Understory

Understory

A Life With Trees

Book - 2017
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Each chapter of this absorbing memoir explores a particular species of tree, layering description, anecdote, and natural history to tell the story of a scrap of forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland - how the author came to be there and the ways it has shaped her life. In many ways, it's the story of a treechange, of escaping suburban Brisbane for a cottage on ten acres in search of a quiet life. Of establishing a writers retreat shortly before the Global Financial Crisis, and losing just about everything. It is also the story of what the author found there: the literature of nature and her own path as a writer. Some of the nature writing that has been part of this journey is woven through the narrative arc. The Language of Trees is about connection to place as a white settler descendent, and trying to reconcile where the author grew up with where the author is now. It is her story of learning to be at home among trees, and the search for a language appropriate to describe that experience. That journey leads Inga to nature writing, to an environmental consciousness, to regenerating this place and, ultimately, to learning Gubbi Gubbi and Wiradjuri.
Publisher: Sydney, N.S.W., Hachette Australia,, 2017.
ISBN: 9780733635960
Characteristics: xv, 284 pages : 1 portrait ; 24 cm.
Alternative Title: Under story

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wendybradley
Sep 11, 2017

Inga Simpson lived among the trees in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. This is an exploration of a place she loved deeply, and a place she was about to leave. Each chapter explores a different tree and uncovers something of her life. Pain is clearly present, equal to the love of the forest around her. It follows a decade of her life with dreams of a writers retreat she and her partner set up only to lose as a response to the global financial crisis. Alone she attempts to find a way to hold on to the sanctuary of trees and if it was fiction then I am sure a way would have been found for this ending. As it is real life, there is no happy ending to this story.

The structure of the book felt a bit contrived however. Often her description of trees seemed lifted from a guide to Australian trees, and while dividing chapters up by tree names is interesting, I don't really think it quite came off. The author talks about nature writers, and no doubt this what she aspires to be. There are many writers who come to mind when casting my mind about for those who do this well. Beverley Farmer ( who mainly writes lyrically about the sea around Point Lonsdale, Victoria. I have just read the first part of her latest book (2017), in Eltham branch of library. Maybe someone else has captured the essence of the sea as beautifully as Farmer, but if so I have not found them as yet. Another author, Kate Llewellen (A Fig at the Gate is her latest book and in the library
) writes in a similar vein but with more success tan Simpson. She writes of the different gardens she creates and interlink this with her life. It is thoughtful writing, evocative and fine. Perhaps the two authors I speak of here have a maturity in years and writing that Simpson will gain with time and experience.

The rawness of the authors own pain from a broken relationship seemed to interrupt the narrative of the personal side of the story. It felt as if she didn't quite know how to integrate it into her narrative. She set her self a hard task, and to an extend succeeded.

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