Not seeing the forest for the trees

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Forest Dark

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. But how about a book’s inside cover? Even the back of the jacket for that matter?

In the case of Nicole Krauss’s latest novel, Forest Dark, what you get on the inside and back covers is very persuasive, indeed. And when it is praise coming from some of the most respected writers working today (Philip Roth, J.M. Coetzee, Ali Smith), you can’t help but take notice.

With all this hype to live up to, Forest Dark was always going to have a tough time of it from those looking to burst its critical bubble. And unfortunately, the weight of expectation proves to be too much for Krauss here.

The interwoven stories of Jules Epstein and an unnamed writer, who both come to Israel seeking transformation and an escape from family responsibility, is an engaging enough conceit, but these narrative threads never come together in a way that is truly satisfying.

The profound insights that you expect to find never materialise, and what you are left with is a feeling that Krauss herself was fumbling around for something meaningful to say. Instead, the pleasures of story are buried beneath the weight of all this metaphysical posturing.

While Krauss’s brisk and deft sentences making for an easy read, the prose isn’t versatile enough to support her two main characters. Whether we are hearing from Epstein or the writer, the narrative voice appears very much the same, which is a problem when you are dealing with a male and female character, of different ages, and from different occupations. Krauss is much stronger when it comes to the writer character (whom one suspects is the author’s surrogate), but Epstein never really convinces as an ex-lawyer undergoing an existential crisis.

Ultimately, the novel suffers from its own ambition to reach for something profound. What we get, instead, is a book full of ideas that doesn’t really say much.  Chris Prindiville

 

‘Forest Dark’ is out now through Bloomsbury and is available at bookshops across Australia.

RRP $24.99 for trade paperback.