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The Wilderness Between Us

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A group of old friends undertake a multi-day hike in the magnificent, but remote Tsitsikamma mountains in South Africa. At the last minute, one of them cannot make it and her twenty-year-old anorexic daughter takes her place. Things go wrong when the self-appointed leader ignores weather warnings. The group is separated and, when flooding occurs and they are cut off from the primary route, relationships, survival skills and the truth are put to the test.

Juxtaposing physical and psychological suspense, The Wilderness Between Us is about the wiles, wonders and perils of hiking. It’s about listening to yourself and others, and to what’s around you. It’s about relationships and human behaviour – good, bad and questionable – and most importantly it’s about compassion.

A vivid, moving story about family, friendship and adventure, it also explores the healing power of nature and expounds the author's love for animals and the outdoors.

282 pages, Paperback

First published July 31, 2021

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About the author

Penny Haw

5 books107 followers
Penny Haw worked as a journalist and columnist for more than three decades, writing for many leading South African newspapers and magazines before yielding to a lifelong yearning to create fiction.

Her stories feature remarkable women, illustrate her love for animals and nature, and explore the interconnectedness of all living things.

The Invincible Miss Cust is Penny’s debut historical fiction. It will be followed by a second work of historical fiction in 2023. The Woman at the Wheel is based on the life of Bertha Benz, the wife of the "father of the automobile", Carl Benz. It will be published by Landmark Sourcebooks on October 3, 2023. Penny also the author of 2022 winner of the Women's Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) Star Award (general category), The Wilderness Between Us and a children's book, Nicko, The Tale of a Vervet Monkey on an African Farm. She lives near Cape Town, South Africa.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews
Profile Image for Whispering Stories.
2,640 reviews2,559 followers
October 13, 2021
Book Reviewed on www.whisperingstories.com

The luxuriant South African bush with its exotic plants and animals, and eight friends on a hike through the mountains. What could go wrong? Quite a bit, it turns out. From floods to life-threatening injuries, the hikers encounter much more than they planned.

Twenty-something Clare Bosson is a last-minute substitute for her mother, who couldn’t make the trip. She is struggling with anorexia, trying to pull herself out of the illness by exerting tighter than ever control over herself. As the group prepares to set off on the second day’s hike, Clare comes down with a severe migraine and can’t go along. She waits behind, intending to hitch a ride with the rangers when they move the group’s supplies to the next campsite. Worried about the girl being alone, Faye Mackenzie stays with her. Faye is a timid woman who is often the butt of her husband Derek’s jokes. Years of this have drained her self-confidence.

The second day of hiking was a disaster. The main group of hikers finds the Bloukrans River swollen by unseasonable heavy rains. One of them nearly drowns and Derek injures his back saving her. Clare and Faye are in better shape, until, that is, Clare takes off on a long hike alone and severely injures herself in a fall. Faye finds herself responsible for the young woman, who is too hurt to move. After years of Derek’s gaslighting, will she be able to find the strength and confidence she needs to survive in the bush and get help for Clare’s life-threatening injuries?

The Wilderness Between Us is a story of personal growth. Forced together by circumstances, Clare and the older woman develop a bond of friendship like none she’s known before. By the end of the book, each helps the other and herself realize that they’ve been missing much of life has to offer and they make some crucial decisions for their future.

The main story is, of course, the African hike and the tribulations of the hikers. But the writer also uses flashback scenes to explain how the characters got to be the way they are. Readers get insight into Clare’s anorexia, Derek’s bullying behavior, Faye’s descent into self-doubt, and much more. The action moves along but not in such a way that the pace seems rushed.

Like several of the books I’ve reviewed, this one is peppered with foreign words and names. However, the author has helpfully included a glossary at the beginning, and this helps the reader immensely.

