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The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey

The Wilderness (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Samantha Harvey

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2291050,561 (3.28)1 / 83
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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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 himself to dementia. On the other hand, it was very slow and I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally got to the end.

I was listening to an unabridged audiobook, somewhat tediously read, in a rather monotone drone. However, the fact that it was audio, and therefore much harder to backtrack when I got lost, actually added to the whole confused air of the novel. When Jake was trying to recall the word for something, if I couldn't find the word immediately, the narrator continued without me, leaving me feeling as if I was suffering the same loss.
Some of Jake's memories are facts, some, we learn towards the end, are false memories.

In his time he had been a capable architect, he had a son, Henry, now in the prison that he, himself had designed. His wife, Helen, has died and there is a daughter, Alice. He is currently married to his childhood friend, Eleanor, who "has waited 30 years for him, only to find he is lost" (quoted from memory as I do not have a written version.)

There are some clever themes that keep reappearing, the colour yellow, the sound of a gun shot and various references to cherry trees, cherries and falling blossom. Unfortunately my admiration for clever writing is not sufficient when I find a book too long and drawn out and am considering abandoning it as I stubbornly keep listening.
More fool me!

Other books I have read with a theme of Atzheimer's:
Still Alice by Lisa Genova (5 stars)
Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham (5 stars) ( )
  DubaiReader | May 26, 2014 |
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. ( )
2 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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:53 -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)

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