Book review: The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods by Emily Barr

the girl who came out of the woods postcardFor the first sixteen years of her life, Arty lives in paradise. She, her parents and a group of idealists have built a small community in a clearing in the middle of the Indian forest. It’s not an easy life but it’s a happy one – a matriarchal society where every community member is a god or goddess, decisions are made by consensus and her biggest worry is whether the monkeys are going to steal their food.

However one night everything goes horrifically wrong and Arty finds herself stumbling out of the trees into the 21st Century, to a world she has been taught to fear. Her old life is gone forever – but can she make a new one in this crazy place of money, Bollywood, ice cream and Instagram?

Can she make a new life in this crazy place of money, Bollywood, ice cream and Instagram?

Lonely and traumatised, faced with a family she’s never met – some of whom have secrets of their own – Arty needs to figure out who she can trust and who to fear – not an easy task when her mother’s last advice to her was “don’t go into the basement.”

Not everybody in the outside world has Arty’s best interests at heart.

I’m already a fan of Emily Barr’s, but I grabbed this one with extra enthusiasm because I love a cult – any story about a group of people trying to break away from society and think differently always fascinates me. This one’s a bit different though – in most books the cult becomes twisted, dominated by poisonous groupthink and manipulation. But in this story it’s the outside world which is a dark and terrifying place and the “cult” could teach us a thing or two about getting along.

There’s so many elements to this book it’s difficult to classify. It’s a thriller, full of thrillery tricks and twists and darkness. It’s a novel about travel and adventure. It’s also a coming-of-age story with a vein of wry humour running throughout, along with a sense of wonder and hope for the future. Each of Emily Barr’s books is stronger than the last and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

The Girl Who Came Out Of The Woods is out now

Cover of the girl who came out of the woods

Two other books about cults or isolated religious communities…

Laurie and Martha are a power couple with the world at their feet – but Laurie is still traumatised by the years she spent in the clutches of a controlling religious sect and when it gets too much she holes up in a tiny, secret room in their house. Then a man from her past appears and begins manipulating her teenage daughter. The Hidden Room by Stella Duffy uses the minutiae of everyday life and the horrors of the cult to create a tense, atmospheric story.

Educated is Tara Westover’s gorgeously written memoir of her strict, religious upbringing in the remote countryside and it’s absolutely fascinating. School was banned, traditional medicine was forbidden, the End of Days was always around the corner and violence was an everyday occurrence. As she grows up Tara faces a choice – remain loyal to her father despite growing doubts about his views or educate herself and alienate the family she loves.

And two I can’t wait to read…

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson is a debut novel about a “terribly English cult” called The Panacea Society – devoted member Dilys strikes up a friendship with new recruit Grace, but as their leader’s zealotry increases their faith, and the community, begins to fall apart… Out 6 June 2019

Crime writer Alex Marwood has long been fascinated by cults, narcissistic leaders and groupthink and her book The Poison Garden tells the story of Romy who escaped a toxic cult and, like Emily Barr’s Arty, doesn’t know who to trust in the outside world. Although if I know my Marwood, this story is going to get very, very dark… Out 25 July 2019

In which my Twitter name goes viral

Last week a publisher tweeted me to ask if I was interested in seeing a self-help book called Walking On Sunshine, and the tweet kind of went viral. I mean, not crazy-viral like that story about the stripper going to Florida, but a bit infectious. Think common cold rather than Ebola. My phone blinking in the middle of the night with news that yet another person in the States had seen it and thought – awesome!

Twitter used to be about the banter

This doesn’t usually happen with book related news but it does when the tweet includes a photo of Twitter-catnip Harry Styles reading a copy of said book.

I KNOW! Amazing or what?!?! Some of the comments from fans were really sweet, so chuffed to see their hero relaxing with a good read.

Although if I’m honest he could look a teeny bit more cheerful about it – but maybe I’m just being fussy.harry styles reading a book looking a bit sad

At first it was kind of exciting. I’ve known for ages that I probably have to build up my Twitter profile a bit, and now my name was spreading across the planet like an infectious disease. Surely it was a matter of time before I started reaping the rewards. And sure, all those 1D fans would be a bit disappointed about the lack of Harry in my day to day tweeting life but some of them might just stay for the craic…

And then, nothing happened. More likes, more favourites but, over that first frenzied 48 hours, I actually lost four followers.

It underlined how much Twitter has changed over the past few years. Back when I joined in 2010 I got followers if I so much as sneezed. But more importantly it used to be about the banter. I remember lots of late night chats with a science dude about the guilty pleasure movie that is The Scorpion King, there was another guy with a quintessentially British sense of humour who always had a funny comeback for everything I tweeted.

Then I took two years off Twitter for work reasons, and somehow I got hopelessly left behind. By the time I went freelance and returned to my old tweeting ways my former pals now had so many followers my voice was completely lost among them – during those two years they went from being nearly-friends to minor celebrities.

Retweets are incredibly rare and the only way to increase your network is by following people and hoping they follow you back. I duly did so, adding lots of interesting people to my list, but the result is that my news feed is a long list of strange faces and mysterious links rather than  cosy group of friends.

Now it’s all about getting software to manage who you follow, to automatically unfollow someone who doesn’t follow you back because it affects your “reach”. If you don’t do this, Twitter essentially, auto-brands you a Big Fat Loser. So instead of being a fun thing to do it’s become a way of measuring yourself and the imprint you make in the world. For example, I recently heard about an author whose book was rejected by a publisher on the basis that, with a mere 2,000 or so followers, her reach was too small.

Going on that, I am a pipsqueak that probably couldn’t even get a magazine down off a shelf.

It’s kind of sad but the truth is that, unless you’re a comedy account like @shitmydadsays or @50ShedsofGrey, people don’t follow you for the laughs any more, they follow because of what you can offer them. So when I was a commissioning editor, freelancers followed me. And now I’m a book reviewer, book publicists follow me. Mighty entertaining and informative they are too, but it’s still all about work.

I cherish the non work-related people I’ve come across – glimpses into different worlds like @theonlyspoon. He’s a PUPPETEER – coolest job ever! And I love tweeters who go out of their way to entertain, like @Joannechocolat‘s #10tweetsabout… and #storytime. Even better are the real friends – the ones I know offline and the fellow freelancers from online community I belong to. We recently held a Social Media Monday where we all followed each other and sent supportive messages. It felt good to be part of a community again – and also for some of my notifications to be non-Styles related for a change.

I miss the rawness of it, though. The fact you could go online on a Sunday night, talk about what’s on TV and find a bunch of kindred spirits you never knew existed. I’m aware that makes me sound like my nan talking about the good old days of the jitterbug but hey, it comes to us all. Perhaps I should give Snapchat a try instead?

It’s all pretty depressing but on the bright side, I can always cheer myself up by reading Walking On Sunshine which is actually quite a fun little book with cartoons and bitesize tips on how to brighten up your day. It’s out now and comes under recommendation from Harry Styles.






PS: And here’s a review of Viral by Helen Fitzgerald, just for the tenuous link of it…