Ah, books about a dystopian future. Just what one needs during the year of 2020. But rest assured this is not about a disease that is killing hundreds of thousands of people nor is it about a massive economic collapse that has reduced people to begging for handouts from an all powerful government. Instead it’s about environmentally depleted world. Yah.
So the book starts with a child birth in a wilderness and an introduction to the character of Bea. Bea is mother to Agnes, the second major character in this narrative. Both lived in the City, a massive urban metropolis that covers all the land and is submerged in toxic fumes (picture perhaps the most polluted Asian cities of today merged together). However they are able to escape the City which is slowly killing Agnes by being part of a social experiment.
The experiment is simple; as the land is covered by mass urbanisation the concept of nature and interacting with the natural environment has collapsed from living memory. However there is a certain area of the land in which nature has been left untouched (picture a more wooded version of Central Park but larger or even the make believe world found in The Hunger Games trilogy). No one has been allowed in this area but now the government has opened it up to a small group of volunteers to see how they cope both with nature and with each other.
If you are reading this and getting a feeling that you have heard of similar plots you aren’t imagining it. Personally I got The Island vibe. If none of you have seen that it’s a show where presenter Bear Grylls drops a bunch of people onto a remote island to see if they can thrive (good show that one). However other readers may get their own vibes as survival shows and dystopian movies, shows and books are a dime a dozen these days.
Now, whether the author intended it or not this book has a lot of political undertones. The first two are pretty simple; climate change and overpopulation. The future world that the narrative inhabits is one of dense pollution in which people are dying, pretty straight forward. The second issue is connected to the first and involves mass urbanisation. Across the world mass urbanisation is causing problems as people move to the city in order to make a living. But there are less obvious political undertones in the book. Issues surrounding migration (the whole them and us mentality) and the issue of Old World’s vs. New World mentalities (Bea of the Old World City is struggling whereas the New Wilderness Agnes is thriving). You don’t need a degree in social or political sciences to see the real world parallels.
Now having political undertones or social commentary in a fictional book is risky. In my experience they often comes in two ways; subtlety or like a bull in a china shop. I will let the individual reader decide how strong the political undertones come across in The New Wilderness. There is also the question of whether readers want their narratives peppered with undertones and commentary. Once again I’ll leave that up to the individual reader.
The book itself is not long at just under 400 pages and is broken up into parts. I found the narrative can be a bit confusing but then again I didn’t feel too bad about that because the characters themselves were often confused about the experiment they were in. What I found odd is that there are no chapters. The book is broken into parts and where there is a traditional chapter break there is nothing. I mean you know that it’s a traditional chapter break by the way it is formatted but that’s it.
Overall, this book is interesting and if you like dystopian narratives, The New Wilderness should be given a shot.
Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker prize
|Publisher||Bloomsbury Publishing: Imprint OneWorld|