The Wilderness

Samantha Harvey

The Wilderness

It's Jake's birthday. He is sitting in a small plane, being flown over the landscape that has been the backdrop to his life - his childhood, his marriage, his work, his passions. Now he is in his early sixties, and he isn't quite the man he used to be. He has lost his wife, his son is in prison, and he is about to lose his past. Jake has Alzheimer's. As the disease takes hold of him, Jake struggles to hold on to his personal story, to his memories and identity, but they become increasingly elusive and unreliable. What happened to his daughter? Is she alive, or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? What went so wrong in his life? There was a cherry tree once, and a yellow dress, but what exactly do they mean?As Jake, assisted by 'poor Eleanor', a childhood friend with whom for some unfathomable reason he seems to be sleeping, fights the inevitable dying of the light, the key events of his life keep changing as he tries to grasp them, and what until recently seemed solid fact is melting into surreal dreams or nightmarish imaginings. Is there anything he'll be able to salvage from the wreckage? Beauty, perhaps, the memory of love, or nothing at all? 4.4 out of 5 based on 6 reviews
The Wilderness

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 336
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication February 2009
ISBN 978-0224086073
Publisher Jonathan Cape
 

It's Jake's birthday. He is sitting in a small plane, being flown over the landscape that has been the backdrop to his life - his childhood, his marriage, his work, his passions. Now he is in his early sixties, and he isn't quite the man he used to be. He has lost his wife, his son is in prison, and he is about to lose his past. Jake has Alzheimer's. As the disease takes hold of him, Jake struggles to hold on to his personal story, to his memories and identity, but they become increasingly elusive and unreliable. What happened to his daughter? Is she alive, or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? What went so wrong in his life? There was a cherry tree once, and a yellow dress, but what exactly do they mean?As Jake, assisted by 'poor Eleanor', a childhood friend with whom for some unfathomable reason he seems to be sleeping, fights the inevitable dying of the light, the key events of his life keep changing as he tries to grasp them, and what until recently seemed solid fact is melting into surreal dreams or nightmarish imaginings. Is there anything he'll be able to salvage from the wreckage? Beauty, perhaps, the memory of love, or nothing at all?

Reviews

The Observer

Tom Webber

Outstanding... Given the unavoidable nature of his progress and the almost unbearable coda Jake's confusion reaches, this could easily have been a depressing read, but a certain levity is maintained throughout. The lucidity with which characters from Jake's past are evoked gives them a kind of fabulous immortality. At its heart, The Wilderness is a seemingly disconnected collection of the narratives that constitute the essence of Jake's life. But it manages to be much more than this...

05/04/2009

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The Times

Kate Saunders

In the glut of novels being published at the moment a really exciting debut is as rare as it ever was. Samantha Harvey's first novel is an extraordinary dramatisation of a mind in the process of disintegration... Brilliant - read it now, before it scoops up all the prizes.

29/01/2009

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The Guardian

Catherine Taylor

...a stunning composition of human fragility and intensity.

28/02/2009

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The Independent

Stevie Davies

Harvey submerges the reader in a literary unfolding of dementia. It's a hard read, not least because the reader becomes progressively more confused about the status of Jake's perceptions... Harvey relies on her copious poetic and imagistic gift to cover for narrative fruitlessness. If the result is slow and insubstantial, the novel is also a mesmerising work of patient compassion, bearing Jake deep into the vortex.

27/02/2009

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The Sunday Times

Lucy Atkins

...an intelligent, challenging although not necessarily enjoyable novel... this is not an easy book. It is hard to navigate and deeply intense. The prose is lyrical, sometimes earnest, always reflective. Harvey weaves apt metaphors throughout... You may long at times for her to take her foot off the gas, but, of course, The Wilderness spins on the bamboozling intensity of the Alzheimer’s experience. Along with Jake we must feel every ounce of life’s confusion and poignancy.

17/05/2009

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The Financial Times

Melissa McClements

As chapters alternate between Jake’s befuddled present and the bright, primary colours of his past, this novel works in opposition to traditional narratives. The lucidity of the beginning unravels into a shadowy blur, as “everything loses, rather than gains, order”. This is a finely written ode to memory, identity and love.

23/02/2009

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