Although I was unable to finish it in one sitting, The Wilderness Between Us was difficult to put down. Clare and Faye are likable, sympathetic, and I found myself rooting for them throughout the book. This is one book that I can enthusiastically recommend.
Profile Image for Joyce Yarrow.
Author 9 books127 followers
July 19, 2021
There are some books that need to be written and from the first page of The Wilderness Between Us, I recognized this groundbreaking novel as one of them. Penny Haw juxtaposes physical and psychological suspense in a riveting story, as we join the forest and its beautifully described flora and fauna and bear witness to the transformation of the book’s fully drawn cast of human characters. Haw’s writing is crisp, unflinching, and ultimately a vehicle for opening the reader’s heart to difficult realities we cannot afford to ignore. In her deft hands, anorexia is portrayed as a mental illness rather than a ‘human failing,’ and the often oppressive nature of marriage is dealt with as an opportunity for healing and liberation. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Terry Tyler.
Author 29 books568 followers
June 18, 2021
I read this book via an ARC from the author, for Rosie Amber's Review Team. The fact that it was free has not affected this honest review.

A close-knit group of friends set off on a hike in the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa. Three couples, one father and his daughter.
From the beginning there are problems; one person falls ill, and another takes no notice of the rangers' weather warnings, leaving them stranded in various locations.

This interesting and highly readable drama centres around Clare, the daughter, who has anorexia, and Faye, the wife of Derek, whose own insecurities manifest themselves in the psychological abuse he bestows on Faye; he uses a version of the 'gaslighting' technique, lying to her about things she has said and done in order to make her doubt her own emotional stability. Although I understood the situation, I did find it frustrating that she was such a complete doormat and appeared never to have stood up for herself about anything in her entire married life.

Clare's story was most compelling; how the anorexia began, the reasons behind it, the way in which it took hold and the repercussions. Clare's self-awareness made her likable, and I thought the whole subject was dealt sensitively and intelligently, while still making for a good story in which I was totally engrossed.

I liked that this was set in South Africa, not a part of the world I know much about, and I enjoyed the occasional South African/Afrikaans word, even when I wasn't sure what it meant. I thought there could have been more of a sense of desperation, fear and hunger, considering the precarious situation everyone was in, but the intricate emotional dynamics kind of made up for this, from a reader's point of view. I particularly liked Faye's feeling of connection with her environment, near the end.

I had a few issues with some of the content (such as a few instances of the word 'convince' that should have been 'persuade' - it's one of my pet peeves!), but nothing major. I enjoyed this book, it's a thoroughly good read - and the cover is gorgeous!
Profile Image for B.C. Harris.
Author 1 book12 followers
June 20, 2022
The Wilderness Between Us by Penny Haw

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I went along on the hike into the African bush, because the author took me there. The sights and sounds, the fabulous landscapes, from the smallest flowers to the tallest mountains, I could see it all in my mind. Seven older friends and the daughter of one, all taking on the wilderness.

These are well constructed interpersonal relationships, shared by a group who have known one another for decades. The story focuses upon five of them in particular. They are all very different people, who experience one another differently, and not always positively. Their individual personalities are revealed as the author takes us seamlessly between their pasts and their presents, how they met and where life has taken them. The hike is a long planned journey, finally taking place despite the fact one of the friends can’t make it.

One of the party is economical with the truth regarding the approaching weather however, and most of the party carry on into the second day hike, oblivious to the dangers facing them. But two have stayed behind at the first camp for their own reasons. Faye and Claire, thrown together, stranded, in real danger, alone with nothing but the forest to shelter them.

I adored Faye; a wimp who must become a warrior if they are both to make it. She has been lied to, bullied, belittled and suffocated by the man who is supposed to love and cherish her. Now she is on her own, and someone’s life depends upon her every action and decision.

Claire was a bit of a mystery to me at the outset; a hardworking and intelligent young woman caught up in the deception of anorexia. This is something I knew very little about. I now have far greater insight into how it can take over an entire personality, and distort the whole of that life. I also better understand the devastating effect it has on the family and friends of sufferers. But this is no self-help or sympathy read. Claire’s anorexia is revealed brilliantly and tenderly by the author; a woman who, in her notes before the start of the story, tells us of her personal experience of the disorder.

All in all this is a wonderful story of tenacity over tragedy. The male lead characters were just as compelling as the intrepid feminine duo… though one man shone most brightly in everything negative. There’s always one, isn’t there? The ending was just, and the closing moment left me with a wonderful mental image, and a warm feeling inside.
Profile Image for Katie Allen.
Author 1 book10 followers
May 9, 2022

Vivid, compelling and unforgettable

I went into this book relishing the idea of being transported to mountains and forests of South Africa and came out amazed at how Penny Haw immersed me not just in nature, but in complex family dynamics and lives unfulfilled – but still with so much to play for. If that’s a little too wordy, it’s because I am struggling to get across all the things this beautiful book achieved for me.

