The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey is a book mainly about a man named Jacob. All the other characters are family, friends or business associates of Jacob. Sadly, Jacob is living the rest of his days on earth with Alzheimer's Disease. In my eyes, Samantha Harvey's book is all about memory. Before Jake lost the ability to remember his everyday life he worked as an architect. His own hands designed the prison in which his son lives out his days as a prisoner. Oddly, Henry and Jacob are both prisoners.
Alzheimer's Disease is catastrophic. Henry might walk out of prison someday and experience freedom again. However, the cells of Jake's brain are dying. Cells that will not grow again. The death of his brain Leaves Jake unfamiliar with any coherent sequence of events. To remember three small words is a gargantuan task. To think whether his wife is dead or alive is also hard to recall.
"He spends his time getting up to look for his dog, then, after some wandering, sits, forgetting what it was he had got up to do. "
Samantha Harvey's ability to write about the mind of a man sliding away from him like some person sliding down a hill on slippery ice is magnificent. I feel it had to be no easy task to look at the world through the eyes of a person with Alzheimer's Disease. On the cover of the book is a cup and saucer and a wilderness. Both of
these items are so disconnected. Everyday Jake's thoughts about his wives, lover, son, mother are broken in to tiny pieces like the tiles of a mosaic. Only his mosaic will never form a work of art. His mosaic is always going to make him feel stressed, numb, lost or like he has done something wrong.
The book is not an easy book to read. After all, it is about a broken mind. Still, the characters are interesting: Henry, Alice, Sara, Eleanor, etc. I would have liked to know more about Henry before he became incarcerated. It was fascinating reading about Sara's Jewish traditions and what it was like to live with a husband who was not Jewish. These are the scraps of fabric that make up Jake's identity.
With all that Samantha Harvey has put in the book, she does not leave out the caretaker. I am sure the caretaker's life is beyond extraordinary during the days of caring for an Alzheimer's patient. All of the people involved in true stories are ordinary heroes dealing with the unknown. The only known factor being memory is what shapes us.