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Forest Affairs a title with a double entendre for a novel with two main themes

Reviewed by Dorothy - 29/05/09

Roger Keey's novel 'Forest Affairs'
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The affairs of a family beset by stress and lack of fulfilment and the impact of changes in the management of the forest adjacent to the village where they live are the main themes in Roger Keey's latest novel, Forest Affairs

The author is well equipped to write about forestry development having been involved in research into drying technology for timber for many years and taking a lively interest in a local forest near his home in Hanmer in North Canterbury. He states in the Author's Note at the beginning of the book, "This work is one of pure fiction." This applies to the setting in the township of Waiwera and the forestry company New Zealand Pinelands. Readers, however, can be grateful for his involvement with a trust concerned with maintaining the public values of a large plantation forest as from this background he writes with an authentic voice about the importance of public access to the forest near Waiwera.

The central character in the novel is Dave Spencer, a forester who gained a degree in forestry with first class honours and was satisfied to return to Waiwera and be employed in a management role in the forest that has meant so much to him all his life.

When the forest is sold to a company which views the forest as a source of immediate income without any concern for its future health and growth Dave is faced with a clash between his old loyalties and a job where he must abide by the views of the new forest owners.

Dave is a close friend of Dan, a retired forester, who has taken on an unpaid role as forest ranger and finds it incredible that the new owners have ceased to employ any staff to maintain the tracks and ensure public safety, and intend to charge the public for access to forest tracks or picnic areas.

The management meetings held in the new forestry company are described in some detail and with a degree of realism which appears to be drawn from the author's own experience. I enjoyed the portrayal of the participants' attitudes of boredom when the matters discussed had no personal relevance for them and the keen interest taken once their own careers were on the line. Meaningless smooth talk is used to gloss over changes which the long-term members of staff would find difficult to accept.

The power dressing is described in detail and emphasises the contrast in attitudes between the remote managers in a palatial office in Auckland and the practical foresters in Waiwera.

All the challenges provoke Dave to deep thought about what really matters to him and he questions the value of his relationship with a young local woman who is more interested in superficial local news.

For me the narration of the family's day to day life is made much more interesting because the author skilfully weaves into the story a number of issues which impact on the lives of many New Zealand families, such as the clash of values between generations, changes in values when commercialism predominates over earlier policies of conservation, stress in marriages, and changes in rural townships.

Stephen and Felicity Spencer, the parents of the family, are teachers. Stephen is the principal and Felicity is on the teaching staff in the local school. The nature of the population of Waiwera has changed as fewer men are employed in the forestry gangs. The men working in forestry had families who attended the local school and boosted the roll. As many of them left the district the population had still grown with the growth of enterprises in the tourism industry, but most of the newcomers were single people or childless couples. As the school roll dropped so the enthusiasm of Stephen and Felicity seems to have waned. The warmth in their marriage has cooled and Stephen looks for consolation elsewhere and Felicity becomes increasingly shrewish and bitter.

Their daughter Sue has spent two years at University with poor results and a mounting student loan. She returns home dissatisfied and clashes with her mother over her failure in her studies and her wearing of a stud in her nose. (Her other body stud and her tattoo an expression of her rebellion against her mother's conservative views are kept secret.)

Among Roger Keey's diverse interests, are sketching and painting the rural landscape, and it is with an artist's eye that he vividly describes scenes in the forest.

I enjoyed reading this novel and have continued to think about the issues raised which have relevance for so many New Zealanders at this time.

Forest Affairs can be obtained from Montclare Press, PO Box 31 080, Ilam, Christchurch 8444 at a cost of $25 + $4.50 for postage and packing. Orders can be emailed to

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