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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most thought-provoking novel of the year
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...
Published on 15 Mar 2009 by Jason Bennett

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strong debut...but not a flawless one.
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...
Published on 19 July 2009 by BlestMiss T


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5.0 out of 5 stars deteriorating mind, 27 April 2010
By 
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
The Wilderness

So cleverly written that you feel you are inside Jake's head as he deteriorates with Alzheimer's disease. Jake's memories are plagued with confusing leaps from past to present and back again, confusion between his first and second wife, loss of commonplace words, and eventually inability to recognize even his wife and son.

This was superb, hard work, distressing, all at the same time - excellent!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Wilderness, 7 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
I was unsure of the subject matter but as the book was shortlisted for the "orange", I thought I would give it a go.
The story follows Jake, through his life and through his fight with Alzheimers. This is a dark subject but written in such a way that it is not disturbing or depressing.
Demonstrating the very nature of the condition, the chapters cleverly jump between and through different stages of his memories and his life (which can occasionally be a bit confusing) but it is a fascinating and beautifully written insight into the effects of this disease on someone's life.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Insightful Look Into A Confused Mind, 17 Aug 2009
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
The Wilderness is narrated by Jake who when we meet him is being whirled around the countryside in a plane for his birthday. Jake is in the middle stages of Alzheimer's and on the cusp of retiring is looking back on his life, his loves, his regrets and his unfulfilled hopes. Of course having Alzheimer's we never quite know at points to whom he is referring or whether what he is saying is reliable or not as his memory deteriorates.

Looking back over his marriage to Helen (who seems to dream the future as she actually predicts her daughter birth and her own death) and the women he had affairs with including Eleanor who he now finds himself sleeping with again, to the relationships with his mother and his children a son Henry who is in prision and a daughter Alice who seems to be slightly removed from the family though once finds out he is ill wants to help. The characters are all very interesting to read I did love `poor Eleanor' who Jake seems to know is hard done by and yet carries on being hard to her, I also loved his mother Sarah and her coldness mixed with motherliness. It is actually Jake as the lead character who is the only well drawn male; all the others seem on the peripheral and don't quite come fully formed. The cast of women are all incredibly written which I found and interesting mix.

In some places I found myself confused as seeing the world through Jakes eyes you are naturally going to occasionally get lost, and yet this time around I enjoyed being lost in the book. I think the reason that I found it such an effort to read was with a plot and subject like this it can't be rushed and you may need to re-read the novel in parts once or twice to work out just what Jake is discussing or who. Intermixed with his back history and the deteriation of his memories through his meetings with the nurses Harvey also in a way explains what happens to Alzheimer's sufferers.

Not many a writer could pull all of this off and the fact that this is Samantha Harvey's debut novel is in some ways quite astounding. I loved the fact that she also did this without becoming melodramatic. Dramatic things of course happen but they aren't ever written for effect, they are seemingly factual and matter of fact. The fact she writes a male character so well, though I could never call him likeable (apart from when he finds the dog his girlfriend hit and takes it in as a pet) is another sign of what a promising writer she is and why she has been up for so many awards.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written, 12 May 2009
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
This book is beautifully written, there's a poetic quality to the writing that manages to be both simple & complex! I loved the sense of unfolding, of secrets being revealed, of the unreliability of "fact".
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifying but important, 27 Sep 2009
By 
M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
This unusual novel, narrated by a man who is steadily losing his grip on reality, is a remarkable journey through the human mind and memory. I've never known anyone with Alzheimer's, as it thankfully doesn't run in my family (or they die too young), but if I had to guess what it would be like, this novel is it. Jake's reality comes and goes; he finds his mind a total blank at times but usually he is just confused. He can't remember if his daughter is alive or dead, why he is visiting this man in jail (his son), or who the woman sleeping next to him is, except in brief moments of clarity. He remembers his younger life the best and often has flashbacks to himself as a newlywed, in love with his wife, a successful architect, a new father. He can't decide what is real and what he has imagined, or why some memories have significance and others don't. In short, he is confused.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I wanted to love it more than I did, but I think it was too scary for me. I felt sorry for Jake and I just felt that the inevitability of his fate outweighed the beauty of the life that he had lived. It is powerful and it is moving and I suspect it has changed the way I will think about elderly people forever, but it's also scary and depressing. This is the undeniable truth about what will happen to many of us if we live to be Jake's age. He has lived a successful, mostly happy life, which he can piece together and remember gladly, but now he is losing that ability before he has even died. He boils the coffeepot dry, he can't remember if he is supposed to eat eggshells, he forgets that he's completed some part of therapy five minutes after it's happened, and he doesn't even know if his daughter is alive because he's just remembered her older, and laughing, but at the same time he remembers her dead.

