8th Jun 2012
The Forrests by Emily Perkins
Emily Perkins has garnered an impressive collection praise and awards for her short stories (Not Her Real Name won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize) and novels (Novel About My Wife, recipient of the Believer Award).
Esther Freud has described her as “brimming with talent” and the literary broadsheets have been falling over themselves to heap accolades upon her.
With an upcoming stint at Hay Festival ahead of her and a guest spot at popular literary night The Book Stops Here, Perkins seems to be teetering on the brink of wider recognition and success. So how does The Forrests measure up to the growing hype surrounding it’s author?
Unfortunately this vivid, enthralling family drama is not robust enough to stand up under the weight of expectation. The reader is left with the impression that they have just been told a good story in a hurry and that somewhere along the way the author forgot why she started telling the story at all.
Focusing on the Forrest children and their friend Daniel; the narrative moves between the two older girls, Dot and Eve, as they grow up in the chaotic home created by their ex-pat parents. When their father returns to America, to beg more funds from unforgiving relatives, their mother takes them to live in an all-woman commune.
Up until this point the story appears to be full of promise and the Forrests summer in the commune recalls the best aspects of Perkins’ fellow Australsian writer, Miles Franklin.
Atmospheric and yet fast-paced, anticipation builds and the reader feels assured of a breathtaking voyage throughout the trials and tribulations of this eccentric band of children.
Except the story keeps going – Frank the father comes back and reclaims his family – and going – both Eve and Dot have love affairs with Daniel – and going – both marry men who aren’t Daniel – and going- they have babies – and going.
Perkins demonstrates considerable narrative skill throughout the lifetime of Dot, who quickly becomes the main focus of the novel. Childhood is covered in concentrated, highly visual snippets, leading to scattered episodes throughout early-adulthood, meandering prose as Dot’s life decisions begin to sink in and finally a boundary-free inner monologue as her life comes to an end.
Sadly by this point most readers will have lost interest; The Forrests‘ early promise dissipates within the first hundred pages of the book and the rest maintains the feeling of a story told far too many times.
Rating: 3/5. It loses its way rather quickly but still very atmospheric and hauntingly familiar.
Other recommended reading: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. Sybylla Melvyn is a heroine par excellence.