Eugenio Fuentes: The Depths of the Forest – El interior del bosque (1999)

El Interior del Bosque

In a guardian article on best crime fiction in English translation Ann Cleeves mentioned Eugenio Fuentes’ novel The Depths of the Forest – El interior del bosque. Since Stu‘s and Richard‘s Spanish Literature Month was upcoming and I’ve never read a Spanish crime novel before, I thought it would be an excellent choice.

The book starts chillingly with the POV of the first victim. Gloria, a beautiful painter, is hiking alone in Paternóster, a remote nature reserve, in Spain. She feels dread but since she’s all alone, there doesn’t seem to be any reason. A few minutes later she’s murdered brutally. This isn’t a spoiler. Her murder is revealed on the bokk cover and happens in the first few pages. The next POV is quite unusual. A rat finds Gloria’s body. The following paragraphs are written from the point of view of a group of young boys who torture scorpions and discover Gloria’s body. The POV switches again, this time we are in the head of Richard Cupido, the PI hired by Marcos, Gloria’s fiancé. Marcos is sure that the Guardia Civil, the local police, are not going to investigate thoroughly and hopes Cupido will find the murderer.

Most of the story is written from Cupido’s perspective but many chapters are told from the point of view of the many suspects. When a second woman is murdered there are even more suspects. In spite of these many different perspectives, the book didn’t feel disjointed.

Most of the men who came in contact with Gloria fell in love with her. And it seems that she had affairs with most of them. Was it a crime of passion? Or has it something to do with an ongoing lawsuit? El Paternóster used to belong to a rich widow who has been fighting to get it back for years. Did she take drastic measures to discourage the public from visiting?

Cupido turns in circles for a long time. He gathers information but it’s leading nowhere. And he becomes obsessed with Gloria himself.

Having finished the novel, I’m facing a huge dilemma. I want to be fair to a novel, which is clearly on the literary side of the crime spectrum, and would most certainly delight many readers, but at the same time I have to admit that this wasn’t for me. Not because it wasn’t good but because it contained a recurring scene of an act of cruelty against an animal (a deer) that made me sick. I skipped most of the parts but still read too much for my own liking. It wasn’t a gratuitous scene but nevertheless, I wonder why an author chooses to include scenes like this. I think this is too bad because if those scenes hadn’t been included I would have liked this book. I thought that all the aspects about nature and how people value it in different ways was thought-provoking and topical. From the nature theme we’re lead to think about human nature. Clearly, the cruelty is part of these explorations. Cupido is a complex character and most of the other character studies were quite fascinating too. The way Fuentes captured this nature reserve and its remoteness, was very well done. Fascinating and eerie at the same time. And I really wanted to find out who killed those women. But overall the novel was too pessimistic for my own liking. While I agree that humans are the most cruel animals in this world, I don’t want to read about it in this way. Or Nnot if illustrating this point includes scenes with cruelty against animals. If this doesn’t bother you and you like your crime novels unusual, literary and very bleak – don’t miss this.

This is my first contribution to Spanish Literature Month hosted by Stu and Richard.

The Depths of the Forest


20 thoughts on “Eugenio Fuentes: The Depths of the Forest – El interior del bosque (1999)

  1. This sounds chilling and the cover makes it seem even more so. I love it when crime novels are artistic and literary.

    I completely understand what you are saying about the issue with the animal. I would not be able to read this book for that reason.

    • I had no idea and would have wished I had known. I don’t think I would have read it. Then I hoped this would be the only instances but it was repeated in great detail later on.

  2. Hmm. I read a lot of crime novels and when I first started reading your post I was all set to add this to my wishlist or see if my library has it, but now I am not so sure. I am not fond of scenes like that, however, where there is cruelty to animals–sort of crazy perhaps since I would be reading about murder. I might look for it and if it is easily found give it a go as I have not read much Spanish crime fiction, but I might not go out of my way…. That is a very creepy cover by the way!

    • The cover is brilliant, isn’t it? It captures the eerie feel of the book. Those scenes shocked me. Now that you know, you can skip them. You get te drift without reading the details.
      I’m odd like that as well. I don’t mind reading about murder but torture is another thing. I can’t read about torturing people either. But this is one shocking scene.

    • It’s too bad because the way he uses POV is masterful, I think. And most of the book is great but those scenes were so shocking. I had to mention it as a warning.

    • I honestly wish I hadn’t read it. I can’t get it out of my mind. Unfortunately the most explicit version comes towards the end and you want to find out who did it and why.

  3. As a vegan and an animal rights advocate I wouldn’t want to read about animal cruelty in a novel either, but I wonder if it’s there in order to contrast the way we react to acts of cruelty directed toward humans and animals? It seems to me that we ‘accept’ brutality toward people much more readily when we read about it or watch it in films? I don’t read many crime novels because of the violence/murder themes, but a lot of readers do like them. I don’t know. It just seems that maybe the author was making a point with the deer?