I do think that this is one of those important books that can open our minds to the suffering of others, one of those books that we should all read and think about. It reveals the wilderness that our brains can become as they lose so much in old age. I'm not going to lie though because it is heartbreaking and it is tough to read. It's a worthy, worthy book, but it will make you cry.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just as confusing as the main character must feel, 14 May 2011
By 
Savannah (Copenhagen, Denmark) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
The story is not particularly interesting, nothing much happens and the everyday life of the main character is rather dull. However what makes it a little bit interesting is the insight you get to the frustrated mind of an Alzheimer patient. The book is often a bit confusing, jumping in time and place, but then that must be how it feels to live with this terrible disease. I did not feel like my time was wasted reading this, but I still would not recommend it as a "Must Read"
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A moving and well written account of dementia, 14 Oct 2009
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
An elegantly written and moving story, 'The Wilderness' is a very strong first novel. The prinical character is Jacob, an elderly architect who is slowly losing his mind to Alzheimer's disease. The story alternates between his present day existence, whereby his slow deterioration is marked out by many small and subtly described incidents, and his detailed memories of his life - which are slowly revealed to be unreliable. Jake's confusion and lack of ability to remember accurately creates a sense of mystery and helps keep the reader gripped.

In some ways I found Jake as a young man rather irritating and the sections of stories about his past less interesting than those set in his present. His relationships in some cases were almost unnecessarily complicated and detracted somewhat from the theme of the novel. However I was able to develop a lot of empathy for the older Jake as he tried to piece together his life and retain some dignity. I found the portrayal of a dementia sufferer very realistic and touching.

Overall, this is a well written book with a strong central premise and a storyline that is moving and well handled. The author should be applauded for tackling a difficult subject with real sensitivity and crafting a very readable story. Certainly one to watch for the future.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wilderness, 19 Feb 2009
By 
This review is from: The Wilderness (Hardcover)
Staggering and brilliant are two words that come to mind after dipping ones toe into this debut novel. It grips you from the start as it gives you no choice other than to get up close and personal to the characters. The writing is intelligent, challenging and truly creative. There is a warmth in its style yet it's deep, complex, emotive and doesn't shy away from the issues it exposes. I don't think you ever quite know where the next sentence is going to take you...or what you will take away from what you've read. Go on....I dare you...read it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wilderness Samantha Harvey, 21 Jun 2009
By 
Leyla Sanai "leyla" (glasgow) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
Alzheimer's is one of the more cruel tricks that nature plays on people. This dementing process causes a gradual loss of mental faculties, with short-term memory being most affected, and the devastation on sufferers and their loved ones is exacerbated by the fact that in the early stages, the Alzheimer's patient is all too aware of their failing brain. Thus, a book about a man with Alzheimer's is a brave choice for a first novel. As well as the mountains of research necessary, the novelist is dealing with such a depressing subject that the prevailing mood will necessarily be sombre.

Jacob Jameson is a middle-aged architect. He has lost his wife Helen and has a son Henry who went off the rails when his mother died, ending up in prison, ironically, a prison Jacob himself designed. The story starts with Jacob in a plane, taking a trip bought for him as a sixtieth birthday present. He looks down and recognises the landmarks that have been part of his life for decades - the woods where he walked with his mother and with his wife and two children, now being felled; the prison he built. Memories flood his brain. But there are gaps - gaps he tries to seize but which elude his mind like fragments of a dream. And so, the reader is introduced to the mind of Jacob, a mind rich in experiences and significant characters, but a mind unravelling like a scarf caught on a nail. The potent opening sets the tone:

`In amongst a sea of events and names that have been forgotten, there are a number of episodes that float with striking buoyancy to the surface. There is no sensible order to them, nor connection between them.'

