Pearl is a young girl who lives with her mum and dad and her little brother who she refers to as ‘The Blob’. She’s growing, learning and experimenting. Sometimes this means that she does bad things like puts her baby brother on the sixth step of the stairs in their house to see what will happen to him or makes friends with Fee after giving her a Chinese burn and making her eat insect cakes made from mud. Sometimes she simply makes mistakes:
Pearl’s found her mother’s sharp scissors and is cutting an old jumper, but it won’t keep still….The Blob sucks his thumb and plays with a carpet tuft. Then he wants to get on the chair so Pearl bunks him up. Immediately he starts to scream. She grabs him. Blood is blooming on her dress, leaking from his leg. Pearl slaps her hand over his mouth so violently he stops, and realises that a point of the scissors has gouged a lump of flesh from his bare thigh.
Pearl’s punishment for this is her mother fixing a lock on her bedroom door. Pearl counters this by refusing to speak. It soon becomes evident that Pearl’s mother is struggling with issues of her own:
Pearl glances at her mother, who’s in her slippers, nightdress billowing out from her half-undone coat. Pearl thinks the flimsy pink fabric looks rude in the shop. As her mother picks up a bag of sugar, Pearl can hear her talking in an undertone, asking the sugar questions….Pearl lets go of the trolley and slinks off as her mother cradles the sugar and sings to it…
The relationship between Pearl and her mother forms one of the core elements of the book; as Pearl grows up and her mother’s mental health deteriorates further, their attachment becomes much more complex.
Going through adolescence is another key theme and Pearl’s sexual awareness is acknowledged at several different points in her development, as is her recognition of a dark presence lurking in life; this is illustrated by the skeleton girl who begins to visit her.
Reasons She Goes to the Woods is told in page-long, single paragraph vignettes. For most of the story, we are not told how old Pearl is, this information only being given to us once she reaches her late teens. This gives a sense of childhood passing in seeming timelessness, only those days where something important, upsetting or key to development earning a place in the story of youth.
I’ve written before about my ambivalence towards novels told from a child’s point of view, but I think this one works for two reasons: the child grows throughout the novel and it’s third person subjective, giving Davies license to write beyond the thoughts and sights of a young girl.
I thoroughly enjoyed Reasons She Goes to the Woods, I think it’s a brave book, in many ways. Unfortunately I think it will be overshadowed by Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing which covers similar territory while being more stylistically daring. It’s a real shame as Davies’ book is definitely worth a read.