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Review: Emily Perkins- The Forrests

Wednesday 23 May 2012

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Words Spindle

Audiences are often disappointed by movie adaptations of beloved novels. “Oh but the book is better!” is a common cinema foyer complaint. The act of translating printed text into imagined film roll is often more affecting than watching any celluloid one.

There are few authors who engage with the cinematic capacity of our brains more acutely than Emily Perkins. In her brand new novel The Forrests, Perkins provides the reader with a rich collection of detail which burns the novel into the mind’s eye.

This is Perkins’ fourth novel and the second major release from publisher Bloomsbury’s fresh new Circus imprint. It arrives on a wave of hype. The Hay Literary Festival has tipped her for Booker glory; no marginal accolade when they so frequently back the winner.

The Forrests paints a portrait of the character of Dorothy as she ricochets about the various events of her life. We are first acquainted with her as a seven-year-old, arriving in New Zealand with her family from, “Oh my god the hub of the world, New York City”. Bohemian and penniless, they quickly settle into life in a commune on the outskirts of Auckland.

This is a tender evocation of human experience.  Although the book deals in the aches of circumstance and regret, it is often punctuated by humour.

With every chapter the years are advanced, visiting upon the reader a series of brief domestic moments. Each passage is so minutely realised they invite comparison to photographic snapshots.

What she leaves as the domain of the storyteller Perkins gains as breathing space for the micro. Given that most of Dorothy’s major life events are swept to the margins, her tale is no easy material for the big screen. Perhaps the only means of experiencing the subtleties of The Forrests is through Perkins’ kaleidoscopic language alone.

This is a tantalising and highly original offering from an author with a promising literary future.

The Forrests is published by Bloomsbury.

Words: Todd Atticus