As the novel unfolds, it flits from Jacob's present, where he is in a relationship with a childhood friend called Eleanor who he has never loved but who has always adored him to his memories of the past, shattered shards which seem to fit together and then appear again in different combinations, pieces of a jigsaw destined to never be completed. Initially, Jacob is very aware of the gaps in his recollections and is drawn over and over to try and reconstruct his past accurately:

`It is not that these surfacing memories just come. No, he casts around for them even when not exactly conscious of it, he forces himself into them and wears valleys through them. He plays games trying to connect them and establish a continuity of time.'

Jacob's frustration at his cognitive loss is strikingly conveyed:

`...he begins, on the periphery of a memory he cannot quite place...He pauses, interrogating his brain aggressively for the clarity that sometimes comes out of temporary confusion, but this time it doesn't come.'

Harvey has obviously done her homework because her evocation of the dementing process is spot-on. Jacob's struggle with the nominal dysphasia of dementia, the inability to remember the correct word, is potently evoked as he rummages in his mind for the correct term for mundane objects such as a clothesline. His deterioration is mapped out in sessions with his neurologist, where his performance becomes progressively worse.

Characters appear and float away again, conveyed with vivid clarity of snapshots. A lover named Joy in a yellow dress...Jacob's beloved daughter Alice, who perched on his shoulders as a toddler and played with his hair...Sara, Jacob's mother, who was obliged to deny her Jewish identity while her bombastic husband was alive... Helen, Jacob's wife, so different from him in her Christian fervour and yet physically attractive to him until the end.

As the novel continues, it becomes apparent that some of Jacob's memories are false, constructed by his mind for comfort as alternatives to reality. He remembers an encounter with an adult Alice in which she introduced him to her boyfriend, a poet. But on Jacob's next prison visit to Henry, we discover that Henry's cellmate is a poet - so did Jacob imagine the encounter with his grown-up daughter? There are also mysteries which resolve only near the end when the reader has gathered enough threads of memories to weave them into a whole, although even then, some are only partially resolved: the letters that keep arriving for Helen long after her death, the sudden loss of Jacob's beloved Alice, the fate of the inheritance Sara gave Jacob.

Harvey's language is always evocative and poetic, intense and luminous, but never flowery or artificial. Her gift for apt words is as apparent in writing about everyday objects such as a 'sullied congregation' of mugs as it is describing the drifting clouds of memories which float and merge into different shapes. Her interest in philosophy surfaces in the questions Jacob poses to himself when he still has insight into his condition about whether a life can be recreated the way one wanted it to happen. In the end, Jacob's life lies in tatters like an intricate tapestry devoured by moths. Harvey expertly relates a tragic story in a harrowing and starkly powerful way. It is to her considerable credit that The Wilderness is haunting and compelling rather than depressing
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars tough storyline BUT a brilliant debut novel, 15 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Wilderness (Paperback)
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (Book Review)
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey is now in paperback by Jonathan Cape. It has been short listed for the Orange Prize. It is the author's debut novel. She has a masters degree in philosphy and has taught English, so I am now suprised it is literary and truthfull. It has been brillantly researched. This is a psychological fiction novel about Jake a 60 year old architect who has short term memory loss but his long term memory is ok. The story is his reconciltion of life as he remembers it as he sits on a plane overlooking his country. It is written in a compassionate and literary style. Nothing is as it seems. The disease highlights loss and confusion in life.

"In amongst a sea of events and names that have been forgotten, they are a number of episodes that float with striking buoyancy to the surface".

As his Alzheimers progresses his memory and his identity goes. It is narrated in the third person and its prose is lyrical. This book is the wilderness of a confused mind attacked by Alzheimers Disease. The story moves back and forth as Jake goes through memories. Fact and fiction and past and present blur in his stories.

" I feel like all my wires are been unplugged one by one. Not even in order just one by one."

This is heartwrenching and a thought provoking read. It reads like a family drama and we slowly gather the jigsaw pieces together to discover the true story. This book conveys the signifance of our memory and the cruelty of old age. We can outlive our bodies and minds. Anything is plausible and nothing is certain. The themes that run through the novel are: loss, conflict, marriage, love and religion. Reviewed by Annette Dunlea author of Always and Forever and The Honey Trap.
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The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (Paperback - 4 Feb 2010)
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