Book Review: Cliffs of Despair A Journey to Suicide's Edge

A four-mile stretch of cliff face known as Beachy Head, England has the unusual distinction of being the world’s third most popular suicide location behind Aokigahara Woods in Japan and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. More then 500 people have lost their lives at Beachy Head in the last 40 years, an average of 13 annually, mostly suicides. The site has an allure that has seduced mankind throughout history as Hunt discovered during his research, citing the Louis de Bernieres quote, “This beautiful place openly invites you to die.”

Hunt’s schizophrenic brother-in-law committed suicide with a bullet to the head, an act which understandably left the entire family with plenty of unanswered questions. When Hunt came across a newspaper article about the suicides at Beachy Head, England it sparked an interest that eventually led him across the Atlantic to investigate the site for himself. What follows is an insightful read as Hunt tours the surrounding countryside, tromping the footpaths, meeting with the locals, rescue personnel, newspaper editors and surviving family members. He feels for himself the deadly pull the cliffs can exert, a force he dabs the imp of the perverse. It’s a strong inner impulse that would have one reaching into the tiger cage to stroke the giant cat even though you know it will take your arm off.

This is less a book about suicide and more a tale of those left to cope with the aftermath. Hunt examines the impact of the numerous suicides on the people who live and work in the area. It also raises the inevitable, troubling question “why?” Although general details are given about specific suicide cases, at no time does this become a macabre bit of ambulance chasing sensationalism. Hunt treats these tragic people with nonjudgmental respect and in the process creates a fascinating look at one of the world’s most interesting locations.

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