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The Wilderness

3.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  578 Ratings  ·  121 Reviews
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.

As the disease takes ho
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 23rd 2009 by Jonathan Cape (first published 2008)
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Aug 18, 2015 Paul rated it liked it
I have some trouble reviewing this because I meet people who have dementia most of the time in my work.
It is the story of Jake, an architect, who has Alzheimer's type dementia. The novel cuts between past and present and is very poignant. The story of Jake's family; his mother, wife and son unfolds. At the start of the book Jake has dementia at a fairly early stage; his wife died aged 53, his son is in a prison he designed. His history is not clear because as the book goes on it becomes clear th
Jul 17, 2009 Beatrice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
I borrowed this book from the v-city public library (and took it on my kayaking trip, where it got wet and moldy) mostly hoping for a dim intellectual insight into my grandmother's disease, which I hardly understand. I did not have high hopes or expectations but this ended up being one of the most haunting, lovely, and unforgettable books I've read in a long time. I loved it.

Harvey's story (marked, in equal parts it seems to me, by her training in both creative writing and philosophy) is about J
Feb 05, 2010 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, booker-list
Of all the 2009 Booker nominees I've read, this has blown everything else out of the water. I've become addicted to this book in the few days we've spent together, sneaking off to read it at every spare moment, completely caught up in Jake's deterioration and recollection. The signposts that Harvey deposits throughout the book performed little cinches on my heart every time I encountered one.

It's absolutely breathtaking what the author has done in (de)constructing the world of the Alzheimer's pa
Feb 17, 2009 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
But oh no, not an easy read. I'm used to racing through books, but who can race through the tangled wilderness of a deteriorating mind. And who would even want to skim quickly through the rich landscape of imagery created by this most-talented author...

Ms. Harvey deftly flips back and forth through time and memories as Jake's mind and world erodes. If we are lost, consider poor Jake-- or perhaps your mother, or your father-in-law, or your great-aunt Charlotte --as they wander through the tangled
Apr 10, 2010 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Wilderness is a wonderfully rich and heartbreaking debut novel in which Samantha Harvey takes up the formidable challenge of taking readers inside the deteriorating mind of a man afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. Sixty-five-year-old architect Jake Jameson desperately tries to make sense of a life imbued with joy, sadness, and regret, even as the memories that define him and his life begin to morph and slip free of his mental grasp. He has faced his fair share of tragedies: his wife died at ...more
Aug 01, 2009 Tracy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've read of my 2009 Booker longlist marathon (if the third on the list) and it's placed the bar pretty high.

The protagonist is a man suffering from Alzheimer's and remembering his life - but the bits and pieces that don't always mesh, he's never sure of the timeline and sometimes he's not sure of who he's remembering and scenes come back to him or fade away over and over.

And it's about his relationship with his mother, with his son, with the women he's loved or not love
Jun 10, 2009 Becky rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Maybe if I didn't have anything else to read I would have finished this book. It was just too random and sad - but I don't know how a book about Alzheimer's can't be random and sad. I guess I should have picked up a different book and saved this heavier read for another time.

read until page 161
"One day, he supposes, he will not even remember that he does not know or remember..."
"She told him if he remembered something and he c
Aug 19, 2009 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think Samantha Harvey goes too far to identify her protagonist's thoughts, because if she did he would be far too incoherent (see The Sound and Fury) for this novel to be pleasurable reading. That's not to say this story of the fractured four years in which his Alzheimer's condition worsens is a fun read. At least it is possible to follow his revisionist memory, but through these re-worked memories we do sense the devastation.
Author Annette Dunlea
Jun 15, 2009 Author Annette Dunlea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (Book Review)
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey is now in paperback by Jonathan Cape. It has been short listed for the Orange Prize. It is the author’s debut novel. She has a masters degree in philosphy and has taught English, so I am now suprised it is literary and truthfull. It has been brillantly researched. This is a psychological fiction novel about Jake a 60 year old architect who has short term memory loss but his long term memory is ok. The story is his r
Jun 09, 2011 Jeruen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I have been mentioning from time to time whenever I review a book, I rarely put a book down simply because the beginning part of the book seems to be bad. I usually finish the book all the way to the end hoping that it would turn good as I go along. And this time around, I am glad that I did that for this book.

