Book Review: "The Wood of Suicides" by Laura Elizabeth Woolett

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Title: The Wood of Suicides
Author: Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Release Date: January 24, 2014
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Source: Author / Galley

Laurel Marks is a stunning, repressed 17-year-old schoolgirl. She also has a weakness for older men - most of all her father, whom she'll do anything to impress. After his sudden death, Laurel is sent off to a boarding school where she shortly latches onto a new love object: her English teacher, Mr. Hugh Steadman.

Following an encounter in the woods, a flirtation develops between the two, marked by hopeful highs and suicidal lows, on Laurel's part. Their romance is eventually consummated one November afternoon, in the arbor where they first met. But Laurel's middle-aged teacher proves to be a more violent lover than she ever anticipated. Like the doomed chase between Daphne and Apollo, Steadman pursues and Laurel recedes.

Laura Woollett charts the course of their obsession with an unswerving eye, describing their unbridled desire for one another and the reckless and tortured course on which they have embarked - and of Laurel's unshed grief for her father, whose absence will be either her salvation or her undoing.

Like Lolita told by Lolita herself, The Wood of Suicides gives you psychological insight into the protagonist's mind. Laurel Marks is seventeen, and on the cusp of adulthood. Sent away to boarding school after the death of her father, who she obsessively admired and desired in turns, she starts to fantasize about her English teacher. 

Her teacher, Hugh Steadman, is a Byronic hero to young Laurel. He’s handsome, loves poetry, and slowly falls in lust with Laurel. He becomes her new father figure and love interest all at once. If this sounds a bit creepy, you’re right – but Woolett does a great job with Laurel’s voice. Laurel’s narration is self-evaluating, introspective, and provocative. It’s easy to become mesmerized by this story as the downward spiral ultimately becomes clear.

Young love at its most destructive, the tale so many fantasize about – that of a young girl and her teacher – turns into a dark, twisted anti-romance with a bittersweet ending.

 "I want you. There was a time when I may have been able to express the sentiment less crudely, yet it is too late now. I no longer understand how to quiver modestly, how to hide sweet, delicate blushes. Now I am wracked with convulsions, burned by the fires of hell. If I am a virgin, it is only in the most trivial, membranous sense of the word. Please, make my damnation official. I ask only that you rid me of this technicality."
“The fallacy of conception: two halves join and expect to make a whole.” 
This is not an easy read by any means, but I consider that a compliment. There are a considerable amount of literary references – to Freud, to the Greek myths of old, to Romanticist poetry. I frequently underlined particularly admirable turns of phrase, or lush descriptions. Some readers may not be well-versed with Greek myth, but Woollett twines it in without making it seem like a history lesson.

While I didn’t consider Laurel likable, I don’t think that’s necessary to enjoy this novel. It’s a fantastic debut, and I loved the novelty of an unreliable narrator with a coquettish air. I would recommend to fans of the literary master Vladimir Nabokov, or, on the guilty pleasure end of the spectrum, fans of the Ezra /Aria relationship on Pretty Little Liars.

And on that note…gotta share the Van Halen song that was in my head THE ENTIRE TIME.

Four stars.

Thank you to the author, Laura Elizabeth Woollett, for providing me a complimentary copy of this book for review. You are fabulous for sending it to me all the way from Australia! As always, I did not receive compensation, and all opinions are my own.