    • He was making a point and it does make sense. It’s far from gratuitous but nonetheless it was a shocker.
      I find it less challenging to watch brutality against people than animals but when it comes to torture I feel the same.

  4. I hadn’t heard of this novel or novelist before, Caroline, so I particularly appreciate that you gave it such a thoughtful response. Some of the aspects relating to the victim sound like they could have been borrowed off Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Roseanna, an old Swedish police procedural I liked, and the changes in POV do sound appealing to me from a storytelling POV if you’ll pardon the expression. Am curious to see how you respond to Violet’s comment–the authorial intent to contrast how we relate to brutality against humans vs. other animals certainly sounds plausible, but then again some authors just don’t know where to draw the line. Brutality for brutality’s sake wouldn’t be all that appealing to many people, I’d imagine.

    • Richard, I think this is a novel you’d like – not that you wouldn’t be bothered by the scenes I mention but the writing is very good. I’m even tempted to look for another of his novels.
      Violet is up to something and I never felt he wrote those scenes just for the sake of shocking the reader. There are many different forms of violence in the book and they all mirror each other. It’s a canvas. If he had left them out the book wouldn’t be as dark – and maybe, funny enough, not as good. Still – I would have appreciated a warning and chosen another of his books.

  5. The cover is arresting and also the title (poetic, in a dark way). But it’s good to assess what happens to the overall effect of the book if the scenes you describe were deleted. I’m not yet sure if I like books to contain trigger warnings.

    • I was very torn while I read it. In a way the book needs those scenes, they are built in seamlessly but I found them very hard to read. I’m still not sure. Obviously I didn’t “like” it but that’s not the point.

  6. It sounds like the cruelty has a point, ie isn’t gratuitous, and i guess that answers the question as to why it’s there – nothing is off limits for an author and since cruelty to animals is part of the world it too is not off limits.

    I struggle myself to read it though, which makes your warning timely, but as you say the book wouldn’t otherwise have been as dark and we have to assume the author intended that darkness. You even say in your response to Richard that it might not have been as good, which makes sense because I suspect part of what made it so hard to read was that from your review Fuentes evidently can write.

    I do think Violet has a point. It’s noticeable that young women being brutally killed is evening television fodder, on pretty much every night of the week, whereas a drama showing dog (for example) being killed provokes outrage and letters of complaint. I dislike portrayals of animal suffering too, but I’m not sure our cultural acceptance of violence against people (mostly young women) but not animals speaks well of us.

    • As I wrote in my reply to Rise – those parts are seamlessly woven into the book.They don’t feel glued but it’s not for me and witha warning I could have avoided the book.
      It certainly is something to think about – why we accept cruelty agains people/women more easily. In my case it depends how it is done. I really doubt they would ever show anything like the description in the book – even done to a human – on TV – prime time that is. It was really hard to stomach. The interesting this is that it’s mentioned three times, always by different people and while all are upsetting, only one is unbearable.

  7. It seems like you’ve discovered a great writer, Caroline.

    I tend to be put off by gory scenes in books (I just skipped a few pages in a Gendron’s book that I found unbearable) and I can’t watch them in a film either. So I understand that you had such a strong reaction to the deer scenes.
    But since they obviously have a real purpose in the book and are not there just to appeal to the reader’s morbid tendencies for the sake of sales figures, it wouldn’t be enough to put me off this novel. My right as a reader is to skip those pages.
    I agree with Max. Cruelty to animals is part of this world and to avoid it in literature just to avoid upsetting readers feels like auto-censorship. What isn’t shown doesn’t exist? No way. An then, where does it stop?

    Like Max again, I have the impression sometimes that people have a higher tolerance for violence done to humans than to animals. It bothers me, a lot.

    • He’s a great writer and the problems were really my own. I think I was able to make that obvious. I think there is a difference whether you leave out cruelty against animals, something that exists, or whether you describe it in detail.
      But he wanted to show something and I can’t blame him for that. In a way, in describing it like this, he makes clear he disapproves of cruelty against people just as much. Not sure if I can make myself clear but that’s how it felt.
      In books and movies I do have a higher tolerance as well but in real life, for me it’s the same.

  8. Wonderful review of an interesting book, Caroline. Sorry to know that though you liked the book, that one scene put you off. I can understand how you feel. I read a couple of books last year in which a single scene spoiled the whole book for me, I don’t have a problem in writers exploring violence in their works, but I can’t take graphic descriptions of things that I find hard to stomach. I don’t think I would be comfortable reading those scenes that troubled you in this book. It was interesting to read Max’s thoughts on this – that we don’t have a problem watching violent scenes on TV. When I think about it I feel sad.

    • Thanks, Vishy. It did spoil the book. I felt really bad after reading those scenes. I still think it made some sense but why so detailed.
      I don’t do that well with violence on TV or against people either. But it’s true, as a species we seem to be hardened.

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