So, what is this book about? This book tells the tale of Jacob Jameson, an architect, with two kids, a wife, a mistress, and an Alzheimer’s disease patient. The book starts with an unre
"The Wilderness" is not the book for you if you enjoy tight plotting or fast-paced action. Much like "The Bee-Loud Glade" it offers a 300-pages-long momentary glance into a unique mind on the outskirts of "normal" society.

Jake's struggles with Alzheimer make for an odd read. There are times when the narrator follows the conversations happening around him or describes Jake's experiences in astounding clarity - only for him to open his mouth and say something incomprehensible. Once you get used to
Paula Maguire
This was a difficult book to read but has some amazing insight and prose. It centres around Jake, a old man who is trying to cope with progressive Alzheimer's. Written in the first person we are firmly embedded in his mind and it's kaleidoscoping fragments of the present and the past and the fantasies and frustrations of trying to remember a word, what one is supposed to be doing, who people are etc.. It is a moving book and obviously sad and scary. There seems to be no peace for him as his mind ...more
Jan 18, 2015 Natania rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't find this all it was cracked up to be by James Wood and others. Woolfian? Not particularly. It was very anodyne, somehow, painfully British in the way emotions only came out obliquely, with none of the joy or sensuality of Mrs. Dalloway (to which at least one reader compares the book). It's also a little half-assed, or maybe just half-committed, in its depiction of the mother, Sara, her Jewishness, and her feelings about having lost all her family to the Nazis; the moral-political attit ...more
David Grieve
The story of a man looking back on his life as he slowly deteriorates as a result of Alzheimer's. The description of his confusion as he gets worse is very good and you get a real feel of his confusion. Unfortunately the flashbacks which are not linear are slightly confusing and frankly not terribly interesting. It doesn't help matters when he starts misremembering events. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic or memorable so all in all I was quite glad to get to the end.
Roger Brunyate
Fascination, frustration, enlightenment…

Somehow I have missed most recent novels about Alzheimer's, such as Still Alice by Lisa Genova and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. So this debut novel by Samantha Harvey is my first. I found it fascinating to begin with, then frustratingly elusive, then ultimately enlightening—a reading process that started at a delighted five-star level, then plunged to around three, then back to a high four. As a fan of Harvey's brilliant third novel, Dear Th
May 04, 2016 Jesika rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mount-tbr-2016
On occasion there is something about a book, as you see it on the shelf in the book store, that calls to you and you know that you just absolutely have to read it. 'The Wilderness' was one such book for me - and then I read the blurb. This was five years ago and my beloved Grandad had begun to spiral ever quicker away from us as he battled his own Alzheimer's. I knew then that I just couldn't face the book -it was clearly going to be painful and this is the only reason I can think of that a book ...more
Mar 24, 2010 Mary rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This proves I will read anything. Its about a man who has it all, then loses it all,literally. Its too wordy and digresses, leaving the whole story unresolved. I guess thats what a book about Alzeimers might be, remind me never to get it (the disease). It might have been better if written in the voice of the woman who loved him
Jan 06, 2015 Poko13 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written! Some passages literally took my breath away! The novel functions on several levels, moving deftly between and among them: Jacob, searching for his identity (Jewish? Gentile? Do we leave Europe behind? Am I British? A modern architect - or a child of the moors?); wife of Helen and father of Henry and Alice - or lover in a fantasy? Successful architect - of increasingly minimally-functioning retiree with Altzheimer's? Jacob is caught in a tangle of memories, where past and pre ...more
Jake Reynolds
Jul 15, 2014 Jake Reynolds rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful, coruscating piece of literature that is also - unbelievably - a debut novel. Focusing on retired architect Jake Jameson and his battle with Alzheimer's disease, Harvey's prose is intelligent, touching and elegantly structured, so that you're gripped throughout. The fact that if you described the plot (which seems too simple a word) to a friend they wouldn't think of the word 'gripping' makes this even more of an achievement.

