A Whisper of Leaves is a novella that tells the story of Riko, a twenties-something girl who was raised in Australia, but whose parents are Japanese. She is currently living in Japan on a work visa, although she has just lost her teaching job because of a false sexual assault charge leveled at her by a government official's son. If she doesn't find a new job, she will be deported back to Australia. To get her mind off her problems, she decides to go hiking in the national park by Mount Fuji with her friend and roommate, Kiyomi. The mystery begins when they leave the hiking path at the smell of smoke and discover a strange old man kindling a fire in the woods. When they try to return to the path, Riko trips over something and discovers an old journal partially buried in the earth. She takes it with her and starts to read it, and as the story in its pages unfolds, strange things begin to happen to her. She can't decide if perhaps she is going crazy or if perhaps there is a supernatural explanation for everything that is happening to her. As her situation grows more dangerous and she becomes haunted by inexplicable events, she has to get to the bottom of the mystery quickly – or she might not survive long enough to be concerned about finding a new job.
I felt that this story started out a bit slowly for me. Although some explanation was necessary to establish the backstory of the characters, I probably would have liked to have a little less explanation at the beginning and more of a jump straight to discovering the journal. Having said that, the story does pick up quickly after that, and I especially liked the incorporation of poetry and journal passages into the text – it provided a nice contrast with the straightforward narration. The voice was very accessible to read and I think it would appeal strongly to a YA audience. It never gets too graphic, as a lot of modern horror tends to do, and it reminded me of classic teen horror stories I read when I was younger, à la R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike – hinting at danger, but never stepping too far over the edge and out of my comfort zone. I also enjoyed the exploration of cultural differences within a Japanese setting and incorporating Japanese beliefs/superstitions. The passages from the journal are particularly poetic and poignant, as they recall an earlier time in history, for example:
Mother still wore the Mofuku, the black of her hair was lost in the fabric when she bent to pour tea, but I
remember one day, right after Father died, she smiled. I had woven a scarf. She smiled and stroked my head.
Was it the last time she truly smiled? I don't know."
So for those readers who enjoy horror that is not all blood and guts, but incorporates more of the traditional elements of true suspense, this would be a good novella to pick up. I've read other work by Ashley Capes before, and I'd read more by him in the future.
I read a lot - depending on my writing schedule, I can usually read about a book a day. Some of the books are fantastic and I would love to recommend to everyone - some, not so much. Either way, I thought I would share a few thoughts on what I'm reading at the moment.