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The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey

The Wilderness (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Samantha Harvey

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225None51,284 (3.33)1 / 77
Title:The Wilderness
Authors:Samantha Harvey
Info:Jonathan Cape Ltd (2009), Edition: First Edition, Softcover, 328 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (2009)


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For Jacob Jameson, life has become strange and confusing. His brain is failing him, his ability to recognise his loved ones is slipping away from him, and his memories constantly reshape and rearrange themselves within his consciousness. Jacob has Alzheimer’s disease.

This was a touching, enthralling story, and yet it wasn’t really a story at all. It avoided the possible dangers of tangling itself into dreadful knots, or maintaining a clinical distance. I felt like I shouldn’t be able to read a book in which no character remains the same from one chapter to the next, but I was carried along by the vignettes of Jake’s life, in which more questions seem to be raised than are ever answered. This book is probably a difficult read for people who need all of the threads to be neatly tied up at the end of a story.

I don’t know an awful lot about this disease. I have only ever experienced in the context of watching the slow disassembly of elderly relatives’ personalities in a constant spiral of circular conversation and repeating my own name to remind them who I am. Until I read this book, I had never really grasped the devastating extent of this confusion and amnesia. Scary, but immensely thought-provoking. ( )
  pokarekareana | Aug 15, 2011 |
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
My thoughts and comments:
This book was a very difficult read for me what with my father-in-law and his father both succumbing to Alzheimer's Disease or dying of complications of the disease. It brought back a great many difficult memories and as my beloved father-in-law just passed a year and a half ago some of those are still very raw.
This is the 2nd or 3rd Orange book of the month that I have read that has been written in a past tense and present tense back & forth manner. I do like this style of writing and I will say that this book was well written. However, I found it difficult to engage with any of the characters other than perhaps the protagonist's mother and her gentleman friend, whose parts were rather small.
So I liked the style of the book but I can't say that I liked the book because of the personal issues that I had to deal with while reading it. Someone who has not had to live with this disease would, I am sure, have a whole different take on the book. I gave it 3 stars. ( )
1 vote rainpebble | Jul 30, 2011 |
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey is a book mainly about a man named Jacob. All the other characters are family, friends or business associates of Jacob. Sadly, Jacob is living the rest of his days on earth with Alzheimer's Disease. In my eyes, Samantha Harvey's book is all about memory. Before Jake lost the ability to remember his everyday life he worked as an architect. His own hands designed the prison in which his son lives out his days as a prisoner. Oddly, Henry and Jacob are both prisoners.

Alzheimer's Disease is catastrophic. Henry might walk out of prison someday and experience freedom again. However, the cells of Jake's brain are dying. Cells that will not grow again. The death of his brain Leaves Jake unfamiliar with any coherent sequence of events. To remember three small words is a gargantuan task. To think whether his wife is dead or alive is also hard to recall.

"He spends his time getting up to look for his dog, then, after some wandering, sits, forgetting what it was he had got up to do. "

Samantha Harvey's ability to write about the mind of a man sliding away from him like some person sliding down a hill on slippery ice is magnificent. I feel it had to be no easy task to look at the world through the eyes of a person with Alzheimer's Disease. On the cover of the book is a cup and saucer and a wilderness. Both of
these items are so disconnected. Everyday Jake's thoughts about his wives, lover, son, mother are broken in to tiny pieces like the tiles of a mosaic. Only his mosaic will never form a work of art. His mosaic is always going to make him feel stressed, numb, lost or like he has done something wrong.

The book is not an easy book to read. After all, it is about a broken mind. Still, the characters are interesting: Henry, Alice, Sara, Eleanor, etc. I would have liked to know more about Henry before he became incarcerated. It was fascinating reading about Sara's Jewish traditions and what it was like to live with a husband who was not Jewish. These are the scraps of fabric that make up Jake's identity.

With all that Samantha Harvey has put in the book, she does not leave out the caretaker. I am sure the caretaker's life is beyond extraordinary during the days of caring for an Alzheimer's patient. All of the people involved in true stories are ordinary heroes dealing with the unknown. The only known factor being memory is what shapes us. ( )
  Tea58 | Jul 1, 2010 |
Jake is in his 60s, and has Alzheimer's. The Wilderness is told from Jake's point of view, allowing the reader to experience the devastating progression of his disease. At first, Jake has trouble finding the right word to describe an object. It's a mild inconvenience, but he can still hold it together in public -- for example, at his retirement party. Slowly, he begins to lose his short-term memory, putting objects away in the wrong places and forgetting what he is about to do, or what he has just done. However, his memories of the distant past are still clear, and he clings to those stories and images as a drowning man would cling to a lifeline.

Jake married a woman named Helen, and together they left London for "the wilderness" of Lincolnshire, Jake's boyhood home. They had two children, and lived near Jake's mother Sara and her second husband, an eccentric man named Rook. Life was not always easy for Jake and Helen: his career fell slightly short of his dreams, and creating a family was not as easy as they'd hoped. Sometimes they were there for each other; at other times they each found solace in someone else. The story of Jake's past is interspersed with moments from the present, in a kind of mishmash intended to reflect the wilderness his brain has become. As Jake's condition deteriorates there are more and more gaps in his short- and long-term memory. There was one scene in which some especially emotional events take place, and at the end it's revealed that this was all a dream, embodying many of Jake's regrets and wishes.

The Wilderness is a sad story, and very well-written, but also quite difficult to read. I found myself taking it slowly, trying to ease the pain. I can't say this was an enjoyable book, but it was definitely worthy of its 2009 Orange Prize nomination. ( )
9 vote lauralkeet | Jan 23, 2010 |
From the inside cover of The Wilderness:

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.

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. ( )
  littlebookworm | Nov 5, 2009 |
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In amongst a sea of events and names that have been forgotten, there are a number of episodes that float with striking bouyancy to the surface. There is no sensible order to them, nor connection between them. He keeps his eye on the ground below him, strange since once he would have turned his attention to the horizon or the sky above, relishing the sheer size of it all. Now he seeks out miniatures with the hope of finding comfort in them: the buildings three thousand feet below, the moors so black and flat that they defy perspective, the prison and grounds, men running in ellipses around a track, the stain of suburbia.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385527632, Hardcover)

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 mid-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 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:42 -0400)

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With his memories slowly eroding from Alzheimer's, sixty-five-year-old Jake Jameson struggles to preserve his sense of identity by building stories about his feelings and the events of his life, unaware that even his clearest recollections may not be true.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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