Book Review: Forgotten Things
Stephen Mullaney-Westwood’s Forgotten Things is a clever kaleidoscope of themes, interlaced like a Celtic knot which is, of course, most apt for both his Cornish setting and the ethereal explorations of the twelve-year-old protagonist Adam.
Don’t be put off by Adam’s age because this book is eminently suitable for adult readers. It is hard to achieve a credible child’s perspective, regardless of whether the story is aimed at children or adults, but Mullaney-Westwood manages it well. He captures the wonder a child can feel when immersed in nature, the reasoning based on priorities most adults generally find difficult to understand as well as the readiness of a child to perceive things an adult’s logic would dismiss.
This emphasised by the attitude of Adam’s parents. His father is mostly occupied by career advancement and ready to dismiss anything which doesn’t fit into a regulated world. Adam’s mother, on the other hand, does know there is more to the world than meets the eye but is rigid in her denial of this, for reasons which will become clear later on in the story.
These attitudes form an obstacle for Adam’s communication with his parents, for he clearly feels he cannot share with them his interest and excitement regarding the nearby woods and events which follow as a result of his investigations. It is here where his grandfather steps in as a guide, offering advice, stories and warnings in a manner which makes Adam and his grandfather co-conspirators. It’s very hard not to like Adam’s grandfather which allows the reader to understand and sympathise with the bond which is quickly established by the two after Adam’s family move to Cornwall out of concern for the old man’s health.
The friendship Adam develops with local lads Martin and Josh fits in well with the transition from childhood to adolescence during which the family ceases to be the sole central focus and peers begin to gain ascendancy. Martin and Josh have very distinct characters, in many ways they are opposites with Adam very much in the middle neutral ground between introverted and sensitive Martin and outgoing and adventurous Josh. Their inclusion in the story aids the coming-of-age theme just as much as Adam’s development of independent thought and actions with regard to his parents.
There are times when the narrator’s musings concerning events clearly transcend the thought patterns of a twelve-year old but it is always abundantly clear to the reader that this is the voice of an adult looking back at childhood. Failing to achieve this is often a pitfall when the main character is a child but Mullaney-Westwood makes this difficult technique look easy, a credit to his writing style. It also allows the older readers to share the author’s sometimes poignant longing for a time when summer lasted forever and life revolved around secret huts and adventures out of view of bothersome adults. I too enjoyed being immersed in this nostalgia which may soon become a thing of the past as children grow up behind digital screens large and small rather than the secret magical kingdoms where they ought to be playing, as far as I am concerned.
I was pleased that Mullaney-Westwood paid no attention to the modern Kindle-fuelled notion that books ought to resemble a literary equivalent of fast-food, to be thoughtlessly digested in a hurry. This is highly subjective of course, but for me a child’s endless summer cannot be achieved in a fast-paced and eminently forgettable rush-job by an author keen to pump out three to four books a year. Forgotten Things matches classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry in setting a pace which reflects the manner in which a child experiences the passing of time.
Another element of the story which strengthens the credibility of the juvenile point of view is the impact which a simple conversation, experience or object can have on a young mind at times, something adults tend to be more immune to, often blind to the weird and wonderful offered by life. In Adam’s case this is demonstrated by the book he is given by his grandfather, a beautifully illustrated copy of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By happy coincidence (or serendipity) this is the first Shakespeare play I ever saw performed. I was ten at the time and immediately understood the contrast between the ‘square’ logic of Athens and the circular and serpentine magical maze of the woods. It is for this reason that Oberon and Titania make a guest appearance in my Wyrde Woods series which also feature a Puck. Needless to add perhaps, but I cheered loudly when the play made an entrance in Forgotten Things and I felt very much at one with Adam at that moment, fully understanding his fascination.
I don’t know how autobiographical this book is and didn’t try to find out simply for the reason that it feels autobiographical and therefore incredibly authentic, something I didn’t want to spoil for myself by uncovering this particular aspect of the book’s background.
One immediate result of this is that Mullaney-Westwood manages to transcend the usual description of a wood as a cartoonish place with brown tree trunks and green foliage. Instead he depicts woodlands in their full diversity, capturing the wide variety of colour, touch, smell, sound and mood which is to be found in the British countryside. It is clear that the author loves and understands this environment well and he manages to transfer his enthusiasm eloquently.
That authenticity also means that the secret world of the Fae, partially revealed to Adam, is presented to the reader in a most credible fashion, all the more so because these are not the scantily dressed cutified fairies romanticised by the Victorians and robbed of their traditional menace by Disney. Instead the Fae are the real deal; whimsical, dangerous, playful and easily offended. When, at the end of the book, someone tells Adam he was lucky that he didn’t have his eyes poked out after his encounters with the Fae, the reader has been educated well enough by Mullaney-Westwood to agree whole-heartedly.
To conclude, I would definitely recommend that you allow yourself to be transported by Mullaney-Westwood to the magic of childhood, Cornwall’s countryside and otherworldly realms which linger in long forgotten corners still. Just be sure not to accept any food or drink whilst you are there, lest you wake up a hundred years from now or a thousand years ago.