Book Review: The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Agnes had noticed that a mother would only be a mother for so long before she wanted to be something else. No mother she’d ever watched here remained a mother forever.

Diane Cook, The New Wilderness

Climate crisis and global warming have finally received the much-needed attention world over. It has opened our eyes to a myriad of terrible scenarios that could most possibly pan out if we do not reduce our carbon footprint promptly. It also pushed authors to write dystopian fiction exploring worlds that are wrecked by climate change. The Booker Prize 2020 Longlist nominee, The New Wilderness by Diane Cook is a byproduct of one such exploration.

The story begins with a group of volunteers living in a wild, untamed jungle that is only monitored by forest rangers. Amongst them are Agnes and Bea, who’ve volunteered to spend their lives in this dangerous place cut off from the city. Agnes (Bea’s mother) and Ben (Bea’s stepfather) have taken this decision after seeing pollution in cities, slowly killing a young Bea.

When we enter this fictional world, it has already been a few years since this clan is thriving in the wild. They cannot stay in one place for very long, as the wildlife balance has to be restored. These volunteers also cannot live behind their waste. Through various scenarios, the author shows how they have toughened up surviving in a harsh climate while exhausting their resources and witnessing their loved ones die of accidents.

From an emotional perspective, we glimpse into the individual dynamics among our characters. Their actions are raw as the lack of privacy melts their layers of reservation. Inter-personal relationship between Bea and Agnes was one of my favourite bits of the book. It is a typical, yet not so familiar, mother-daughter relationship. Reading it from both their perspectives only enriched it more. It made me realise us, the beings of superlative intelligence, aren’t so different from animals.

The narrative of this book solely focuses on the current wilderness state not how the world got to this state. The author doesn’t build up the story; however, I was perfectly okay with it.

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