Luke Turner: Out of the Woods. Weidenfield and Nicholson. 288 Pages.
Kindle edition downloaded 24th January 2019. Kindle edition price £8.99
The brief book description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for January said “A powerful memoir, centred on Epping Forest, about sexual abuse, a religious upbringing and life as a bisexual man”.
From the Guardian’s monthly list, this is my first to review. I chose this book in particular because it took me out of my reading comfort zone (more of that later) but had an element of the familiar in that the writer identifies as queer.
In a professional capacity, I have reviewed books at the request of both publishers and authors. For those reviews, I focused on the usefulness of the book in helping to improve my profession or its utility in enabling students to understand how to become new and better professionals.
The Guardian carried an erudite and scholarly review by Sukhdev Sandhu published 17 January 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/17/out-of-the-woods-luke-turner-review
Sandhu both gives a snapshot of the book and critiques it, so there is little merit in me offering the same. I decided instead to focus on the utility of the book to me, as a reader. Did I enjoy it? Was the time spent on it a good use of time? Would I recommend it to others?
In the context of this book, I do not know the author or his work that his name would be a draw (I have subsequently read more about him), nor am I particularly interested in Epping Forest. I have little active interest in religion. As a lesbian feminist activist and scholar I have read more books about sexuality than I ever planned to and so these have also somewhat lost their place on my interest spectrum. It is safe to say this book did not call out to me, screaming to be read.
It is something of a surprise to me that I enjoyed Luke Turner’s book so very much. It is a deliciously rich and multi-layered text, beautifully crafted read.
At first, perhaps because it was the type of book I am not drawn to, I found it a little self-consciously literary and wordy but this may be because I had decided to dislike its ‘self-indulgence’ before I read it. It may be that it could have done with some further editing – I am unsure (though I did begin to play ‘pollard’ bingo early into my reading so very much did this word appear – so perhaps it did).
Despite my initial irritation with the book (which I own entirely as being nothing to do with the actual book and everything to do with my dismissal of memoir) I was quickly drawn into the craft of this story. Turner artfully blends complex discussion about self, history, identity, sexuality and nature into one narrative of discovery. He uses words so thoughtfully the story flows river like, and gently. This is an artistic, poetic use of words rather than being forensically exact in choices made. Whether one is emotionally reeling from stories of abuses of power against him, his connection to the forest or relationship changes, it is still experienced as opportunity rather than woeful/painful documentary.
Despite going into the realms of abuse, unfairness, confusion and breakdowns I was comforted by the refuge of nature that enabled Turner to find more solid ground, and assured me the reader that culturally we all became more evolved through the story Turner told/experienced/shared.
This was a bold and unusual book which I heartily recommend. Luke Turner is a wonderful wordsmith and I am in awe. Kudos to Weidenfeld and Nicolson for accepting it for publication.
Thanks also to the Guardian Literary Review calendar for alerting me to the book as one to look forward to from the January publication list: you were right.