'THE ENVIRONMENTAL NOVEL OF OUR TIMES.' Lemn Sissay, Booker Prize judge
From an acclaimed Guardian First Book Award finalist comes a debut novel 'brutal and beautiful in equal measure' (Emily St. John Mandel)
A Guardian Best Science Fiction Book of the Year
A 'Best Book of the Year 2020' according to BBC Culture
An Irish Times Best Debut Fiction of 2020
NPR Best Books of the Year
Bea's five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the overdeveloped, overpopulated metropolis they call home is ravaging her lungs. Bea knows she cannot stay in the City, but there is only one alternative: The Wilderness State. Mankind has never been allowed to venture into this vast expanse of untamed land. Until now.
Bea and Agnes join eighteen other volunteers who agree to take part in a radical experiment. They must slowly learn how to live in the unpredictable, often dangerous Wilderness, leaving no trace on their surroundings in their quest to survive. But as Agnes embraces this new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter's life might mean losing her in ways she hadn't foreseen.
At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary, urgent novel from a celebrated new literary voice.
In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness it's been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, "an important person" at a university; his wife, Bea; and Bea's daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called "The Community," learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their commitments to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes's future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members' transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook's unsettling, darkly humorous tale explores maternal love and man's disdain for nature with impressive results.