The setting is vivid and fascinating, at times cruel, at others beautiful, and integral to the plot in a way that was entirely believable. I loved lines such as, 'The forest was alive when she awoke hours later. It was as if the birds were celebrating the warmth of the sun as it fought its way through the clouds.'

But what really stood out for me was the way Haw let her characters explore their lives so far and the events and people who have made them who they are. Thrust as they are into perilous situations in the wilderness, those characters must make decisions to change and to shake off their fears. Without giving anything away, there were some wonderful punch-the-air moments for me as a reader.

I felt the multiple points of view worked well and did so because each character was given so much depth – with elements from their past deftly woven into the story. The chapters rotated through these points of view in such a way as to fill in gaps, create new suspense and present countering views and it all added up to a truly satisfying read.

This is the first novel I have read to deal in depth with anorexia. I felt it was done with such a sensitive and knowledgeable touch. Clare’s own experience of anorexia is explored in detail but so too is the impact on her parents, siblings and friends. There are some beautiful lines, as below, that convey Clare’s emotional state and her nascent friendship with Faye, a friend of Clare’s parents with whom she is thrown together when a hiking trip goes wrong.

It was as if, without asking or even anticipating that she might not be welcome, Faye had simply stepped into the bubble Clare had created to hold the world at bay. It was meant to be a place where she could remain numb, put life on pause. Others had seen it, but now Faye ignored it and Clare was grateful.

Faye is also fascinating. Little by little we discover more about her marriage and about who she once was. I have rarely rooted for a character as much as I rooted for Faye.

This is not a particularly long novel and yet beyond main characters Faye and Clare, we also get to know several others, including Clare’s father, Faye’s husband and their whole hiking group made up of old friends. The dynamic in this decades-old group is brilliantly recognisable.

This isn’t the kind of book to hit readers over the head with a moral or message, but it did leave me with a strong sense of hope. There is the hope we can change, the hope we can work at understanding each other better, hope we can be more accepting. As Faye says to Clare, ‘None of us stay the same as we experience life. We change. We evolve.’

The Wilderness Between Us is a beautifully written book full of hope and unforgettable characters. With its a rare mix of suspense, exquisite prose and thoughtfulness, it’s a book I will return to again and again and recommend over and over.

June 26, 2021
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I raced through it. Maybe it is because of all the lockdowns, but I have such a deep yearning for an immersive experience in nature. The Tsitsikamma Forest actually becomes an important character in this exciting novel, leaving powerful messages for those characters who have the sensitivity to receive them.
The structure of this book is excellent: adventure and drama interweaved with fascinating psychological threads. Clare’s struggle with anorexia was, for me, the most compelling: the elements of sexuality and shame, of individuality and community, of control and helplessness. Clare tried to use the same techniques which got her in trouble, to try get out of it. It is a wrong-headed but sometimes successful strategy which I often experiment with, myself, so I really identified and sympathised with Clare.
Profile Image for N.A. Granger.
Author 8 books24 followers
July 30, 2021
The story: A close knit group of long-time friends plan a several days’ hiking trip together in the remote and mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa, along its southern border. When one of the group members, Michelle, can’t make the trip because of her duties as a high court judge, she has her daughter Clare go in her place. Clare is an anorexic, which is a poorly guarded secret, and has isolated herself from people because of her disorder. She agrees to go, so she can spend time with her father, Geoffrey, but it is clear from the outset that she feels and wants herself to be apart from the group.
Although the story is Clare’s, it is also that of Faye, the middle-aged wife of Derek, who is an emotional batterer. Faye has little belief in herself or her independence after years of marriage to him and feels fearful and helpless. When Clare develops a migraine, she stays behind at the group’s first overnight camp. The rest head off on a long hike, unaware that Derek has not told them that unseasonal rains have been predicted, which could create dangerous floods of the rivers they have to cross. After a few hours of hiking, Faye, feeling guilty about leaving Clare alone and wanting to be away from the ever-badgering husband, decides to head back alone to the first camp. The rains do come and the rivers flood, wreaking havoc with the hiking group, and Clare is seriously injured when she falls from an overlook of a river near the first camp. Faye takes control for both of them, building a shelter when she finds Clare is too badly injured to return to camp, nursing the young woman and sleeping by her to keep her warm. Together, they discover that they share a common emotion – shame – which keeps them trapped in their situations. Despite the differences in their ages, both women, but Faye especially, uncover the reasons for their shame and also find courage through their growing relationship.
This is a terrific book, entwining and describing with flashbacks the intricacies of the interpersonal relationships of the group and the lack of personal awareness in both Faye’s and Clare’s lives. Faye’s manipulation by Derek, who is wonderfully created as an overbearing person acting out his insecurities, and Clare’s extreme control of her life through her anorexia, develop through the backstory so the reader comes to understand how they reached this point. Anorexia is by its nature difficult to understand, and the author does a brilliant job explaining Clare’s descent into the illness. The reader can feel the physical challenges facing the members of the hiking group and the stark, isolated and challenging environment in which they find themselves. And one can’t help but cheer as Faye’s newly discovered resilience and resourcefulness helps to support Clare, as she faces increasing weakness and the possible outcome.
The story is gripping, tense and well-wrought, in terms of the characters’ complex narratives, the beauty of the South African wilderness, and the constant danger surrounding the hikers. Spoiler: Not all will survive.
This book is a powerful celebration of human resiliency, and I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Terri (BooklyMatters).
491 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2021
Spellbinding. Poignant. Inspirational.

