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The Wilderness [Paperback]

Samantha Harvey
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 April 2009

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?

From the first sentence to the last, The Wilderness holds us in its grip. This is writing of extraordinary power and beauty.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (23 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224089684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224089685
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 500,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

`Harvey uses her precise and unostentatious style to full effect.' -- TLS

`The imagined experience of dementia is intricately, cleverly woven. `
-- Sunday Times

Review

`The imagined experience of dementia is intricately, cleverly woven. `

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most thought-provoking novel of the year 15 Mar 2009
Format:Hardcover
You have to hand it to Samantha Harvey. She's a gutsy writer. Not only is her main character the opposite sex to her and double her age. Her protagonist, Jake, is also suffering from Alzheimer's. Whilst a few celebrated authors have been bold enough to give a character Alzheimer's, no one (that I am aware of) has ever attempted to write a whole novel from the point of view of the sufferer. This is a truly unique novel.

And Samantha Harvey not only pulls this off, but does it with confidence, artistic flair, wit and warmth. It is a sensitive novel told with heart and passion and raises not only questions about what it means to have Alzheimer's but also what it means to be human and alive and loved. As we move through our lives, how we see ourselves and are in turn perceived, is built from our memories. We are the cumulative product, after all, of our own lives, made up from the things we've done, the experiences we've had. Without the memories of this then, what are we? Who are we?

These are just some of the questions tackled in The Wilderness. As Jake slowly succumbs to the disease so his memories fracture, the threads that tie them together - the very web of the novel - becomes tatty, torn and broken. The plot lines that form the novel - the various periods of Jake's life - swill in and around each other. The revisited memories bleed into each other, fact into fiction, fiction into fact, tales within tales, memories within memories...

It is not depressing. This novel is life affirming, filled with characters that, whilst all highly intelligent and philosophically minded, are never annoying. Their quirks, their struggles, their minor triumphs bring them to life. Jake himself is not always appealing as a character but he is devastatingly human.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wilderness 28 April 2009
Format:Hardcover
Your journey in life is very personal to you. In your head you carry around experiences and knowledge that has been built up throughout your lifetime. Alzheimer's disease slowly strangles, tangles and erases your brain processes.

How does that feel? How does that affect you? What is it that makes you you? This is the journey that The Wilderness takes you on.

This should be a dark and depressing subject but Harvey lifts the reader with her poetic and brilliantly crafted prose into a life-affirming crescendo that does not disappoint.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strong debut...but not a flawless one. 19 July 2009
Format:Paperback
First of all let it be said that the glowing reviews about Samantha Harvey's prowess as a writer are no exaggeration. She should be commended for tackling such a weighty subject as Alzheimer's from the perspective of the sufferer, Jake. The way the story loops and memories interchange and become more fragmented as Jake's condition deteriorates is deftly handled. She manages to create a sense of cohesion despite the desultory path of Jake's thoughts, as his Alzheimer's gets worse.

Samantha has a poet's touch with language although at times it becomes self-indulgent and that is the first of the novel's flaws. Harvey tends to over-do it with imagery making the story unnecessarily verbose in places; a waste of words. She's not the first to do it, neither do I think it's a rookie mistake, just her style. The problem is it comes across as a bit pretentious.

As some reviewers have noted Jake is not an altogether sympathetic character-which shouldn't itself be an overall flaw in a book, but for me in this case it was. He IS wonderfully complicated and Harvey's depiction of him is astute. He seems to have inherited his chronic cynicism from his mother, Sara to whom he's inordinately close; protective of her and her Jewish heritage that she forsook for her austere, insensitive husband.

Jake's marriage to Helen is one of the books central themes. He justifies his selfishness and unfair demands from Helen, with whimsical reasoning that she doesn't have enough darkness in her; her Christianity bemuses and irritates him in equal measure. His warped reasoning allows him to justify a one-night stand with a woman named Joy who, on her departure to America, he later mythologises and for whom he even hopes to abandon his marriage.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wilderness Feb 26th 2009 26 Feb 2009
By Cassi
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully and intelligently written novel which covers a subject that could be dark and frustrating. For this reason when I first came across it I was a little apprehensive, but I need not have worried. The author carried me through its tricky subject matter with such lovely writing and such wisdom that I often found myself stopping to re-read a sentence, just to savour, learn from and admire the superb craftmanship. I loved the main character, Jake - his story, his life, his experiences held me in thrall- and I felt I wanted to defend and protect him as he struggled to understand the vagaries and heartbreaks of his constantly changing internal landscape. The book made me think about all the people, particularly the elderly ones, who I might ignore as I pass them by in the street, never seeing, or even looking for, the intelligence that lurks behind their outward appearance. Like Jake we all have our story, and all of us change the sequence and the substance of that story in subtle and not so subtle ways as time redefines our experiences of them.
By the end of the novel I was struck by several things. I missed Jake. I realised that I had just read something way out of the ordinary. I recognised that an extraordinary talent had just introduced itself to the world. And I was totally baffled: how on earth did this writer manage to make a topic so tricky, read so well and with such coherence. It must have been a mighty task, yet it was carried out with such a sure hand. Read this book; it's great. And to the author, hurry up and write another book please.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very sad & touching, but a good read.
Published 1 month ago by mr.malcolm beaumont
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great
Published 2 months ago by janice price
3.0 out of 5 stars Memories, truths, confusion?
It is difficult to review and grade this book, as I can see that it is cleverly constructed and perfectly illustrates the gradual demise and sense of confusion as Jake loses... Read more
Published 5 months ago by DubaiReader
3.0 out of 5 stars Topical subject
This book takes a look at how a person suffering from early onset Altzheimer's (age 57) deals with the disease. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mrs. C. Gleeson
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to get into
I started this novel with high hopes, being generally interested in literature about dementia (thinking of Margaret Forster's excellent "Have the Men had Enough?", in particular). Read more
Published 15 months ago by Sarah Lovie
4.0 out of 5 stars A superb fictional exploration of living with dementia
Insightful, atmospheric portrayal of someone dealing with dementia
The narrative moves easily between the past and the present
There are times the reader is left puzzled... Read more
Published 15 months ago by glynnis
3.0 out of 5 stars No lasting impression
I read this book in book Group last year (2011) and I cannot remember much about it. So it hasn't made a lasting impression.
Published 22 months ago by Mrs. W. B. Taylor
2.0 out of 5 stars not good
Incredibly boring and even annoying in parts. I can see how the author was trying to show that Jake was forgetting his life, but by just describing the same stories over and over... Read more
Published on 14 May 2012 by Nicole
5.0 out of 5 stars Compassion in the wilderness
What an original, perceptive, compassionate writer. Original in her writing style. Perceptive of her characters. 'I could not put it down', as they say and for once it was true.
Published on 16 Feb 2012 by J. Koralek
5.0 out of 5 stars a master class
I don't read much fiction, and bought this because the lead character develops dementia. And I'm interested in that, and in the technical difficulties of creating fiction based on... Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2012 by John V
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