This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was un
Nov 20, 2010 Seth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Super heavy and well crafted, dealing nicely with notions of the construction of identity and character through a shifting set of inconsistent memories of the main character who has Alzheimer's.
Laura Seuschek
I walked away with a different perspective on life after reading this.
Jul 12, 2014 DubaiReader rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, 2014
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 g
Jul 04, 2010 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jake Jameson has trouble finding himself, trouble locating himself in moments and places. The retired architect stutter-steps through his days, not knowing how he got from the top of the stairs to the bottom, or what point he's been arguing so forcefully. But, "in amongst a sea of events and names that have been forgotten, there are a number of episodes that float with striking buoyancy to the surface." These episodes are the stories around which Samantha Harvey's "The Wilderness" is built.

Mar 26, 2009 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: march-2009
Subjective as memory is, when we begin to lose vast chunks of it, we become unreliable as narrators of our own lives, and even those memories that are etched on our brains become suspect. Harvey's narrator, Jake Jameson, a retired architect, is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The book meanders, as his mind does, back and forth through the years and experiences of his life, exploring how we create and recreate ourselves over time, and how when memory starts to go, others are free to challenge ...more
Frank Parker
May 06, 2013 Frank Parker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What is the truth about what happened in the past? Can we ever know? There have been many experiments in which a group of witnesses to the same event have been asked to recount what they saw. It is rare for such recollections ever to be complete or in complete agreement. When we recall events from our own past, how certain can we be that what we remember is how it really was? I know that when my wife and I engage in those “do you remember when ...” conversations her perception is usually differe ...more
Marion Katrina
A touching insight into the wilderness of a deteriorating mind, Samantha Harvey's debut novel is both brave and beautiful in its depiction of Alzheimer's disease. The theme of memory is weaved with a subtle complexity into Jake's fragmented narrative, reappearing as evolving motifs which bear greater meaning and significance as the incongruent pieces of an infinite and never ending puzzle are forced together. A cherry tree, varying shades of yellow, battenberg cake; events, people and objects bl ...more
Aug 04, 2010 Hattie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 prisoner ...more
Nov 01, 2012 Jen rated it really liked it
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 Alzheimers disease.[return][return]This was a touching, enthralling story, and yet it wasnt 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 shouldnt be abl ...more
Marc Nash
Wilderness sees a man casting back, or trying to cast back on his life, impeded by his descent into dementia. Fractured memories slip away, as he tries to glue them back together again. There is a hint of narrative being subverted, as memories are reconstituted but differing from their previous airing. But this is only lightly offered throughout as a framing mechanism. Some of the writing is ravishingly beautiful, to match its bleak marshland of Lincolnshire where the novel is set. "her body los ...more
Jim Elkins
Nov 10, 2013 Jim Elkins rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
There is a scene early in this novel in which a man's mother gives him an old Bible as a gift. [return][return]"'It belonged to my parents,' she said. 'Why don't you have it now, now that you're married to a religious woman?'" the mother asks. "'It's my gift to you both, maybe a wedding gift since you just ran away and married in secret.'"[return][return]This is a typically bald moment. Big things come spurting out here without any warning. [return][return]"He nodded, a little underwhelmed by th ...more
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Samantha Harvey has completed postgraduate courses in philosophy and in Creative Writing. In addition to writing, she has traveled extensively and taught in Japan and has lived in Ireland and New Zealand. She recently co-founded an environmental charity and lives in Bath, England.

Her first novel, The Wilderness, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009, longlisted for the 2009 Man Boo
More about Samantha Harvey...

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“She would be afraid to fly when it came to it, and the rest of the world is not so interesting, Jacob, only different people doing the same things in a foreign language. pg. 198” 4 likes
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