Told in a series of vignettes, each no longer than a page, Reasons She Goes to the Woods charts episodes from the childhood of Pearl, a 'normal' girl. I would question what's considered normal here because she is more often than not bad, cruel or violent than good, kind or nice. She certainly does certain things that I'd consider as normal, especially when she plays outdoors, whether it be in her garden alone or with her kid brother or one or more of her friends, or in the titular woods behind her house, and there is good reason for her finding contentment in her own world, as an escape from her home life and to keep herself occupied. But she can do things which make for uncomfortable reading and are downright vicious and nasty and you have to wonder where that comes from. You do get a sense for why she might be more bad than good as a result of her parents' treatment of her, in particular her mother's, but the mother is battling demons, only one of which is her daughter. I didn't get much of a sense of Pearl's father and really wanted him to be a stronger character, given how much Pearl looks up to him and adores him. But Pearl's mistreatment or neglect at home only goes part of the way towards explaining her behaviour sometimes and I don't know if it ever excused it. I don't think the author ever set out to excuse or explain it either but there is a lot here that makes for uncomfortable reading simply because it isn't put into a wider context because of the way the book is structured.
I liked the idea behind that structure - I think a lot of people, not just children, will hold memories in a series of kaleidoscopic episodes that don't always fall into chronological order when remembered, and that is what happens here. I believe we're rarely told Pearl's age, although you can try and work it out from events in her life and what her concerns are to a certain extent, but overall that didn't help me when I was wondering if the behaviour she exhibits was the behaviour of a 'normal' child or not. It's hard to say when you only catch glimpses of that child and don't know the age of that child at the time. All we know is that she's a bright girl albeit one who sees school as fairly pointless until revision time. Admittedly, the reader can gain a better sense of Pearl and her family situation as the book progresses and more of the episodes build up in layers upon each other but there is still a lot that is left unexplained or just out of reach and it all ends rather abruptly. Another interesting and challenging read from Deborah Kay Davies.
on 8 May 2014
Pearl being the name of the main protagonist. Pearl is a combination of Damien from the Omen and Lolita and has what you would call an electra complex - being in competition with her mother for the attentions of her father. So far, so disturbed. Now, I realise as a grown woman, the trials and tribulations of girlhood are now far behind me but this sgtory is in no way describing an average girlhood. I don't know many little girls who would jump off a tree in the full knowledge and willingness to break their leg. Parade around in a bikini for their father and push their mother into oncoming traffic. This is beyond any "acting up" by a child I've ever heard of.
Most disappointingly however, is that the woods themselves feature only fleetingly. Sure, we know Pearl goes down there now and then but the book largely revolves around her increasingly disturbing behaviour at home and with friends. I just didn't get any real sense of why they were so special to her. I think the writer missed a trick here and it could have added so much to the book. As it is, it's just a story, told in vignettes of a problem child. This is not a tale of a bratty child growing up, it's a tale of a severely disturbed child.
Told in a series of vignettes, Reasons She Goes to the Woods follows the childhood of Pearl, a spiky, feisty and increasingly manipulative little girl. I wasn't entirely sure if the vignette format would allow me to become immersed in the character's worlds, but I quickly found that the short sharp views into Pearl's world had a way of capturing your attention, and leaving you wanting more. Deborah Kay Davies describes Pearl as a 'normal' little girl. I'm not sure how much of this is true. Certainly I recognised much of the independence and gutsiness of a tomboy in her, and I also found her more violent, manipulative tendencies, particularly where concerns her close friends somewhat reminiscent of my own experiences with childhood bullies. However, as the story processes these childish tendencies develop into something more unsettling. I felt that there were paralells to be drawn between the progression of Pearl's mother's condition and Pearl's own behaviour. Certainly Pearl's neglect at home goes some way to explaining some of these characteristics, but I felt that there was much that was left unexplained in this, and that Pearl's relationship with her mother, in particular, occasionally crossed the line into the downright sinister. Her relationship with her father, which at times took on oedipal overtones, also made for unsettling reading at times, as Pearl crossed the boundary between daughterly devotion into something else. Despite this however, she proves to be an engaging central character, and Kay Davies' writes beautifully. Overall I found this to be an engaging and compelling read.
on 21 May 2014
The Reason I wanted to read Reasons She Goes To the Woods is because I read True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies a few years ago and very much enjoyed it. I have been waiting for Deborah to publish another novel ever since I finished reading True Things About Me.
Reasons She Goes To the Woods is about a very naughty little girl named Pearl. The things does to her baby brother will make you cringe and feel totally sorry for her baby brother having a sister like Pearl.
Pearl bosses her friends about being very cruel to them and making them do things that are totally gross.
As you read on you are willing the characters to say no to Pearl and to say no I am not doing that.
But no one will stand up to her and her friends just seem to do exactly whatever Pearl says
.Pearl's mother is a strange mother and pearl does not seem to like her own mother, but she adores her father.
I totally loved all the characters and whole story by Deborah Kay Davies. I cannot wait for Deborah's next novel. I hope that all readers who read this story enjoy it as much as I have.
on 20 October 2015
A great quirky book. Davies’ imagination is quite extraordinary. Each short chapter is a title and one page of text. The protagonist, Pearl, is fatally eccentric and honest. She has a younger brother whom she calls The Blob and both mistreats but also protects, tearing ‘a wet tufty clump of scalp’ from her brother’s tormenter and puts ‘the clump in her shorts pocket’. It is the latter detail that is so clever.
