The author of Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us and director of the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago in New Zealand investigates the motivations behind what he describes as the "call to oblivion," mixing research with personal reflection.
Treat the subject with overwrought earnestness and risk alienating your readers. Treat the subject with glib insensitivity and risk losing sight of its human cost. What’s remarkable is that Suicidal mostly succeeds in walking that line. Bering, trained as a psychologist, offers readers a fascinating amalgam of disciplinary knowledge and diverse source material. He draws on research studies from evolutionary psychology and animal behavior, along with interviews, historical records, and literary accounts ... Suicidal excels at extracting...juicy, intriguing detail from a range of fields and artifacts ... The author’s eclectic, stylized approach doesn’t always work. Some passages intended as humorous come off as rambling instead ... Tone-wise, there are more serious missteps. Bering sometimes relishes clever wordplay at the expense of human feeling ... I hesitate to recommend this book to readers who have been affected by suicide in such an intimate way. Because Bering approaches the topic with detachment and occasional levity, Suicidal seems to better suit curious onlookers, or at least readers who have a healthy distance from suicidal thoughts or events. Still, Suicidal is an original, if flawed, contribution to our often-simplistic popular narratives about killing oneself. Its value lies in acknowledging readers’ latent curiosity about suicide, while also bringing nuance—and a surprising measure of playfulness— to such a charged and solemn subject.
Some readers will be dismayed that Bering seems insensible to larger sociological concerns ... Suicidal contains no mention of economic inequality or the 2008 recession. For those interested in the nonbiological motivations for suicide, these are strange omissions. After all, to ignore the extent to which depression and suicide are responses to the larger culture is to assume that the deprivations of our moment cannot be amended ... Given Bering’s dogged fatalism—his personal mantra is 'nothing matters'—the question of whether people feel this anxiety now strikes him as retrograde and impertinent. This despite evidence that many do. ... For Bering, parsing the etiology of a person’s mental health leaves little room for the musty errand of ideological contemplation.
...disturbing but compelling ... [Bering's] remit is broad, not just teenage suicides but across all ages, and he builds towards his conclusions on a solid basis of academic research (mainly others, not his own) that throws up some arresting statistics ... Bering also writes from the inside as one who, since his teenage years, has, at times, felt what he refers to as the 'call to oblivion' ... But...this otherwise admirable book comes up short. Bering chooses to end with an overly simplified appeal to those thinking about suicide for whatever reason ... go and seek out another human being who can acknowledge your suffering.