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on 28 July 2012
This is an odd book. At the outset, it promises the scrutiny of an idiosyncratic family, the way the individuals in that family develop, reproduce, age and, in some cases, die. It concentrates mostly on the minutiae of their lives, and jumps across time and space with alacrity. I could have done with a family tree, as I found it hard to know who was who, even, or especially - as offspring arrive - towards the end. I could also have done with more 'in depth' characterisation. I can't blame the author for this as her novel seems to have been deliberately constructed to provide a subtle, incredibly detailed montage of the superficial. It's not that her characters lack depth so much as are out of their depth; and the author clearly doesn't want us to be privy to what they don't know themselves, or if they do, don't like to think about. It feels as if, being closed off to each other, they have to remain closed off to us, too. Their behaviour is examined with searing precision; but we learn remarkably little of the thought processes behind it.

Essentially, the book is a series of moving tableaux, some in extraordinary detail, of episodes of ordinariness, punctuated by only occasional drama. I was left knowing more about the Forrest family as a disparate entity, thinly spread across two continents, stumbling through life, achieving little, than about any one of them as individuals. Maybe this was simply how they were. It certainly reflected their family dynamic of making less of a mark on the world than on each other.

There is little joy in this story, and a lot of quiet desperation. Although I prefer novelists knowing (and sharing) more about their characters than those characters know about themselves, so I can learn about each participant in depth, and understand why they act as they do, it is impossible to fault this book, which does none of these things. As others have mentioned, the writing is first rate, the observation chillingly precise, and the author certainly achieves what she set out to do, if that is to show that much of life happens without us knowing why, we are powerless to stop it, and that this does not make us happy.
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on 7 June 2012
The Forrests' is a clever mixture of family saga and the story of the life of Dorothy Forrest. It's also a book which seems to celebrate the ordinary and everyday in life, there's no major story arch, just the snap shot stories of a woman's life.

As we follow her from her childhood, and the slightly dysfunctional family that she comes from, we are drawn into her life through snapshots. Yet interestingly Dorothy isn't the omnipresent narrator or even the main protagonist that you might assume, that role often passes onto other characters. These are mainly her siblings like Eve, some who don't really appear in the book themselves, or like Daniel a boy who her mother `took in'. We often learn more about Dorothy when she is described by others or appears in everyone else's consciousness. It's one of those books which rely on what is `unsaid' about people and their actions leaving the reader to do a lot of the work.

I am not averse to making an effort with a novel at all, actually sometimes the books where the author allows the reader a freedom to move within the story and almost create some sort of collaboration between writer and reader can be my favourites. You feel trusted. However, my main issue with `The Forrests' is that there was almost too much effort to work out just what the heck was going on. Paragraphs and sections of the novel can shift viewpoint without you realising who is then talking. You also have small situation set pieces which, as the book is so much `a celebration of a normal life' if you will, seems to be in the book for no reason, they are just another event in Dorothy, Eve's or Daniel's life. Again some people will adore this, I found myself oddly frustrated and really trying to find out where the plot was, and I am often saying I can really enjoy a book that is has no plot but is simply observations of peoples/characters lives.

The writing is utterly beautiful, yet sometimes Perkins so wants to fill the book with words - which some people will love - the sentences can become never-ending. The style of the novel and it's drifting nature make it seem dreamlike, yet also, for me personally, meant I was sometimes unsure who in the Forrest family I was following and slightly unable to connect with any one character, especially Dot who the novel focuses on in particular from a midway point, yet she isn't developed enough at the start. I felt like I knew everyone else and what they thought about her, rather than me actually having connected with her in any way.

I liked `The Forrests' rather a lot in parts, I also felt equally frustrated by it. It's left me feeling rather like I am sitting on the fence about a book, which doesn't happen to me very often. I admired it greatly for its prose and style, even if I never quite fully connected with it.. Some people will love this book because the fact it is so dreamy and meandering, yet for the very same reason I can imagine some people might just loathe it. I guess it depends on how literary you like your novels. Odd analogy warning; but it reminds me of when I drank Cristal champagne, I knew it was special and refined and of exceptional quality, I just wasn't sure it was for me. One thing is for certain though, Emily Perkins can certainly write and its good that Bloomsbury Circus are trying to find authors who have missed out on some of the success they most likely deserve.
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on 29 May 2012
I listened to a review of this book on radio recently, and caught the review half way through. But from the moment I tuned in, I knew I had to read this book. I have not been disappointed. The writing is utterly beautiful; one minute focusing on the minutia of every day life, and the next panning out to years in just a few lines. I don't like reviews which tell you the plot line, so it is enough to say that this is a study of people over the journey of a life. It is a work of literary fiction, but enough happens that you are not just reading a character study. It is a saga, but not quite. The real joy is that you go through life with the main character Dorothy. It evokes very real pathos. I think anyone who has seen something of life will really engage with this story and appreciate its delicacies.
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on 1 August 2015
Enjoying very much. Well written. Can't put it down. Lived in New Zealand and Australia as a child and relate, particularly to the original era, to much that is in the book.
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on 2 June 2013
I'm only partway through this book, but it's a struggle to pick it up. So bogged down in minute details it takes a very long time to advance any sort of plot. Even with all the details, it seems to miss some key ones so that when there's a switch to a new scene you don't necessarily know what's going on.
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on 11 March 2013
Boring book. I don't know why I bothered to read to the end- probably hoped it would get better but it didn't
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