere, far away, Yasmine and Emma were sobbing, too, as were Nathan, and Océane, and Louis, and in the dark forest, in the little perimeter that represented one one-hundredth of the entire wooded area, if you cocked an ear, you could hear a tearful symphony of ‘Mommy!’ rise above the treetops, whether spoken or simply thought so hard that it had resonated in the sap-filled hearts of the broad, deciduous trees and the towering evergreens. The cries of the children calling for their mothers had filled the space and made everything tremble, tremors that reached the most obtuse of sensibilities, moving anyone who could detect the vibration, that is, anyone other than you, dear reader, who have the privilege and the curse of grasping the unbearable birds-eye view of a forest, plunged into the darkness of one inconsequential night, from which rise the cries for help of children left to their own devices, and children who have died, or who will die, and whose salvation you can do nothing for. That is your lot, and that is theirs, tragic roles that each will have to play as best they can, until the last page.
it shifts into second person a few more times with one very special occurrence towards the end which shows some stellar authorial decision-making, and made me love the book so so much. although, i knew it was love as soon as i read the story that gives the novel its name. a book that has creepy children AND horrible birds? this is my kind of horror.
* i mean, you know if you have read the book’s first page** or the book’s synopsis. if not…spoiler alert?
** or page 7 because that is the page where the words start.
BOUGHT. READ. REVIEW TO COME.
Tous apprennent, dans la douleur, les lois du ciel.
bwah ha haaaaaaa!
want intensely. want like a BEAST!