Brimming with the naturalism of Barbara Kingsolver and the authenticity of Anne Tyler, this book reached and filled a Covid-fueled paucity I wasn’t fully aware of.

“What was there to be afraid of in this place where everything was as you saw it - naked and enduring because it knew no other way?”

A group of middle-aged friends, accompanied by the anorexic and troubled daughter of one of the friends, hike across the Tsitsikamma national park in South Africa, and along the way, learn about friendship, love, fear, compassion, and the wonder of the open-hearted wilderness inside each of us.

Derek - an obnoxious bully, married to Faye, herself a sweet and unassuming woman, always willing to put others needs before her own.

Geoffrey - a landscaper and nature-lover, married to Michelle, and father of Clare, a twenty- year old dealing with the anguish of her own self-imposed isolation and complicated relationship with self, shame, and nourishment.

Diane, - life-long friend of Michelle and Derek - who is unwilling to cover up the lies and deceit she sees unraveling.

The ensuing hike, now a journey of life-changing proportions for each of the characters, is fraught with danger, compassion and most of all, for our main protagonists, - introspection, and solace. The beauty and urgency of the natural world presented startled me in the vividness of its resonance, and its impact on the characters, as they faced the challenges presented, was mesmerizing.

“(The trees) had not only sheltered her, but also revealed to her a sanctuary she’d take away and keep forever”

Interspersed with up-close observations of the South African wilderness in all its glory, including plants and trees, as well as encounters with leopards, baboons, aardvarks, antelopes, boars, birds and reptiles, I did not want to leave this world, and the primacy of its reach.

“It was possible to unclaim a part of herself and let the world in. That unlocking had also set some things free, and it was good. It was possible,she thought, that the nature within her was a beautiful as the nature around her.”

A big thank you to the author and the publisher for an ARC of this beautiful book. All thoughts presented are my own.
Profile Image for Staceywh_17.
1,949 reviews19 followers
July 26, 2021
How gorgeous is the bright, eye catching cover?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one & would highly recommend it to anyone. The plotline was compelling & very well written. Well developed characters & visual descriptions made this book an immersive read...I also found myself looking up all the animals & plants on Google too, so I was able to visualise it more realistically. Emotive, uplifting & captivating.

This would make an amazing film or television series & a second follow on book would be awesome.

Many thanks to @randomthingstours for my spot on the tour & for my gifted copy of the book.
22 reviews
April 7, 2022
A great description of the Otter Trail in South Africa written around a riveting experience of a group of people who went on it.
Profile Image for Maryam.
11 reviews
April 5, 2022
This book was truly majestic. It made me dream about nature all through the day. So touching. So real.
Profile Image for Christopher Bowron.
Author 8 books167 followers
August 17, 2021
Author Penny Haw has created a wonderful story with the South African outback as backdrop. Clare, who suffers from a eating disorder, is asked to take the place of her mother on a week-long hike with her father and his close friends. During the trek, Clare comes to ground with her demons with the help of her parent’s friend, Faye, who is dealing with her own difficulties. The story is wonderfully written, the reader feeling as if they are in the wilds of Africa.

