Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

Three years ago, after I read Deborah Kay Davies’ first novel I wrote that I was a little disorientated. That I was moved, puzzled, disturbed, asking questions, and not quite able to let go.

I could write exactly the same words about this, her second novel.

First time around she wrote of a grown woman, and this time she wrote about a girl at a very particular point in life, the point of transition from childhood to adolescence.


This is Pearl’s story.

It is told in 121 episodes, and every one of them is exactly one page long. Between each episode is a page that is blank, save a title for the next episode. Those breaks are important – a time to think and draw breath – because Pearl’s narrative is so intense.

She is acutely aware of being alive in the world, for Pearl everything is visceral.

And Pearl is disturbed. Whether she was made that way or whether her circumstances made her is an unanswered question.

The picture emerges slowly: her mother has serious mental health issues; her father isn’t dealing with the situation and is close to despair; and her brother is far too young to understand.

Is that Pearl’s fault? Her mother thinks it is.

Pearl can be lovely and she can be horrid. Does she see the world differently? Does she understand what she is doing?

I changed my mind so many times as I read.

The prose was wonderful. Rich, evocative, dreamlike, visceral, and wonderfully controlled.

The story was disturbing, but it was proufound, and it really was an extraordinary piece of writing.

Now though, I’m ready to let go …..

Bookish Thoughts as the Year Ends

Try as I might I can’t distill a year of wonderful reading into lists.

But I can answer a few questions from The Perpetual Page Turner

Best Book of 2011

I have read some wonderful books this year, but if I have to single out just one, the book closest to my heart is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Worst Book of 2011

Oh dear. It has to be What They do in the Dark by Amanda Coe. It started beautifully, it had so much potential, but good ideas were ruined as things were taken much, much too far.

Most Disappointing Book of 2011

I have loved Susan Hill‘s crime novels in the past but I was disappointed in her most recent, The Betrayal of Trust. The plot and the characters came a very poor second to themes that the author clearly had strong feelings about but pushed much too hard for me.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2011

The idea of a novel in verse scared me, but Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles was a Persephone Book, it had appeared in a library sale, and so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. And I found a troubling story quite brilliantly told.

Book Recommended Most in 2011

I found Ten Days of Christmas by Gladys Bronwyn Stern in a bargain bin. It had no dust jacket, no synopsis, and so I did a few searches to try to find out more, but I couldn’t find anyone who had written about it. So I read, I wrote , and I’ve noticed a good few people have ordered copies and a couple more reviews have appeared. I really am thrilled.

Best Series You Discovered in 2011

I read and loved The Return of Captain John Emmett last year, and so I was eager to read Elizabeth Speller‘s second novel, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. I was surprised, and delighted to meet Lawrence Bartram again, to see his story progress, and to notice some very interesting hints about where his story might go next.

Favourite New Author in 2011

I’ve found a few new authors I want to keep tabs on, but if I’m going to pick out one I think it must be Rachel Hore. I read The Gathering Storm, I fell in love with her writing, and now I have an intriguing backlist to explore.

Most Hilarious Read in 2011

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there’s something about Molly Keane, Time After Time was dark, sad, grotesque, and yet very, very funny.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2011

I was intrigued and confounded by True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies. I just couldn’t work out who this woman was, why she did the things she did.

Book Most Anticipated in 2011

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple was surely the most eagerly waited reissue of 2011. And it more than lived up to some very high expectations.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2011

Most Memorable Character in 2011

Oh, Miss Ranskill! I shall never forget you, and I shall never forget The Carpenter. Barbara Euphan Todd told your story so well in Miss Ranskill Comes Home.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2011

That would be a book I’m still reading. Vanessa Gebbie’s novel, The Coward’s Tale, uses words – their meanings, their sounds, their rhythms – quite brilliantly. I even find myself reading with a Welsh accent …

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2011

I was intrigued from the first moment I saw No Surrender by Constance Maud. A suffragette novel! I realised how little I really knew, and this book has inspired me to find out more – The Virago Book of Suffragettes is now sitting on the bedside table.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2011 to Read

I can remember seeing Mary Stewart‘s books on the library shelves years ago, when I moved up from the junior to the adult library, but it wasn’t until this year that I read one. It was Thunder on the Right, and I loved it …

… a wonderful year of reading … and now it’s time to start another …


True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies

I am a little disorientated.

You see, Deborah Kay Davies picked me up and pulled me into the mind of another woman. I couldn’t quite understand her, her circumstances, her emotions, her actions, but I cared, and I wished that I could.

And now I am back. Moved, puzzled, disturbed, still asking questions, and not quite able to let go.

She worked for the DWP. Dealing with the public. A soul-destroying job. She must have seen the worst side of human nature rather more often than the best.

She saw a man. An ex convict. A man with a past. Not good. But something pulled her towards him. I could only think that it was a coup de foudre. Their relationship was quickly consumated in the car park and he took over her life.

I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to shake her. Where was her mind?

But she tumbled into an abusive relationship with a manipulative, controlling man, who treated her like dirt, but knew how to keep her hanging on.

She lost everything. Her parents. Her friends. Her job. Her possessions.

At first I thought she was just a stupid girl, who didn’t think, who didn’t know where to draw the line. Who had no self esteem.

But then I began to wonder.

She had a decent job, her own home, enough resources no not panic when her job disppeared. How did she get to where she was? What had happened in her past?

Her parents were worried, but they didn’t know what to do, how to reach out, how to help. Were they simply older parents who hadn’t quite understood the ways of the modern world? Or did they have particular reasons to worry for their daughter?

And then there was her friend. A good friend who tried to talk sense, who did her best for her. That I had to applaud. But why would she leave her child with her friend when she was in such a mess. There was definitely something, some understanding. What did she know, what did she see, that I didn’t?

I sawa woman, breaking down. A woman in trouble. 

At first I thought she was young and stupid. But then I thought maybe she was older and troubled.

Who was she? Where did she come from? 

Was she damaged or stupid or both?

Would she realise she was in trouble? Could she change things?

It takes real skill for an author to pull you into a book like this, to places you really don’t want to visit. Deborah Kay Davies does just that, and does it brilliantly.

Her style is direct, literate and very, very readable. There is a lot of darkness, but there are flashes of light, moments of black humour, and some wonderful, wonderful descriptions.

I wanted to read on. I wanted to scream at this maddening, infuriating woman, to somehow make her see reason. I wanted to do something.

And now it is over, but she hasn’t left me, and my mind is still buzzing.