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Booker Longlist – The New Wilderness – Diane Cook


Book Six – reviewed by panelists Book Worm, Nicole, & Tracy and rated by Susie

Diane Cook  lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and children.  

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: 

A daring, passionate and terrifying novel about a mother’s battle to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change.

Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the over-developed metropolis they call home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die, but there is only one alternative – joining a group of volunteers in the Wilderness State. This vast expanse of unwelcoming, untamed land is untouched by mankind. Until now. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, Bea and Agnes slowly learn how to survive on this unpredictable, often dangerous land. But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of her new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter’s life means losing her in a different way.

At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood, and what it means to be human, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary, compelling novel for our times.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This was one of the books I was looking forward to on the list as I love Dystopian fiction however I am really not sure what this book was aiming to do.

What the reader ends up with reads like a reality TV show where contestants are dropped into the Wilderness to see how they will survive but more importantly how they will survive without damaging the environment or having a detrimental impact on the animal inhabitants of the Wilderness. (Hunting is allowed but domestication is not)

As you would expect away from “civilisation” things breakdown and the group develops its own system of leadership based on Alpha personalities which leads to conflict and to a loss of the founding principles of all being equal. Rivalry and jealously ensue all under cover of survival of the group.

The most intriguing part of the story was the mother/daughter relationship between Bea and Agnes, the place of male role models and what makes a good leader as opposed to a good person and the lengths people would go to for their own survival or the survival of someone they love.

I would have liked to learn more about the world outside of the Wilderness but I guess the point of the book was in not knowing the full extent of the problems outside. All the reader is told is that pollution and overcrowding are causing a crisis in mortality and entering the Wilderness is a valid method of survival open to a select few.

I loved the detailed descriptions of daily life, of making arrows, curing hides, hunting, trapping, building shelter and observing the landscape but can see why others feel this made the story slow moving.

I also didn’t fully believe in Agnes as a character her behaviour didn’t feel like any child I have known and I found some of her thoughts jarring and not in keeping.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 12/20

Nicole’s Thoughts: 

I’ve figured out the Booker strategy this year.  They don’t want a repeat of last year’s duel win (and who would?) so they longlisted a bunch of mediocre books so that they won’t have any trouble deciding?

There was potential, (the setting and concept were interesting) and probably also a plot and a point, none of which were fully realized.  It was like an episode of The Walking Dead without the Zombies,  (in other words, just walking around in the wilderness.)  The role of Carl assumed by Agnes and just as unlikable.   

In every possible way it was just middle of the road.   

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 2.5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 10/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: 

This wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. It’s not even the worst Booker longlist book I’ve ever read. But it sure wasn’t good.

This is based on the premise of a big bad outside world, but the reader has no idea what has happened. The experimental group is asked to survive by constantly moving through the wilderness, controlled by power hungry park rangers. And the creator of the experiment is in the experimental group (extremely questionable scientific method). What ends up happening is a combination of Lord of the Flies and Snow White.

The writing quality was okay- it felt YA, which isn’t my thing, but the grammar and spelling were good. And the main characters were developed enough to evoke emotion. There were too many characters, though. 

I guess if I’m going to like a dystopian novel, there needs to be more. More plot, more background, more originality, more world building. It almost feels like this will be a series- with a big ol’ prequel at the end. 

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 2.5/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: .5/2
Total: 9.5/20



Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 2.5/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 10/20


  1. Apeirogon 18
  2. How Much of These Hills is Gold 16.1
  3. Shuggie Bain 15.3
  4. Such a Fun Age 11.1
  5. Redhead at the Side of the Road 11
  6. The New Wilderness 10.4

Did anybody love this book?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. pbtanita #

    Nicole, your commentary on this one cracked me up.


    August 29, 2020

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