The range of characters is endless as are Pearl’s actions and repartee: the boy with one overlarge eye staring at her. ‘Why don’t you look at me, he asks. Am I too ugly. Yes, Pearl answers.’ Pearl and her gang have there special game of ‘Kick, Kiss or Torture.’ And much much more.
It is Pearl’s unswerving honesty and wayward imagination that amuses and fascinates. And there are moments of absolute brutality, notably to her best friend Fee, and her increasingly mad mother.
Pearl’s eccentricity eventually segues into a story of madness and an utterly brilliant last line.
This ‘novel’ is immediately notable in that it plays out as a series of discrete one-page episodes instead of chapters 'proper'… a sequential run of little vignettes, each detailing the experiences that make up the heroine Pearl’s childhood. Taken together, this is the story of her chaotic journey towards adolescence, told out in a series of miniatures. This approach works because Pearl is a difficult child to say the least… occasionally very nasty, psychotic perhaps (the reader is left to decide)… and her life story suits being depicted disjointed ‘episodes’ because they somehow capture the vividness of her behaviours. But the solitary-page approach also feels fragmented at times, because it’s a fairly restrictive way of telling a fulsome story, especially given the weighty subject matter at the heart of the book: the amorality of children in their nascent sexuality. Engrossing nevertheless, and the end result is a highly original, complex portrait of growing-up.
This is terrific. Original, offbeat, short and bitter-sweet. It's increasingly difficult to do anything interesting with the closed formula of the modern novel but Deborah Kay Davies pulls it off admirably with chapters that are more like snippets from a dream and a brilliantly realised sense of growing menace. For anyone looking for something slightly more challenging than the latest 'Gone Girl' rip-off, this is highly recommended.
Reasons She Goes to the Woods is written in an unusual style and I'm not sure I personally like it.
Pearl is the Heroine in this novel. When Pearl is good, she is very good but then the other side of Pearl is horrid. She is cruel and vindictive to everyone except her Father.
Reasons She Goes to the Woods, with its one page chapters, known as Vignettes is the story of Pearl from childhood to adolesence. The title refers to the "Woods". I asked myself throughout the novel whether the woods were actually outside, or whether they were actually inside Pearl's head.
This is a story of a child - Is she wild or is she Psychotic - you decide I did.
Did I like this book? No, I don't think it's likeable at all. Was I intrigued by this book? Yes, I was. Did I understand this book? Yes and No. The book itself is written in short, staccato bursts, which are very effective I think. Pearl is a damaged soul, and as her background, her family life, is revealed to us, you begin to understand why. This book makes for very uncomfortable reading, is not a 'nice' book, but is highly effective in portraying Pearl and her issues, which are many. It is extremely well written, is quite shocking in its bluntness, and does leave a bit of a nasty taste! Not to everyones' taste, but still highly readable I think.
This novel's fabulous title finally tempted me to give it a go, and how I wanted to like it. Deborah Kay Davies is clearly a gifted writer, and her evocations of a small girl exploring the woods are spot on both in terms of the psychology of small girls and the geography of woodlands: 'the stream's breath smells of bright weeds, frogspawn, lichened pebbles... Circular, swirling eyes come and go on its surface... Pearl's shorts and pink sun-top all feel so stupid. She wades into the water, her sandals growing heavy, and waits for the stream to settle.' And, a little later on in Pearl's childhood: 'The sun is jabbing through the foliage like knitting needles, pointing out beautiful things. Bursts of golden light dart and pool in amongst the leaves. Her eyes are sore and swollen. Everything has a pink tinge. It's weird, and the woods start to look wrong, so she throws her voice up to the trees' heads.' As a very small child, the short vignettes from Pearl's life are fascinatingly well-observed. I'm wary of child narrators, but even I had to admit that Davies handles these snippets well, simultaneously capturing the eerie dangers and fantastic adventures promised by the woods.
Unfortunately, Reasons She Goes To The Woods does not fulfil the promise of its opening sections. One major issue is the form of the novel. I think restrictive forms can often be very good for writers - Eleanor Catton certainly made it work in The Luminaries - but by choosing to tell Pearl's story not only in brief vignettes but vignettes that all have to be more-or-less the same length, Davies has saddled herself with an impossible task. This almost works when Pearl is a small child, as the brief sections mirror the short attention span of a three- or four-year-old, but the natural lengthening the reader expects as Pearl grows into a teenager is necessarily absent. Rather than sinking deeper into Pearl's world, the reader feels increasingly alienated and confused. Secondly, I found that Pearl herself became a less interesting character as she grew older - although perhaps she was imprisoned in the novel's form. The originality of her depiction as a small child gives way to something that feels much more familiar; an amoral, unforgiving, judgemental and rather Freudian girl caught between childhood and adulthood. Especially near the end of the novel, I had the sense that Davies was grasping for fairy-tale resonances, but - having never had much patience with Bruno Bettleheim's Freudian readings of fairy-tales - I felt that this all fell rather flat.
I can't see this on the Baileys shortlist, largely because it promises so much more than it delivers. However, the quality of the writing was evident throughout, and I'll be seeking out more of Davies's work.