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Into the Forest (1996)

by Jean Hegland

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,4004610,359 (3.88)54
Two sisters survive a near-future apocalypse and retreat into a forest where they relearn what it means to be human.
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» See also 54 mentions

English (45)  French (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
I really didn't like this book...It's been a while, but I remember disliking the writing, not buying into the premise. ( )
  giovannaz63 | Jan 18, 2021 |
I read this book years ago and simply could not find it again. When I say that this book was good, I mean that the ideas presented in the book stuck with me for some time. I know that if I reread it today that I may not take the ending as well as I once did. The story seems to be a carrier for a moral metaphor that I once agreed with, but today would make a lot of caveats to. ( )
  Noeshia | Oct 23, 2020 |
Dreamlike in the same way and with similar themes as [b:Housekeeping|11741|Housekeeping|Marilynne Robinson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1327882949s/11741.jpg|1056302], though that's a hard novel to stack up against. It's post-apocalyptic but not in a zombies-or-aliens kind of way; instead, a series of sharp blows is all it takes to knock down the elaborate structures of civility we've built for ourselves. But the apocalypse is not the point--this could just as easily have been a period piece about two city slickers moving out to the frontier. The apocalypse is just the painted backdrop to force them to figure out how to take care of themselves without the vast global supply chain.

I'm not entirely sure any of the characters develop in directions I'd want to follow. There's a review that complains that Nell, the narrator, is basically the giver in a codependent relationship with her sister. I can see that. But sometimes a book can be about the ways a character doesn't grow. And arguably it's Eva that grows as changes: She drops her obsession with ballet, with a past she can never reclaim. She learns to share herself with her sister. She strides recklessly forward into the future, into the unfamiliar, knowing that there is risk in leaving behind the empty eggshell of what their parents left for them but leaving anyway. Naturally having a sister-husband helps out with that.

One piece of writing really jumped out at me, from one of Nell's dreams of the black bear haunting their house:

Again the bear bends over me. But, instead of licking me, it opens its jaws over my face, so wide that my whole head is inside its mouth and I am looking down the dark tunnel of its throat. I feel its teeth meet through my neck, and I know it has bitten off my head. But when it lifts its mouth from my empty shoulders, I can see the world as well as ever--in fact, things have a lucidity I had never before imagined, and I think, What an effort it was to have to lug my head around with me for so long. ( )
  prufrockcoat | Dec 3, 2019 |
Really interesting, though I could have done without the incest. I like the quiet aspect--reminded me of the T.S. Eliot quote, "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper." ( )
  slmr4242 | Oct 16, 2019 |
Jean Hegland sets her debut novel in Northern California, at an unspecified time in the near future when the civilized order is breaking down. Orphaned sisters, Eva, 18, and Nell, 17, live in a house on fifty acres of forested land some thirty miles from the nearest town. As the novel opens their mother is less than a year dead from cancer and they are recovering from the recent and sudden death of their father in an accident. Nell narrates the story, and early on drops vague and ominous hints about a war being waged somewhere, with catastrophic results for all of humanity. Looting is endemic; virulent strains of disease are ravaging a population already under siege. Survivors are abandoning their homes, some heading to the east coast following a rumour that order has been restored. The luxuries of modern life are early victims of civilization’s collapse, first becoming scarce, then disappearing altogether, followed by the necessities. Vital infrastructures sputter to a halt; communications systems fall silent. Store shelves are empty; there is no gasoline or electricity. With nothing to buy, money is not just valueless, but meaningless. For a while the sisters survive on a dwindling stash of home-grown preserves and store-bought foodstuffs hoarded by their father. But as the months pass these supplies give out and the girls are forced to emulate the pioneers, sustaining themselves on their own crops and whatever they can harvest from the forest. Because of their isolation Eva and Nell are shielded from the prevailing anarchy and mayhem, but midway through the book, a man appears on the property, confronts Eva and rapes her. In the end, Eva and Nell take drastic measures to ensure their survival when they realize that the greatest threat facing them is not a cruel and indifferent natural world, but the very real danger posed by other humans. Into the Forest is vividly imagined and emotionally resonant, the language rich with metaphor and arresting poetic touches. Nell’s teenage voice is convincing and compelling. A crucial element of the novel is the relationship between the sisters, and the ebb and flow of this relationship mostly rings true. In her largely successful first novel, which was released as a film in 2015, Jean Hegland depicts a post-civilization world that is disturbingly plausible. ( )
  icolford | Feb 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Douglas Fisher
and Garth Leonard Fisher

and in memory of
Leonard Hegland
First words
It's strange, writing these first words, like leaning down into the musty stillness of a well and seeing my face peer up from the water- so small and from such an unfamiliar angle I'm startled to realize the reflection is my own.
Quotations
"People have been around for at least 100,000 years. And how long have we had electricity?"
"Well, Edison invented the incadescent lamp in 1879." "See? All this," and she swung her arm to encircle the rooms of the only house I'd ever know, "was only a fugue state." She pointed to the blackness framed by the open door. "Our real lives are out there."
It seems as if we are all appetite, as if a human being is simply a bundle of needs to drain the world.
I could not save all the stories, could not hope to preserve all the information - that was too vast, too disparate, perhaps even too dangerous. But I could take the encyclopedia's index, could try to keep that master list of all that had once been made or told or understood. Perhaps we could create new stories; perhaps we could discover a new knowledge that would sustain us. In the meantime, I would take the Index for memory's sake, so I could remember the map of all we'd had to leave behind.
It seemed the forest had everything we needed. Every mushroom or flower or fern or stone was a gift. Every noise was an adventure to be investigated. Frequently we saw deer or rabbits or heard the call of wild turkeys. Occasionally we glimpsed a grey fox or a skunk.
Slowly I'm beginning to untangle the forest, to attach names to the plants that fill it.... "Native Plants" says the maples in these woods will produce sugar sap, that coltsfoot leaves can give us salt, that the Indians who once lived here used Spanish moss for diapers, California poppy as a painkiller, and moulded acorn metal as an antibiotic. There are plants to stop fever, plants to relieve colds, plants to soothe rashes and menstrual cramps. There are teas.... And there are acorns. "Native Plants" says, "Worldwide and throughout history, acorns have served as a staple part of the diet of many peoples".
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Two sisters survive a near-future apocalypse and retreat into a forest where they relearn what it means to be human.

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