Reasons She Goes to the Woods (Oneworld 2014) by Deborah Kay Davies is a poetic and literary marvel, a jigsaw of vignettes in the life of one girl, Pearl, that fit together to form a strange, unsettling and haunting portrait of Pearl’s childhood as she attempts to find her place in the world.
The structure of this novella is the first noticeable thing: each short, sharp chapter is exactly one page long, printed on each right-hand page of the book. Each chapter is a perfectly formed scene in Pearl’s life, with titles such as Opportunity, Shed, Clearing Up, All Better, Zip It or Clump. Random titles that nevertheless ring with meaning once you finish reading that page.
Remember that childhood rhyme? When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid! Pearl can be good but more often she is very bad. She is odd, strange, weird and selfish. She has bad thoughts about her sick and depressed mother, her struggling father, and her long-suffering brother, whom she calls The Blob. Pearl regularly escapes to the woods, the only place where she feels most at home, but the things she does there – alone, and to others – are dark and sinister, sensual and secretive.
The characterisation of Pearl is magnificently rendered. She is not someone easily forgotten. She is so strange and disturbed, and disturbing. She will get under your skin. One minute she is a vulnerable and emotionally abused little girl; the next she is a changeling determined on revenge and blood lust. She is an enigma and a mystery. Her feelings, behaviour and motivations towards her mother, her father and her brother, and her friends, are deeply disconcerting. There is something amiss within her, something missing in her, and throughout this book we are never quite sure what it is, although its menacing presence trembles in the shadows.