Newest Review: ... is a fictional account but in parts I could even relate to it with my own expericiences. The first few pages were hard to ge... more
A very different insight into Alzhiemers
The Wilderness - Samantha Harvey
Member Name: Kaizen
The Wilderness - Samantha Harvey
Advantages: Interesting subject matter and well-handled
Disadvantages: Slow introduction
A plot description of 'The Wilderness' really does not do justice to what the book is actually about. On the surface, this is an account of an aging architect, Jake, recalling his life story as it disappears to the clutches of Alzheimer's disease. However, with a very clever narrative style, Harvey has created an emotional and outstanding debut novel.
This stems from using Jake and his failing memories as the centre point of the novel. Although not in the first person, the reader is fed the story through his increasingly fragmented memories. As the novel proceeds, we can see the deterioration of his condition, and the frustration and confusion left in its wake, as Jake recalls memories the reader has already seen countless times, but with them changing slightly every time he does. It is also very rewarding to finally see the stories behind some of the themes like the yellow dress, that are continually mentioned and only explained later and see how they have shaped Jake's life.
This narrative viewpoint makes for a very intense read, as we get to see Jake as a not entirely sympathetic character. By seeing his resentment towards his wife and callousness towards the woman, who has given up everything to be his carer, Harvey adds an element of humanity to the story. After all, who can't identify with the selfish frustrations of a man discovering he can't have it all in life? Whilst he might not be likeable, it certainly makes the reality of Alzheimer's as something anyone could have, hit home.
The main problem with this novel is actually 'getting into it.' Whilst the book is a rewarding read and well worth persisting with for a terrific insight into the terror involved in the progression of this disease, the beginning is best described as a mess. It is really difficult to fathom who characters are and their relation to Jake, with the lack of linearity in the book. Memories appear seemingly at random, which, whilst giving some authenticity to the idea of this as an organic memoir, is a bit of a struggle to keep up with at first.
The prose also feels a little stale to begin with at first. Harvey does use some brilliant turns of phrase and descriptions, which remind me very much of Lionel Shriver. However, at the beginning of the book, it feels like much of the description is forced and slows down the already tedious process of trying to understand exactly what is happening. However, it does develop well and helps add to the hazy, dream-like atmosphere, where it is unsure as to exactly what is real and what is just the product of a dying brain.
Although hardly enjoyable subject matter and an introduction that is a bit of a slog, 'The Wilderness' definitely feels like a very sympathetic account of an awful experience and a brave attempt at tackling very difficult subject matter.
Summary: Worth the patience you might need for it.