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The Wilderness- Samantha Harvey
The Wilderness - Samantha Harvey
Member Name: fibemona
The Wilderness - Samantha Harvey
Advantages: excellent and insightful
Disadvantages: slow starter
'The Wilderness' by Samantha Harvey is published by Vintage with a RRP of £ 7.99. I bought mine in Waterstones as part of the 3 for 2 offer.
Let's be honest, unless a book has come highly recommended we have to be attracted to it before we will pick it up and read the synopsis. I am as fickle as the next reader and was attracted to the simple yet stylish cover of this book. My copy is white with an illustration of a pink blossom tree. On further inspection there are hidden objects on this cover and it certainly took my attention. The synopsis on the back briefly introduces our main character and the focus of the novel.
Stylish cover; Brief but detailed synopsis; Mental health; Sold!
I hate reading a review that gives the game away so I will only briefly outline the plot. The narrative follows the life of Jake- an older gentleman, retired architect, widower with a lifelong friend acting in his wife's place. Jake is fully aware of his condition and the story follows him as he tried to come to terms with Alzheimer's whilst attempting to mask it from those around him, including family. The story progresses as does his condition and we see a shift in the way he thinks remembers and perceives the world around him, including its people. Jakes thoughts often drift back into his past and we are given an overall account of his life - from childhood with his close bond to his mother, to married life and fatherhood.
That's about all you need to know.
Initially I was a little disappointed with this book. I chose it specifically because it dealt with a mental health issue and to start with it barely addresses Alzheimer's. I spent a couple of weeks coming back to it as it failed to grip my attention. It was flat. The continual skipping back and forth between past and present seemed pointless at times. I was reading a present day chapter not having a clue who was who until I read a few chapters on and was introduced to the characters in a 'past' chapter. I really was struggling to stay interested for a while and even considered throwing it on the 'unfinished' book pile. To Think!
About two thirds of the way through the book began to turn for me. The stories from the past began to match up with the present like a jigsaw fitting into place. It was all becoming clear for me, the reader, alas not for Jake. As the novel began to piece together Jake's disease began to take over and we see him spiralling into the depths of Alzheimer's- the Wilderness.
I really enjoyed the way Harvey handled this. As a person with a professional history in mental health nursing I felt as though Harvey has allowed me a glimpse of the other perspective- that of the patient/sufferer.
Harvey continues to narrate from Jake's perspective but we see the cracks-evidence of word finding difficulties, confusion or time and place, unsure who people are, where people are, are they alive? Suddenly this book turned for me and I couldn't put it down. Again from my professional background I saw signs of deterioration e.g. examinations used. This showed me that the author has either done her research or has a personal experience of the disease. It was fascinating. More than the fantastic account of the disease, the account of the characters was moving. As we follow Jake through this terrible journey we are privy to his changing emotions, through fear, confusion, frustration, anger and finally something resembling inertia, when nothing makes enough sense to fight back.
The novel is at times heartbreaking. We are there with Jake when he is frustrated at people because he doesn't understand. Alongside Jake we see the emotions and commitment of Eleanor. Long-suffering Eleanor, how my heart went out to her! I can say no more on this without giving too much away but let me this, in my opinion women and carers like her deserve sainthood!
In hindsight now I realise that the slow start mimicked the illness itself. It is there but it is hidden, unseen and ignored like a guilty secret. The pace of the book quickens as the illness would. The focus on the illness also shifts from barely there to centre stage. I feel this was intentional to liken the narrative to Alzheimer's itself. Clever Harvey.
In sum, this book is awesome! A definite read for most people. If you are personally struggling with dementia yourself or within your family then consider how you feel before you read the Wilderness. I feel it is so true to life that it could be too emotional for some people.
If recommended to a friend I would say 'stick with it, it's worth it'.
Summary: Read it.