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The New Wilderness

Narrated by: Stacey Glemboski
Length: 12 hrs and 45 mins
4 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Summary

Shortlisted for 2020 Booker Prize

From an acclaimed Guardian First Book Award finalist comes a debut novel.

Bea's five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the overdeveloped, overpopulated metropolis they call home is ravaging her lungs. Bea knows she cannot stay in the City, but there is only one alternative: the Wilderness State. Mankind has never been allowed to venture into this vast expanse of untamed land. Until now. 

Bea and Agnes join 18 other volunteers who agree to take part in a radical experiment. They must slowly learn how to live in the unpredictable, often dangerous Wilderness, leaving no trace on their surroundings in their quest to survive. But as Agnes embraces this new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter's life might mean losing her in ways she hadn't foreseen.

At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary, urgent novel from a celebrated new literary voice. 

©2020 Diane Cook (P)2020 W F Howes

Critic reviews

The New Wilderness is a virtuosic debut, brutal and beautiful in equal measure.” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel)

“Cook's is a fresh and vivid voice; it's unsurprising the likes of Miranda July and Roxane Gay are fans.” (Observer)

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Unbelievably overrated

Hard to comprehend how this made the Booker Shortlist when Mantel's The Mirror and the Light didn't. Although why the person who spawned Jack Reacher should be one of the judges makes a mockery of what this literary prize is supposed to be.
Anyway - I digress. The New Wilderness is full of implausible characters, hazily sketched ideas, and even lazier plot holes. I can only assume it's made the list because of its timely subject. We don't learn why particular things do or don't happen. But not in a deliberate, skilful way - ie to fill us with unease and existential dread - just in a way that leaves us suspecting Cook either couldn't be bothered to explain them, or worse, didn't even realise she needed to.
For instance, without giving too much away one deeply irritating point is the fact the rangers keep popping up like Mr Ben at various points to rail at the group of people who have been allowed into the wilderness. They despise the group, but it doesn't appear that the rangers are protective of nature per se; just that they like to use nature as a metaphorical stick to beat these hapless people with. I gave up trying to fathom why when I gave up trying to care.
The narrator made it possible for me to stick with it till the end, but that's the best I can say for it. Far from the thought-provoking, intelligent read I was expecting, it left me with a horrible sense that this is a book JK Rowling would like to have written.