I was captivated from the first page, wanting to know more. Having a daughter with an eating disorder myself, I found a greater understanding of the sickness. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a book filled with fast-paced prose, intrigue and morality.
Profile Image for Love and Literature.
45 reviews7 followers
July 31, 2021
Disclaimer: I was given a free advanced reader copy (e-ARC) of Penny Haw’s book The Wilderness Between Us in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author for this opportunity.

The Wilderness Between Us is a powerful and compelling story of self-discovery, personal development and growth.

The story follows a group of old friends who have arranged to go on a hike together through the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa. Yet, after severe flooding separates the group and one member becomes critically injured, they must work together to be reunited.

Immediately, Haw’s writing had me hooked. Within the first few pages, Haw creates the perfect escape through the wonderful imagery and beautiful descriptions of the mountainous landscape. From the hazardous river crossing to the safety of the Lapa huts, Haw takes the reader on a truly immersive experience.

The characterisation was also highly creative, there’s plenty of strong personalities that are very well-developed. After being separated from the main group, a firm friendship quickly blossoms between Faye and Clare. Faye, despite often reminded of her failures by her husband, pushes herself to prove her worth after Clare becomes critically ill. Similarly, Clare reveals her deepest secrets regarding her anorexia, which is handled sensitively by the author throughout, often challenging assumptions and stereotypes. You quickly find yourself rooting for the two friends, and are fully absorbed into their journey. Meanwhile in the main group, as Clare’s condition worsens, shocking secrets are revealed and the tension continues to grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was engrossed from start to finish. My only critique would be that there were perhaps more characters than required. I often found myself forgetting who the minor characters were and how they were connected to the main group. Despite this, I found the book to be an engaging read and would recommend it to fans of action-adventure books and anyone interested in mental health and eating disorders.

Overall, I’d rate this book four and a 1/2 out of five stars. I found The Wilderness Between Us a highly enjoyable read, and look forward to any future work from Penny Haw. She’s certainly one to watch! I could go on and on about this book, but I daren’t reveal any spoilers. I highly recommend The Wilderness Between Us, as it’s the perfect piece of escapism with a highly engaging plot and strong characters.

As a trigger and content warning, anorexia nervosa is a central topic which some readers may find difficult to read. There is also a controlling and manipulative relationship mentioned throughout. As always, you’re more than welcome to message me for further details.

Read more of my reviews over at: Love and Literature
1 review
October 17, 2021
The author Penny Haw takes us on a intimate journey rich with insight into the psychology, complexity and motivation of her main characters Clare and Faye. Their interior journeys are as important as the physical journey they embark on in the Wilderness.

Despite their generational differences and their struggle with different inner demons, how they slowly and haltingly find commonality is expertly woven through the story. The authenticity of the author's characters soon has the reader deeply invested in the outcome of the story.

Nature is an important protagonist in this story. It is cleverly used by the author as a tool to create momentum, turning points and cliff hangers in the plot. The characters face enormous physical and mental challenges in the Wilderness and one is left wanting to know who will or will not prevail in the end. Parallel to this the author illustrates that nature can also provide opportunity for healing.

Surprisingly this book, categorised as women's fiction, is also a "page turner". The fickleness of nature and the consequences of behaviour in the wilderness provide ongoing action in the plot. The author has balanced the internal and external journeys of her characters with deftness and skill. Her writing is stripped, effective and flows with ease yet it is still full of rich description both of the Wilderness and her characters.

The book takes you on an adventure rich in insights into human behaviour and the power of nature to heal.
Profile Image for Theresa Hargitai.
156 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2021
I received an ARC from the author, which disconcerted me a little because I haven't done this before - knowing a writer and publicly reviewing their book, so I was concerned that I might not like it and then feel conflicted about wanting to support, but also valuing my integrity.

Well, I am delighted to announce that from the first few pages I realised that this was not going to be a problem, and I couldn't wait to get back to the book to finish it.

In short, I loved it. Penny's descriptions of the nature and the wildlife were beautiful and immersive, giving a wonderful sense of place to the dramatic story that was playing out. Her characters were deep, very believable, the relationships complex and real. I would love humble Faye as a friend and I am so proud of the women and their growth that the intense challenges inspired. And don't you love to have a nasty bully that you just want to push off a cliff?

