> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 1 September 2010
  • ISBN: 9781409075196
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 336

The Wilderness

An extraordinary debut novel by a young writer of remarkable gifts

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 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, assisted by ‘poor Eleanor’, a childhood friend with whom for some unfathomable reason he seems to be sleeping, 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.

  • Pub date: 1 September 2010
  • ISBN: 9781409075196
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 336

About the Author

Samantha Harvey

Samantha Harvey is the author of The Wilderness, All Is Song and Dear Thief. She appeared on the longlists for the Bailey’s Prize and the Man Booker, and the shortlists of the James Tait Black Award, the Orange Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. The Wilderness won the Betty Trask Award in 2009. She is a tutor on the MA course in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.

Also by Samantha Harvey

See all

Praise for The Wilderness

“Brave and intelligent ... a mesmerising work”


“A stunning composition of human fragility and intensity”


“An extraordinary dramatisation of a mind in the process of disintegration ... Brilliant - read it now, before it scoops up all the prizes”

The Times

“Touches a resounding chord of melancholy. The author, whose debut this is, is very talented.”

Evening Standard

“a forensic examination of loss and misunderstanding, a paean to the vital force of stories, and an incredibly moving look at a sword of Damocles that hangs over us all”

Tom Webber, Observer

“The imagined experience of dementia is intricately, cleverly woven.”

Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times

“A brave, intelligent book.”

Emma Lee-Potter, Express

“Harvey uses her precise and unostentatious style to full effect”

Alexander Starritt, Times Literary Supplement

“A treat for literature lovers who appreciate complexity in their novels and aren't afraid to deal with tough topics”

Library Journal

“Harvey's novel bravely reimagines the horrors of Alzheimer's from within the ever-narrowing parameters of an architect's mind.”

New York Times

“Closer to Virginia Woolf's meditative novels than anything else I can think of”

Washington Post

“The full impact of this hits in an unexpected way during the final two paragraphs. I'm still reeling.”

Lizzy Siddal, http://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com

“A forensic examination of loss and misunderstanding, a paean to the vital force of stories, and an incredibly moving look at a sword of Damocles that hangs over us all.”

Tom Webber, Observer

“Harvey shows her remarkable powers of empathy and her no less remarkable literary skill. To write about a disordered mind is to court the danger of creating a work that is itself disordered. But from start to finish her control is absolute....I can think of few more distinguished literary debuts in recent years”

Francis King, Literary Review

“Moving, convincing, adroit- it is a remarkably accomplished first novel and a beautiful jacket”

The Lady, Susan Hill

“Harvey's is certainly the outstanding fictional debut to have come my way this year”

Francis King, The Oldie

“Intricately and delicately woven”

Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times

“Impressive first novel [which] plays some original tricks with narrative”

Ophelia Field, Sunday Telegraph Magazine

“An extremely gifted writer”

Independent on Sunday

“Deeply original and captivating...The lyrical power of these shifting and competing narratives is matched by the absolute emotional realism of Jake's own desperate plight: his shame and anger and impotence are devastatingly recorded. And yet this is not a depressing novel, but rather one so full of urgent life that it rouses even as it terrifies.”

Olivia Laing, The Observer

“Many novels have documented the trials of living with dementia, but this mind-bending debut throws us straight into the skewed recesses of a sufferer's brain... An exhilarating trip, but for the thought that this is a place some of us might visit one day.”

Emma Hagestadt, Independent

“This is a finely written ode to memory, identity and love”

Financial Times

Related titles