‘The Forrests’ by Emily Perkins

You’ll either love, love, love Emily Perkins’ sinuous, dreamy writing in her newest novel, The Forrests, or you will find her style unbearably tedious. I loved it.

The Forrests is the story of a family, told mostly through the eyes of Dorothy (Dot) Forrest. It begins when she is seven and, along with her parents, brother Michael and sisters Eve and Ruth, we see the family move, change and experience happy and sad times. But calling this simply a ‘family saga’ does not do justice to Perkins’ extraordinary style of storytelling.

The story is not linear – you move in and out of Dot’s life at various points, little clues letting the reader fill in the gaps of what has happened. I like this technique – it’s difficult to pull off without either leaving too many questions or filling in so much detail you may as well have written the whole story.  Perkins makes it work beautifully.

The first thing that struck me about The Forrests was Perkins’ sentences. They’re layered, long, mesmerizing, sumptuous. I was reminded of Carrie Tiffany telling me that she doesn’t tell people she’s working on her novel, she says that she’s “…working on her sentences.” I suspect Perkins does the same however where Tiffany pares them down to the basics, Perkins adds another thought, phrase or element. The end result is that some of her sentences in The Forrests are long. Very long. Like half a page long. But very, very lovely long. For example -

“The tangibility of the mini stegosaurus and cloth doll, the need to remove them from the floor before someone turned an ankle or broke the wing off a kitset aeroplane, the silver light in her eyes after pulling the curtains, the lid of the fish-food jar to replace, the rumpled pillows and sheets to straighten, bedside books to pile, the papery skin of oatmeal that lined the saucepan as porridge thickened on the stove, the facts of rubbish and buying a board for Amy’s science project and letting gorgeous, leggy Grace cycle off without laying anxiety shit all over her independence and knowing already how much she was going to miss that girl and school bells and bus timetables and volunteer morning with crossing duty, these things saved her.”

Epic, isn’t it?!

I don’t normally like too much detail but after reading this book I think what I actually don’t like is frivolous detail that doesn’t genuinely add to your reading experience. This is how Perkins immerses the reader in the story -

“Tiny pockmarks left by the asphalt on the heels of palms. The whirl of blue sky and black ground. The hot-metal smell from the pole on the adventure playground, the taste of metal on her fingers.”

I have to admit I have jammed my Kindle ‘Clippings’ with dozens of similar, exquisite quotes.

I particularly liked Dot’s insights on parenting, marriage and ageing. You know that Dot followed her head, not her heart, with her choice of husband, Andy. There’s an early, throw-away and mocking reference to him and then, a chapter or two later, she has married him. Dot knows he’s “a provider” and she goes on to fill their empty marriage with lots of children.

“Adulthood was like this – your voice calm, your face normal, while inside, turmoil, your heart still seven, or twelve, or fifteen.”

and

“She had mistaken being busy for being involved.”

I can’t believe that I almost got through this review without a mention of Daniel, the character that much of the story revolves around (despite the fact that he is mostly absent). I’ll leave you to discover the role of Daniel for yourself but will say that I thought the ‘what if?’ element was a masterstroke – it certainly had me thinking about past relationships and the direction my life could have taken had some choices been different.

This book is sweet, delicate but deliciously complex – match it with a similar dish – Maggie Beer’s saffron poached and roasted pears.

5/5 Perkins has a distinct style. It’s magical and utterly absorbing. Lose yourself in this wonderful book. And to finish, here’s Dot’s thoughts on reading - “How did women go about the world on their own without books? You saw it, but she would never understand.”

6 responses

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