I wish there had been a map included (is that old fashioned or only for fantasy sagas?) and that a little less was said on the back cover regarding the storyline. Oh, and a very lovely cover it is!

I initially rated this 4* because I tend to reserve 5* for my most beloved of books, and they don't have a 4.5* option which is what I want to give it, so what the heck, 5 well deserved stars it is. It is amazing.
Profile Image for Gail Gilbride .
27 reviews4 followers
June 27, 2021
The Wilderness Between Us by Penny Haw

In the Tsitsikamma region of South Africa, a hiking group are separated due to a sudden, unexpected flood. Clare, the youngest member, is critically injured and finds herself being taken care of by the anxious Faye.
The two women embark on a surprising journey of discovery, while the other members of the group struggle to survive the raging river.
Penny Haw immerses us in the rugged wilderness on every level. I found myself resonating with the landscape, as well as with the unfolding drama amongst the group of old friends. Haw’s charming writing and deep connection with nature are coupled with an understanding of how humans and animals tick.
The author skilfully intertwines the challenging physical journey with the inner worlds of her characters. Many demons are faced, and Haw does not shy away from confronting them.
The unlikely friendship which develops between Clare and the seemingly fragile Faye, is deftly handled. Penny Haw nudges uncomfortable truths to the surface and brings the sometimes-chilling wilderness right into our hearts.

I read an ARC of this book from the author. The free read has not affected this honest review.

Review by Gail Gilbride
Profile Image for Karen.
210 reviews5 followers
July 31, 2021
A remarkable journey through a jungle of emotions
When a group of friends set off on a hiking trip along the Tsitsikamma Trail in the Western Cape of South Africa, they expect a challenging but rewarding experience, enjoying all the beauty that the forest, rivers and veld has to offer. But there’s an unexpected storm and the group is split. Faye, wife of the bullying Derek, and her friend Geoffrey’s anorexic daughter Clare are thrown together in one camp while the rest of the friends battle on to the next, seeking safety.
Now the stage s is open for drama, danger and distress, both physical and emotional as the journey of more than one character becomes one of self-discovery. When and if they are reunited, certain members of the party will need to re-examine the truth of their lives.
With themes of anorexia, coercive control and toxic friendship turned sour, this is a powerful story, The background of the jungle lends a metaphorical tone that gives the narrative an extra edge. The reader can’t help but compare the turmoil in Clare and Faye’s lives to the terrain they find themselves in – all crashing rivers and thorny forests, where wild pigs prowl and leopards lurk.
Add in interesting, empathetic characters, descriptive prose and a dramatic plot, and this is a book you won’t want to put down.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
307 reviews16 followers
July 31, 2021
The Wilderness Between Us is an action-packed novel perfect for women thrill-seekers. Penny Haw brings readers a terrifying tale of life, death, and forgiveness of self.

I must admit my terror while reading. There are no ghosts or other spooky things in the woods. But the isolation, wild animals, and flooding rivers took over all rational thought. All I wanted was for everyone to be okay. I took a deep breath of relief when help finally arrived. But, those agonizing moments when I didn’t know what was going to happen almost broke me. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so tense while reading. Yet, through the terror, there was exhilaration and love for these characters. Even though the stress of the journey weighed on me, the growth that happened fulfilled me.

I am happy to award The Wilderness Between Us a full 5 out of 5 stars. The story is incredible and uplifting. Every emotion I went through was worth it because the novel is so good. I recommend this to anyone who loves a feel-good story full of action and adrenaline.

I was given a copy of this book with a request for an honest review.
Profile Image for Beth.
116 reviews6 followers
July 28, 2021
The Wilderness Between Us is a powerful and compelling story about two women who go on a journey of self-discovery and are forced to confront their demons when they’re thrown together during a hiking trip. 

The story follows a group of friends who go on a hike in the remote, mountainous Tsitsikamma region of South Africa. Faye Mackenzie and her friends’ anorexic daughter, Clare, are thrown together when a flood separates them from the rest of the group. Clare ends up critically injured and depends on Faye for her survival; but unbeknownst to Clare, Faye is battling her own demons and this dangerous situation they find themselves in offers Faye a chance to regain her independence and overcome her crippling self-doubt that has held her back for so long.

