by Samantha Harvey
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The Wilderness is Samantha Harvey’s first novel, but it feels like a mature work, as well crafted and as cryptic—“familiar and strange in one breath”—as an ancient boat found preserved in the peat of the northern-England moors where the book is mostly set. The boat, like many other objects in this elaborately allusive text, is a metaphor for the problems of memory that dog the main character, Jake, an architect and the grandson of Holocaust victims, throughout his life.
Alternating chapters relate two crucial phases in Jake’s biography: the early ’60s, when, newly married to Helen, he decamps from London to the moors to care for his widowed mother; and his final years in the mid-’90s, soon after Helen’s death, when Alzheimer’s disease has infested his brain. “Odd, the way words sometimes make no sense
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