Review Blog

Nov 01 2012

Into that forest by Louis Nowra

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2012, ISBN: 978 1 74343 164 6.
Suitable for older adolescent readers. This is possibly the most disturbing book I have read - not because I didn't like it but because I loved it. I was profoundly moved by the depiction of humans sharing in animals' lives, and deeply unsettled by the ease with which two young girls slip into an animal existence. Nowra raises important existential questions and, furthermore, he pays tribute to the animals eliminated by colonization.
Hannah and Rebecca are the only survivors of a tragic boating accident, while out with Hannah's parents in the ancient, deeply forested wilderness of Tasmania, are 'saved' by Tasmanian tigers, becoming part of their pack. The young girls name the tigers, yet, ironically, lose their human language. We are unsettled by reading graphic accounts of their sharing in the energy-rich freshly-slaughtered meat, their bodies and minds 'thrilled' in the burying of noses in bellies, of the super-high of drinking fresh blood, and of their warning 'mouth yawns'.
Hannah, reflecting on her survival, her essential difference to other people, her simple language, a legacy of the loss of human discourse during her formative years, and her struggle to learn to be human again, tells her story. Her deep grief for her friend's inability to adapt to the human world, as she speaks of Becky's father's long pursuit of the girls, is deeply emotive. Nowra suggests how thin is the line that places us 'above' animals, and how easily could we slip back: this is thread of Hannah's dark, heart-breaking narrative.
Elizabeth Bondar

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