I haven’t experienced anorexia or know anyone who has suffered from it, so I can’t confirm how accurately it’s portrayed in The Wilderness Between Us, but it definitely felt very well researched and seemed to be handled sensitively. Clare’s chapters include flashbacks from when she was 17 and happy and healthy shortly before she went off to university. During her first year, she then starts to obsess over the food she eats and her calorie intake; she takes up jogging to lose weight and soon becomes unrecognisable. When her family and friends try to help her, she isolates herself and decides to take a different approach for her recovery. I found Clare’s chapters very eye-opening and learned a lot about how anorexia can take hold of a person and how hard it is to recover from. Clare is a likeable character and she’s very mature for her age considering she’s still so young. She’s aware of her eating disorder and the affect it’s having on her family, which made the story all the more compelling and you really sympathise with her struggle to overcome her disorder. I found her chapters to be very eye-opening and definitely learned more about anorexia. 

Faye also becomes isolated from her friends and family but due to completely different circumstances. Although at the time she considers it to be her choice, her husband unfortunately manipulates her in ways that she doesn’t even realise. You should be able to trust your partner and expect them to tell you the truth, but he fed her lie after lie and twisted her into someone unrecognisable. It was distressing at times to read Faye’s perspective as Haw paints a devastating picture of a woman who has been robbed of her independence without her even realising it. Fears that had never even crossed Faye’s mind before she met her husband such as driving in the dark suddenly become things she worries about and she begins to doubt herself. Her husband also enjoys putting her down in front of their friends and constantly making jokes about her, and when Faye says he takes things too far he lashes out. Haw’s portrayal of an abusive relationship felt very harrowing and all too real. It was great to see Faye gradually come to realise how confident she is in herself and her abilities. For years she doubted her ability to do her job or take up a new career, but once she was away from her husband she began to realise she is capable of many things. She helped to keep Clare alive when she’s critically injured and as comfortable as possible until help can arrive. I did feel a pang of sadness at all the years she’s lost, but I was really happy to see how she transformed during her time with Clare. She’s intelligent, capable and she became more confident in herself. It was really great to see her rediscover herself after all those years trapped in an abusive relationship.

The setting of the book is described beautifully with very vivid descriptions and it was easy to picture their surroundings. I have never been to South Africa but this book definitely had the ability to transport me there and the cover perfectly matches the landscape. While I’m not a fan of hiking, I could feel Clare and Faye’s passion for it and this made the story even more enjoyable.

The Wilderness Between Us is a very engrossing and immersive story, and you’ll experience wave after wave of emotion as Faye and Clare both go on a personal journey. I highly recommend it.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for Colleen.
224 reviews6 followers
August 22, 2021
The Wilderness Between Us by Cape Town writer Penny Haw. I read this after a discussion on a FB book club. I'm a hiker so it was attractive to me. Haw's descriptions of the power of nature in the wild are great - and salutary. The hikers here were rather unprepared and not experienced or humble enough enough to pay attention to warnings from the park rangers about the weather, and to break one of the first rules of hiking to never go off on your own and never leave someone on their own except in life and death circumstances. Being in the wilds with minimal material equipment often does bring out soul searching to oneself (Wild by Cheryl Strayed!) and soul baring to companions. Haw creates suspense and depth by describing all the characters' traumas and background from their own perspective. The extreme weather creates the circumstances through which each person's inner strengths and weaknesses come to the fore, with both positive and devastating outcomes. The power of the book is belied by it being a fairly quick read. In a similar vein, I recently read Force of Nature by Jane Harper.
1 review
June 21, 2021
From the very first chapter you can feel the dark dankness of the Tsitsikamma forrest, as the words transport you. You can hear the roar of the river and see the foraging bush pigs under fallen branches. The lurking Leopard, subtle as the signs are, could appear at any moment which adds to the suspense. The intertwined relationships of the characters, complicated but so real. Clare gives insights into the very real issues of anorexia, from the person living with it on a daily basis. All I can say is WOW! right from the first page this book captured my attention and I could not put it down! I anxiously await further titles from this extremely talented author!
August 5, 2021
This book is a lovely flowing read. I found the characters stayed with me even when I wasn't reading, and I couldn't wait to get back to the book.

