Monday, 21 December 2015

In the Forest / Edna O'Brien

3 out of 5 stars
IN THE FOREST returns to the countryside of western Ireland, the vivid backdrop of Edna O'Brien's previous novel, WILD DECEMBERS. Murder is again the story's climax, but the killer's motives are deeply buried in his psychoses rather than triggered by exterior conflict. Michen O'Kane loses his mother as a boy and by the age of ten is incarcerated for petty crimes in juvenile detention centers, "the places named after the saints." But his problems go beyond early loss and abuse - the killing instinct is already kindled in him. He is christened by fearful neighbors "the Kinderschreck," meaning someone of whom small children are afraid. As in Greek tragedy, there are unwitting victims for sacrifice in the Kinderschreck's world - a radiant young woman, her little son, and a devout and trusting priest, all dispatched to the forest of O'Kane's unbridled, deranged fantasies.
Taken from a true story, Edna O'Brien's riveting, frightening, and brilliantly told new novel reminds us that anything can happen "outside the boundary of mother and child," where protection isn't afforded. The villagers of IN THE FOREST see "one of their own sons, come out of their own soil, their own flesh and blood, gone amok." It is an intimate portrayal of both perpetrator and victims - a story that is old, and current, and everywhere.

I started into this novel with the wrong idea, thinking it would be a murder mystery—instead, I found a kind of murder documentary and it took me a while to get my mindset altered to properly appreciate it. I’m not sure I actually achieved that switch in outlook.

Based on an actual person and the murders he committed, In the Forest charts a life that has run off the rails. O’Kane starts life with mental illness, losing his mother, being brutalized by his father, and ending up in custody where things continue just as cruelly. When he is finally released, he returns to his home territory, hearing voices and determined to bring the same kind of horror to those who didn’t help him when he was a child.

We watch as he takes up residence in the forest (perhaps being wilderness as opposed to civilization) and takes the ultimate revenge on people who represent the things that he has desperately wanted: a little boy with a mother who loves him, a woman who would love him as an adult, and a male authority figure who is kind to him.

The writing is excellent, very evocative. I appreciated that the author did not describe the ultimate violence—however, I found that my imagination provided the details only too well. I will definitely be reading more of Edna O’Brien’s fiction in the future.

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