Compared to my usual diet of literary babyfood, Katie Kitamura’s second novel, Gone To The Forest, was a real challenge for me. I didn’t understand that it was an allegory until I was about two thirds of the way through (the only other allegorical novels I can think of are The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – not ideal.)
Katie is a New York based art critic and author. Her first novel, The Longshot, was about mixed martial arts fighting – a fast-paced, intricate sport with its own grace that Katie matches perfectly with her tense, punchy prose. In that astonishing debut, Katie proved, seemingly effortlessly, that it’s perfectly possible for a writer to inhabit characters of the opposite gender and make a world that’s alien to most readers feel completely real and utterly engaging.
She’s done it again with Gone To The Forest – a book that’s largely dominated by its male characters, but in a more subtle, obtuse way. We never know which country the action is set in – it’s a nameless colonised land populated by ‘natives’ and ‘white men’ (and their women, but they barely register – an omission that the author wants us to notice.)
The story traces the complicated relationship between Tom and his father, who is known only as 'the old man' and a young woman who interrupts their uneasy peace. The silent battle between the three of them on the family farm is echoed by a more bloodthirsty revolution which sweeps across the country with its violence. The natives want their land back and Tom is seemingly paralysed by the circumstances that surround him.
It's an unnerving book, but beautiful in a bleak, brutal way - images, people and the landscape linger long after you've finished reading it. Even though I don't think I understood many of the messages, I still found it thought-provoking, frightening and moving in equal measure.
Katie’s writing has been compared to Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy and she cites Siri Hustvedt as one of her literary inspirations (Siri incidentally describes Gone To The Forest as “A stark, urgent, beautiful novel.”)
I’ll be hosting a literary salon with Katie and her friend and fellow novelist Evie Wyld as special guests on August 5th. If you’d like more information visit pamflet.co.uk – hope to see you there!