The storyline flows seamlessly between the present moment drama of a group of friends on a hike beset by bad luck, and the back stories of the main characters. It also has one of the best explorations of how coercive control and gaslighting can occur in a relationship, that I've read.

The wilderness of the Tsitsikamma region in South Africa is so beautifully described that it works its way into your heart, and made me hanker to set off on a walking trail!

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Tiah.
Author 10 books69 followers
October 4, 2021
~But, if you're not okay on your own, not self-sufficient and calm, happy, in fact, in your own company, you'll forever be afraid, dreading the inevitable moment you are alone, and nervous about how you'll cope. Remember that. Get used to being alone. Enjoy your solitude.~

~There's more than one way to pick your nose.~

~I just want to be able to look at myself and feel proud, happy. So others can feel the same.~

~There was something about having the same friends for so long that blurred the boundaries. It was akin to being part of a family, which sometimes meant having to tolerate people even if you didn't really like them.~

~Things that fall can rise again.~

~When you come across remarkable people, people you imagine being friends forever, you should do whatever it takes to keep them in your life.~
Profile Image for Carol.
Author 4 books274 followers
August 1, 2021
“The Wilderness Between Us” is a well-crafted tale of friends stranded on a hiking trip by an unexpected storm.

Set against the backdrop of a vibrant forest, Haw's protagonists shine. The novel alternates between the characters’ current-day conflicts and the backstories that form them.

“The Wilderness Between Us” includes the stories of domineering Derek, his wife Faye who grows to realize her inner strength, his ex-girlfriend Michelle, Michelle’s husband Geoffroy, and their daughter Clare.

Clare’s journey with anorexia is wrought with honesty, empathy and ultimately, optimism.
Profile Image for Paige Nick.
Author 10 books107 followers
August 8, 2021
The Wilderness Between Us is the thrilling story of a group of lifelong friends who decide to do a big hike in the Tsitsikamma forest. When Michelle can't make it at the last minute, their anorexic daughter Clare takes her place.

It's a wonderful, pacy local thriller, that delves into eating disorders, adultery, and a mid-life crisis or two. And added bonus if you like a hike, an adventure and the outdoors.

I read it in a couple of sittings, it's just that kind of easy, enjoyable read.
300 reviews2 followers
February 23, 2022
This is South African Penny Haw's first adult novel and I really enjoyed it. A group of friends (some more annoying than others) go for a multi-day walk in the Tsitsikamma area, where tragedy strikes and relationships are challenged. Anorexic Clare and the older Faye are thrown together on their own in the wilderness. A great read which includes the landscape (I've never been to SA) as one of the central characters.
Profile Image for Kelly  Schuknecht.
259 reviews19 followers
July 31, 2021
I was a given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Here it is…

A group of old friends goes on a hike in South Africa. One of the friends can’t make it on the trip. So Clare, her college-age daughter, takes her place along with her dad.

Clare, who’s struggling with an eating disorder, ends up with a migraine during the trip. She chooses to stay at the cabin until she’s feeling better. Feeling a bit out of place in the group, she wants to be alone. She plans to connect back up with them later that day or the next day.

Faye, a stay-at-home mom and friend of Clare’s parents, feels uneasy about leaving Clare alone. She decides to go back to be with her.

Some rare weather derails everyone’s plans. This gives Clare and Faye some time to connect with one another. As drama unfolds, and the women have some time to reflect on their lives, the event is life-changing for both of them.

“The Faye leaving the forest wasn’t the Faye who’d arrived there.”

The Wilderness Between Us is a fairly quick read and a beautiful story.
Profile Image for Mrs M Marsh.
2 reviews
July 30, 2021
You know that feeling of reading slower and slower cause you do not want the book to end? That was how I felt. I loved the well developed characters, the feel of the forest and the underlying drama. An enjoyable read that stayed with me for a long time. I look forward to read more from this author.
2 reviews
August 2, 2021
Penny Haw is a very talented writer. She paints pictures with words which makes the reader feel as if they are in the wilderness with the characters. This is a real page turner and beautifully written. Highly recommended
2 reviews
June 23, 2021
I loved this book, was totally engrossed from start to finish. Beautiful descriptions of nature and realistic use of dialogue bring this clever story line together. Emotional, interesting, inspiring, uplifting!
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