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The Word for Woman is Wilderness, by Abi Andrews.

May 10, 2019

The Word for Woman is Wilderness
The Word for Woman is Wilderness, by Abi Andrews.  London: Serpent Tail, 2018.

2 stars

A novel about a reckless young woman who travels to the Alaskan wilderness alone to prove that as a woman she can be as strong and free as her “Mountain Men” heroes, only to reveal how little she really knows about wilderness or life.

Abi Andrews is a young English woman in her twenties.  She lives and works in London and has published her writing in several journals.  She claims no particular knowledge or experience of wilderness.  Although she clearly states her new book is a novel, I had difficulty distinguishing the narrator’s voice from the author’s.

Erin is a 19-year-old English women whose experience of wilderness comes come TV programs that feature rugged men on adventures to the exclusion of women.   She wants to prove she is as rough and independent as they.  But the men she names as models were not conquering heroes, but men like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.  Such assumptions make her one-woman challenge to male adventurers is confused and incoherent.

Much of Erin’s excursion is not in actual wilderness, but a long journey across the North Atlantic, and the ice fields and small communities of Canada.  The actual time she actually spends in Denali National Park is only a part of a risky larger journey. The dangers she faces come primarily not from the wilderness but from ill-advised relationships she enters with other people.  In addition, she frequently interrupts her travel account to expound on seemingly diverse topics such as abstract physics, nuclear war, the Gaia hypothesis and the pill—none of which can be explained coherently in the few paragraphs they receive.  What gets slighted in the book is the natural setting in which she is living. Reading her book, we aren’t even told how the seasons change.  The book is perhaps clever and full of ideas, but lacks the grounding in nature of Thoreau or Muir.   Or the women who have actually lived in and write about the wilderness.

Obviously I found Erin, or Abi Andrews, irritating.  Smug and silly, she is out of touch with the reality outside urban illusions.  I cannot recommend you waste your time on the book. Go find yourself some wilderness instead.

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