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The Wilderness: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 17, 2009
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Winner of the 2009 Betty Trask Prize
Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009
Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award
Longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize
“A haunting, intelligent novel, crowded with powerful characters, told in a language that is never ordinary, but always clear and elegant.”
—Tessa Hadley, author of The Master Bedroom and Sunstroke and Other Stories
“It used to be thought that Alzheimer's unspooled the brain in the precise order in which it had grown, a decline that matched, plot point for plot point, childhood development-a kind of neural Curious Case of Benjamin Button. As the English novelist Samantha Harvey suggests in The Wilderness, her brave imagining of the disease, it's less linear and more complicated. There are moments of clarity; there is the persistence of desire; there are enduing long-term memories that remain after there is no capacity to recall what was for breakfast or if there was breakfast or what the thing called breakfast is… While most books about Alzheimer's are written from the outside looking in, this one stays within the ever-narrowing parameters of Jacob's mind.., Earlier in her life, Samantha Harvey studied philosophy, and that training is felt here, where the nature of truth is as much the protagonist as Jacob Jameson himself, and Alzheimer's disease is equally villain and muse. Every life is a mystery, Harvey seems to be saying, even to the one whose life it is.”
—New York Times Book Review
“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 dramatization of a mind in the process of disintegration. [The Wilderness is] brilliant— read it now, before it scoops up all the prizes.”
—The Times (UK)
“Moving through a rich, protean mental landscape, Jake recalls and reinvents his life's themes and passions… Using recurrent, simple images—the flash of a yellow dress, freckled eyelids—Harvey beautifully, patiently ushers Jake forward to the last flicker of recognition; the whole a stunning composition of human fragility and intensity.
—The Guardian (UK)
"The Wilderness is Samantha Harvey's first novel, but it feels like a mature work, as well crafted and as cryptic—'familiar and strange in one breath'—as an ancient boat found preserved in the peat of the northern-England moors where the book is mostly set.”
“Harvey infuses the text with compassion. [The Wilderness] conveys the importance of dignity and respect for those we love, no matter what their affliction.”
—Las Vegas Review-Journal
"A treat for literature lovers who appreciate complexity in their novels and aren't afraid to deal with tough topics."
About the Author
Born in Kent, England, in 1975, SAMANTHA HARVEY has an M.A. in philosophy and an M.A., with distinction, from the Bath Spa Creative Writing course in 2005. In addition to writing, she has traveled extensively and taught in Japan and lived in Ireland and New Zealand. She recently co-founded an environmental charity and lives in Bath, England.
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Top Customer Reviews
In short, "The Wilderness" suggests that Jake's mind, even as he becomes more difficult to understand, is not degraded or juvenile or simple. Because he has lived a complicated life, his diseased mind is a complicated mind, still rich and detailed, just different from what it was once. The book brought to mind another man with a progressively disabling disease: Alfred Lambert, the father with Parkinson's in Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections." "The Wilderness" is not nearly as engaging a novel; it is serious throughout, without a shred of humor. However, you'll feel empathy and, if you know someone with Alzheimer's, you may gain understanding. Who are we, Jake seems to ask, when we make sense to no one, recognize no one---except ourselves?
N.B. This novel is on the 2009 Booker longlist.
I was more impressed however with "Still Alice". I felt that by bringing in the themes of Jewishness and Jewish identity, the loss of a child and the effects of adulatory, that Harvey distracted from what was the meanderings and loss of memory due to Alzheimer's and what was the result of selective memory due to perceived guilt.
Nevertheless "The Wilderness" is worth reading, and the last chapters in particular evoke what must be the black void that progressively over the doomed Alzheimer's brain.
I recommend this book for anyone who has friend or family suffering from this sad disease, or any student of cognition or memory
Wilderness tells the tale of Civil War veteran Abel Truman. It bounces back and forth between the fateful days surrounding the battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864 and Abel in 1899 on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. I hesitate to say more of the plot as it’s best to discover for yourself.
What sets Wilderness apart is Weller’s meticulous research coupled with his incredible ability to paint a scene. (His attention to detail is such that Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum carries Wilderness.) The historical details of Abel’s experiences in the Civil War never seem fanciful or contrived. Instead they create a visceral immediacy that puts you right there with the participants. And yet when the scene changes to Abel and his dog in 1899 Weller has no problem slowing down and giving his characters their own quiet moments.
Take this paragraph for example:
"After nightfall, they sat up to watch the ocean dark under the nightblue sky. Abel and the dog. The rain clouds lay far to sea and they watched a single star fall arcing soundlessly across the heavens and then another and another while myriad others glistened and shined and moved slowly through the heavens like things alive, and who could say they were not? They were quiet and still together. The old man knew that in all the world's turning there had been but few moments such as this and so did not speak. And beside him, the dog's strong, inarticulate heart beat softly and together they sat under the bright, spirited stars until sleep overtook them."
While I particularly liked this paragraph it does not stand out from the rest of the novel. Wilderness is written with a careful delicacy that is apparent on every page. This is all the more unusual because Wilderness is full of broken people. It seems every character we come across has been scarred by their world. Thankfully Weller’s narration makes it not only palatable but actually enjoyable. I found myself taking my time reading the novel simply to allow myself more time in this fully realized world that Wilderness creates.
Wilderness has my highest recommendation.