13 July 2022

Review: Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies book cover

I don't know what I just read. Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies is presented in a series of vignettes and is about a girl called Pearl. Each right hand page (in my copy) is a vignette from Pearl's young life, headlined by a brief chapter heading or title on the opposite page. This makes for a quick read, but the vignettes are heavy and force you to consider what's really going on.

Pearl is a troubled girl and I found myself wondering if she's a sociopath, psychopath or suffering from antisocial personality disorder. Perhaps she's just evil? The author's lyrical writing style put me immediately in mind of Sundial by Catriona Ward, in her ability to create an incredibly creepy young girl. When reviewing Sundial earlier this year, I wrote that it was a 'slow burn, disturbing and unsettling read with a hostile undercurrent' which readily applies here.

The prose in Reasons She Goes to the Woods is spellbinding, and Pearl's visits to the woods are full of evocative nature writing which did well to offset some of the tougher scenes. Meanwhile, there is a constant underlying feeling of menace and mounting dread about what Pearl will do next.

Some of Pearl's childhood antics are relatable, and I especially enjoyed the eating competition:
"I will choose two items of food for each of you, she explains, you have to eat them without throwing up. They all think this is a great idea, and start boasting to each other about how they are never, ever sick." Page 133
Pearl chooses a 'blob of corned beef and a teaspoon of cough medicine for Fee', while the kids load up the spoon for Pearl:
"Soon the big spoon is towering with, among other things, a soft sprout, peanut butter, a slick of Vick's rub, a prune and a crumbled stock cube." Page 133
I could totally relate to this game, although in my day it was a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of Vegemite or a full glass of water. What fun!

Published in 2014 and going on to win various awards, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies is literary horror and while the writing is spectacular, I can't say I enjoyed reading it. The lack of dialogue punctuation and page-long paragraphs certainly irritated and Pearl is a sensual and disturbing character. Those who remember watching The Good Son (starring Macaulay Culkin) will be shocked to find Pearl is even worse.

I borrowed Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies from the library and I'll be glad to send it down the return chute and on to the next reader intrigued by the sinister yet alluring blurb.

My Rating:

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