Thursday, 30 May 2013

Louis Nowra's Into that forest

Courtesy: Allen & Unwin
Prepared by Jenny C.

A cosy group talked through their views on Louis Nowra's Into that Forest. It tells the story of two young girls, Hannah and Becky, who are taken in by a Tasmanian Tiger couple when they find themselves lost in the bush after their boat capsizes and the adults with them, Hannah's parents, die.

We had different views on 'getting into the book': some found it compelling storytelling and were absorbed and others found it hard to return to the book. Some found the language a distraction. Another key detractor was credibility. For example, some thought the story itself unbelievable, or that the girls' responses seemed far fetched, or even that there were inexplicable inconsistencies (such as the sophistication of Hannah's thinking and memory, yet her language seemed so affected by her experience).

In terms of literary style, we noted the similarities between earlier work we have reviewed (Keri Hulme's The bone people) and it was suggested that this book could fit into the category of Young Adult fiction. It was also suggested that this is a highly visual novel, and that it could easily be crafted as a play.

We also discussed some of the behaviours exhibited by the characters and why they responded to the events. Becky's behavior seemed inconsistent, for example, and this was put down to the fact that her father was alive, and that she therefore had a reason to want to adjust to her human world. Hannah on the other hand knew her parents were dead, and we considered the possibility that her sense of being and emotional security was found through her connections with her thylacine family. It was also noted that there would not have been any counseling for PTSD at the  time of the story, and the difficulty Hannah and Becky must have experienced in overcoming trauma and finding a sense of self back in human society.

One of the themes we discussed was the animalistic behaviour portrayed by the girls, such as the adrenalin rush that came from the pack hunt, the kill and the fresh blood. Parallels were drawn between this great sense of fulfillment and the thrill that must come from well planned crime or other adrenalin filled adventures. The lure of the hunt (or crime) appears compelling in contrast to our mundane and unadventurous lives. We also wondered whether the author was commenting on the bravery and fearlessness of children, and their capacity to adapt in life threatening circumstances.

We complimented the author on his description of the bush. Some commented that they could smell and feel the bush, the descriptions were so vivid. The author really immersed the reader in the thylacine's world - we got to know them to some extent, and several of us felt a good deal of empathy for the animals (especially Corinna towards the end).

We were puzzled about the rationale for the book. Why did the author write this story? Why did he focus on thylacines and that era? Was it because modern children are so spoilt, privileged and unchallenged? We thought it would be good to research these issues and bring back some 'answers' at a future meeting.

Overall, most attending thought it was an absorbing tale and a compelling piece of story telling. We all agreed that the story line and concepts were thought provoking.


kate said...

Lovely to hear of the meeting ladies, as we take the train towards milan, the tasmanian bush seems a long way away.
I have just finished the book, and agree with the comments of how well he takes us into the bush, the smells, the sense of cold, hunger, smells and tastes are visceral. I found it compelling reading, even though its almost like reading a familiar tale: the story of the wild child which has been told and retold. It reminded me of Dogboy by Eva Hornung, we read a year or so back.

So the question is why did nowra tell this tale? I think that the focus on the thylacine is important, and giving the reader a real sense of how the thylacine lived (lives?) and their absolute dependence on their environment, and alertness to the natural world, and struggle for survival in an increasingly hostile world. We get to know the tigers through becky and hannah; as the girls start to se the world through the eyes of the tiger. the tigers are named: Corinna and Dave, and the tragedies that strike them are felt deeply by the girls and by us the reader.
The tigers are portrayed with great realism, but they are also mythical creatures, perhaps they still exist, perhaps we have lost them entirely. I think Nowra is portraying them as tragic victims of a world that could not see their value before it was too late... The tragedy of the tigers is contrasted with the human tragedy, of a father who does not give up on his daughter, but is unable to accept that she was saved by a wild animal that he persists in hunting.
I was also interested in the contrast with the portrayal of the tigers in this book, where the tiger actively saved the lives of the girls, and looked after them, whereas the tiger in the Life of Pi remained separate and unknowable.
I was not sure whether Nowra romanticised the tigers in some ways, but we were seeing them through the eyes of 6 - 11 year old girls...
So to me it was a deceptively simple book, which i found very thought provoking, with perhaps an environmental message of sorts, a tragic tale, of blindness and loss, and a wonderful insight into the habits of one of Australia's iconic creatures: the Tasmanian Tiger.

Sue T said...

Thanks for your comments Kate ... glad you enjoyed it too. We did mention Dog boy in our discussion too - there are a few similarities aren't there? We didn't though talk about Life of Pi - nice pickup regarding the difference there! I like your discussion of the Tiger/thylacine aspect. I liked the fact that there was - I agree with you - an environmental message there but that he didn't ram it down our throats. I suspect he also included the whaling aspect for that reason too. It makes it a good young adult read because they can explore these issues - historic whaling versus whaling now, hunting of the tigers and the impact of that. I think another theme is simply that one of what is it to be human, and how different are we, really, from animals.

Now, what are you reading next?