Reasons She Goes to the Woods is a story about the childhood and adolescence of Pearl, and the relationships she has with her friends and family. Pearl’s mother is mentally ill, which obviously has quite a large impact on Pearl’s life, and Pearl gradually starts to try to replace her mother because she thinks she can do a better job as her father’s wife. It’s all a bit strange and fairly dark in places, but at the same time I couldn’t help feeling that Pearl’s situation was rather pitiable. I didn’t find her character unbelievable and in a way I think a lot of her actions were fairly understandable, which is perhaps what made the book so unsettling for me.
Structurally, the book is quite interesting as it’s told in a series of one page vignettes. Each of them gives a little snippet into Pearl’s life, but as the vignettes are so short we only get very short scenes or moments of Pearl’s daily existence. I think this is a really interesting idea and it did work well, but at the same time I think it’s quite a limiting structural method and there were times when I thought some of the scenes could have benefitted from being a bit longer. I also found it quite hard to keep track of the chronology and how much time was passing throughout the book, and I was never quite sure what age Pearl was meant to be. It wasn’t even always clear to me whether the story was being told in a linear fashion or whether it jumped about on the timeline, and I would have liked a bit more clarity on this.
I read this book for my book club, which is good because I don’t think I would have read it otherwise and I think it’s a really positive thing that book clubs can encourage people to read outside of their comfort zones. However, I wouldn’t say that I exactly enjoyed this book. I appreciated what it was trying to do and I thought it was structurally clever and interesting, but I really didn’t like the character of Pearl at all. It became clear towards the end of the book especially that she was mentally ill herself, which would have played a large role in her actions, but she was also incredibly manipulative and selfish throughout. She was fascinating to read about, but at the same time a lot of her behaviour towards her family and friends made me feel quite uncomfortable, which I wasn’t really expecting. She was clearly desperate for attention throughout, which was understandable considering the circumstances she found herself in and the amount of attention which was focused on her ill mother. I thought her long term plan to replace her mother was really unnerving though, and I didn’t really enjoy reading about the different ways she went about trying to achieve this by not letting her mother have her medicine and parading around in bikinis in front of her father. I was weirdly fascinated by it in a way, and I do normally enjoy being unsettled when reading about the stranger, darker side of human nature, but there was no pleasure at all to be gained in reading this book, for me at least. I know other people who have enjoyed Reasons She Goes to the Woods a lot more than I did, but it made me feel uncomfortable and even voyeuristic throughout.