Understory – Inga Simpson

I came across Inga Simpson at Adelaide Writer’s Week. My interest was piqued after listening to her read an excerpt from her novel Where The Trees Were. I fell in love with that novel, have now devoured Understory and certainly plan to make my way through her first two novels. Understory is the tale of Simpson’s tree change from suburbia to a cottage in the forest and interweaves the stories of her life that shaped her path as a writer.


Part of what I love about Understory was that I found Simpson so relatable. All the anecdotes, the passing details are so familiar to my own life that I could;t help but feel comfortable in her world. Gardening in your undies, finishing the day with a beer, the love for wine, good food and solitude. It was all too easy to picture and immerse myself in. I also loved the continuous references to Lord of the Rings and in particular the Ents. I adore LotR and loved reading about the parallels she found in her life in the forest.


Understory is not just a memoir of Simpson’s life, but of the trees in the forest too. The reader visits the canopy, the middlestory and the understory. When reading this book be prepared with a device for googling images of the trees. While Simpson’s descriptions are vivid and beautiful I also enjoyed a visual representation. Each chapter within each part is the story of that tree, the reader learns all about it, where it fits in the forest and hear a story from Simpson’s life that relates back to that tree. This is not your typical memoir told in chronological order detailing life from infancy to present. This is something different, more personal, the reader understands just how intertwined Simpson’s life is with the forest.


If you are ecologically-minded I highly recommend picking up Understory. If you aren’t ecologically-minded I still recommend picking up Understory. I love the approach to life, the relationship with natures, the lessons learned all contained within this memoir and already know it is a book I will return to again and again over the years. In fact, I immediately went out and purchased Simpson’s first novel, Mr Wigg, before I had even finished reading Understory after reading about the inspiration and process of writing it.  I believe Simpson is becoming an important voice in Australian literature and highly recommend picking up something of hers if you have not yet. We can all do with a little reminder of just how much we influence our environment and what we can do to protect it. I give Understory four strong trees of the forest.


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