Isn’t dying once enough? he thinks. Am I going to have to keep doing it? But then he thinks, No. Because you can die before you’re dead, too.[loc. 1132]
The book opens with a detailed description of Seth's death, drowning in an ice-cold sea. Then he wakes up, and is, as far as he can tell, in Hell.
It looks a lot like England, where he grew up. His family moved to Washington state after the bad thing that happened to his little brother Owen: but now he's back in his childhood home, and the town is deserted, and he is, he must be, in hell.
He's not entirely alone. He meets Regine and Tomacz, who warn him about some of the hazards of the place, and help him make sense of some of his memories. There was a boy he loved, who he thinks betrayed him: there was his difficult relationship with his parents, who neglected him in favour of Owen.
Or did they?
After a certain point in this novel, I was unable not to think of it as a variant on a well-known SF film of the 1990s: however, given that it's a YA novel, it's possible that the target audience won't make that association. And anyway, there are different issues being addressed here: teen suicide, relationships, sex and race and immigration, the nature of reality, the fallibility of memory, and why you should be careful about taking intimate photos on your phone.
Ness is an excellent writer, and his prose and the deceptive simplicity of Seth's experience carried me through the passages that I found less credible or less engaging. Seth's Hell may be in his own mind, but it's harrowing: Regina and Tomacz' experiences are just as grim, and just as grittily real.
I'd like to know which book Seth was reading, though:
he takes a book from the bookcase. It’s one of his father’s, one Seth has already read part of years ago, sneaking it from the shelf in America when his father wasn’t looking. It was far too old for him at the time and, he smiles wryly, is probably too old for him now. There’s large quantities of good-spirited sex, metaphors that run on just for the hell of it, and plenty of philosophical musing about immortality. There’s also a satyr who features heavily... He looks at the cover again. A satyr playing pan pipes, far more innocent-looking than what it got up to in the story. [loc 1457
This is bugging me! Any suggestions? John Fowles?