Sunday, August 16, 2009

land of confusion

The Wilderness is the first novel I’ve read that features a central character with Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease that offers plenty of potential for literature, but has inherent pitfalls, which I fear that Harvey fell into at times.

The way Harvey charts the progression of Jake’s illness is memorable and moving. Incidents such as the first time a loved one notices that something isn’t quite right, losing common words, and finally total bewilderment at everyone and everything.

‘He sees a mouth moving, hears words cluster together like a series of shapes that promise tessellation, but which do not, no matter how one turns them.’

I also liked the structure that Harvey used, with the main story interspersed with titled chapters reflecting past events. This made the novel feel a little like a collection of stories, perhaps showing up that there is less organisation to life that we sometimes like to believe, a pretension that Alzheimer’s is keen to strip away.

In the same way as Toibin with Brooklyn I feel Harvey probably achieved her aim, but in reality I found The Wilderness quite a confusing read. Some people have simple lives - if they then develop Alzheimer’s it becomes more confusing. However, when someone has a complex life (as Jake does to my mind) and then Alzheimer’s comes into play the story descends into chaos. To my mind Harvey tried to do too much, and didn’t quite pull it off. Jake’s story without the Alzheimer’s might have worked, the Alzheimer’s story without quite so many other threads might have worked, but the two together clashed.

‘Gradually he is being scattered and lost - hundreds of unread messages floating out across the sea.’

I came to care for the increasingly unreliable narrator Jake, his pockets stuffed full of letters, head stuffed full of grand plans for glass houses, his heart pulled in many directions at once, but at too many times during the novel I felt like I was the one losing the plot.

1 comment:

dandelion said...

I, like you found it a little too confusing at times - I forgot character's names, which was similar to what Jake was experiencing. I guess that was the author's intention, like you said. But maybe she was trying too hard? However, (and this is going to be a shallow comment so bear with me...) I think this has the best front cover of this year's Booker longlisters...x