Sunday, 8 March 2009

Book of the Week - Samantha Harvey, The Wilderness

The Wilderness is a first novel by Samantha Harvey, who was born in Kent, England in 1975. She has an M.A. in philosophy and an M.A. with distinction from the Bath Spa Creative Writing course in 2005. In addition to writing, she has traveled extensively and taught in Japan and has lived in Ireland and New Zealand. The Wilderness is a book which tackles the topic of Alzheimer's disease, and has attracted considerable attention both within the UK and internationally - it will be published late this year in French, German, Dutch and Hebrew. Sounds like a book with potential for the prize lists later in the year. Signed copies are available if you look around.

Jake Jameson is a sixty-five-year-old architect who is on the cusp of retirement. One evening he’s sitting alone in the office, staring down at an architectural drawing. He can’t quite figure out what he’s supposed to do with it. Suddenly he remembers a word, one for which he has been trying for days to recall; entropy - for him the single most interesting theory that exists, a theory that says everything loses, rather than gains, order. This idea underlies this story of a man whose memories are slowly eroding. As Alzheimer’s begins to wear away his sense of identity, Jake builds stories around his life that inform his feelings of blame and responsibility - only to have the stories disintegrate faster than he can capture them. As the plot keeps shifting and the facts unravel, little mysteries start to form: What was the problem with the missing letter “e”? What was behind the mythologies that his Jewish mother told him as a child? Where is his daughter Alice? What happened to her? Eventually we realise that even Jake’s clearest memories may not be true. He is the flawed witness to his own past, the ultimate unreliable narrator. Yet in the end we are left with a clear and moving portrait not only of a sympathetic man but also of a heartrending disease as seen from the inside out.

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