The Wilderness is written through the eyes of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. I shouldn’t like this book, as on the surface the plot is identical to Gilead – old man looking back at his life in snippets, revealing the wisdom he has learnt, but this book is in a league above Gilead. It captured my heart from the very first sentence:
When reading a book I note down quotes which may be suitable for my review. After noting down five different quotes within the first few pages I realised this was an exceptional book, and the bar for quote-quality was raised significantly higher!
This book is heart-breakingly sad. The central character is Jake, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, who is struggling to remember the details of his life. He can remember certain things as vivdly as when he was there, but others things, especially those that have happened recently are very elusive. As the book progresses his condition deteriorates, and even the most important things in his life fail to come to him:
The Wilderness really opened my eyes to the suffering of old people. They are subjected to embarrassing situations as their bodies begin to fail them, but their minds are just as alert as they were when they were younger. I think one of the reasons that this affected me so much is that this situation is almost certainly going to happen to me, and everyone else I know. This isn’t about the suffering of war, which however shocking, is unlikely to directly affect me. Old age and it’s degrading loss of dignity is going to happen, and this realisation hit me with a shocking intensity.
I’m not sure I want to recommend this book to you, as it is so heart-breaking that it will proably make you cry. I was unsure if I could give my highest rating to a book which I struggle to recommend to people, but in the end the power of this book cannot be ignored. I couldn’t find any faults with it. It gripped me from beginning to end, and left me a changed person. My money for the Orange Prize 2009 is on this book.
Who do you think will win the Orange Prize 2009?
Have you read this book? Did it change your opinion of the elderly?
Do you recommend depressing books to other people?