On Reading: ‘The Thing in the Forest’ by A.S. Byatt


Packing up my parents house has been a long, grueling process. Something that has made it even longer but far less grueling is the discover and rediscover of books.

You may have seen my Picture Book post on Twitter recently.

Another book I discovered during my hours of bookshelf emptying and box packing was A.S. Byatt’s Little Black Book of Stories. I read the first story of the collection, ‘The Thing in the Forest’ over the next two days and have been thinking about it ever since (the sign, I think, of a brilliant story)!

It’s also a good story for writers and not only was I rolling around the meaning of the story but the techniques and methods Byatt employed in creating it. I’m going to discuss below some of those methods, and will inevitably spoil the ending, so if you want to read it for yourself first, go now!

Let’s begin…

Starting at the very beginning, with the title itself, the story has a traditional fairy tale vibe but also a children’s story vibe. I was, perhaps attuned this as I’ve been researching children’s writing lately. Descriptions such as “A crunching, a crackling, a crushing” and “full of bubbles and farts, piffs and explosions” are very reminiscent of children’s fiction which frequently employs onomatopoeia, alliteration and other poetic devices. The beauty of this is that one of the main characters is a children’s story teller and the ending suggests what we have just read is a story she’s telling. The realisation that Byatt had very deliberately utilised elements of children’s fiction in an adult short story was inspiring. Perhaps something I’ll try in the future.

The question of truth is central to this narrative. Whether or not the girls truly saw a thing in the forest and whether it even matters. The narrative device discussed above works with this theme, adding layers to the nature of storytelling, Perhaps even the stories we tell ourselves. By including a second protagonist the lines are blurred between what is fact and what is ‘the story’. It also allows for two interpretations of the truth.




I’m looking forward to reading the other four stories in this book and seeing what I might learn from them. The second, ‘Body Art’ I’ve already started and is quite different from the first. It never ceases to astound me how much you can learn about writing, simply by reading.

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