... inspired ... In Cook’s masterful hands, there are no easy answers to the question of whether humans can actually revert to their wild selves ... seems to argue that it is this willingness to ditch guidelines in the name of personal advantage that is the essence of humanity, whether one lives in the City or the Wilderness State...That’s all secondary to the true, transcendent heart of this novel: the evolving and ever-surprising relationship between Bea and Agnes. Through miscarriages, abandonments, rescue and murder, the bond between mother and daughter breaks and mends in remarkable and moving ways ... A gripping adventure that denies its readers easy answers, The New Wilderness is an important debut, and an illuminating read in these times, when the stakes of humans’ relationship with nature have never felt higher.
Cook has deepened and expanded on the concerns first aired in her stories, like a fresh mountain stream running inevitably into a deep, cold lake ... It’s hard to read all this during a pandemic of a respiratory illness caused by an airborne virus without feeling an extra chill, but Cook has always excelled at rendering horror plainly, whether that horror is monstrous or merely human. Here, we get both: This manages to be a speculative novel about the future and a well-researched tale about living primitively, arrowheads, hides and all ... funny too, mordantly so ... Cook is a skilled unpeeler of information; revelations and discoveries are timed to perfection. Any time we begin to get complacent in the Wilderness State, Cook remakes the universe, shifting the point of view, the time frame, the physical landscape or the emotional one. It makes a story that might have languished in the valley with its characters move at a brisk pace ... That pace flags only occasionally, usually during descriptions of the landscape, which are frequent enough to become slightly tedious. But in a novel about how humans might survive when stripped of a modernity that’s gone too far, maybe that’s part of the point: Even the most beautiful sunsets and sage fields become boring when they’re all you have ... More than timely, it feels timeless, solid, like a forgotten classic recently resurfaced — a brutal, beguiling fairy tale about humanity.
Cook remains as dubious of our species’ trajectory as she was in her rich and original short story collection, Man V. Nature. One of her most compelling concerns in The New Wilderness is the corrosive force of individualism, and how pedestrian the human tendency to destroy really is—how the hardwired urge to self-preserve erodes the possibility of fellowship and forward thinking ... Cook’s prose is at its finest when she trains her eye on the natural world. The harsh, dazzling setting seems to be one of the few things to which the characters react with much awe or emotion—but for me, their ambivalence toward so many other aspects of life comes at a cost. Cook’s desired intention, I believe, must be to highlight the mutedness with which her characters have come to experience events that would horrify most 21st-century readers ... But to numb the narrative consciousness to these events, the text must numb the reader, too. This is achieved by destabilising our sense of time, pulling the perspective back, and blurring details that would have given us a more precise sense of Bea, Agnes, and the world around them ... Still, I am confident that this distancing effect will not trouble every reader. Cook takes command of a fast-paced, thrilling story to ask stomach-turning questions in a moment when it would benefit every soul to have their stomach turned by the prospect of the future she envisions. I, for one, was grateful for the journey.
... an urgent and inventive look at the climate crisis ... There is a purgatorial feel to the novel, which is hugely appropriate to its subject matter. Cook doesn’t spell it out – she is a subtle writer who eschews the dramatic – but beneath the events of this ecological horror story, the point is clear: humans will soon pay for the damage being done in the present day ... There is a purgatorial feel to the novel, which is hugely appropriate to its subject matter. Cook doesn’t spell it out – she is a subtle writer who eschews the dramatic – but beneath the events of this ecological horror story, the point is clear: humans will soon pay for the damage being done in the present day ... Although set in the near future, the success of the novel is that Cook returns her characters to a Neanderthal age where primal instincts rule supreme ... There are desperate leavings and reunions, love and hate in equal measure, and the brutality of the wilderness, the only place they can really call home, is matched by the fierceness of their feelings for another ... This quietly raging novel deserves its place on the Booker longlist. People who switch off when they hear the phrase 'climate change' should read it. And so should everyone else.
This remarkable novel does not provide extensive backstory or explanation for how The City came to be, and in this way, it’s somehow more sinister, as though suggesting that our current path of environmental neglect leads logically and inevitably to such a state. The Wilderness is beautiful but not for the weak; loyalty and love are fluid, and power goes to those who claim it. When pieces of the old world appear—a vending machine, a bathroom—they seem as faraway from normalcy as the moon. The Wilderness is not a refuge. There is, as The New Wilderness portends, no longer any refuge at all.
As they navigate a changing terrain and their own emotional landscapes, Cook incorporates the whole of human experience. The New Wilderness examines our relationships to place and to others as the Community considers its right to be on the land and whether others have any business sharing the space.
What’s new and especially refreshing about Diane Cook’s new novel, The New Wilderness, are the finely drawn women characters ... The trouble with The New Wilderness is that it’s too long, takes too many pages to get going, and wanders all over the place before it begins to dramatize the push and the pull between mother and daughter ... Cook might have cut the book by half ... At times the writing is exciting. Also, at times the author’s psychological insights into her main characters can captivate the reader ... Cook packs a great many wilderness metaphors, tropes and images in The New Wilderness. She’s clearly familiar with the literary legacy of writing about trees, woods, and forests ... Fans of wilderness writing might discover that the book appeals to their sensibilities. Readers who find the going rough at the beginning of Cook’s novel might persevere.
Cook forces readers to question the limits of their humanity in the face of extreme circumstances—supernatural, environmental, futuristic, or a combination of the three ... Cook’s debut novel The New Wilderness towers above the stories in her collection. It takes on a future Earth so polluted that people are struggling to survive in urban society ... The emotional core of the novel—and its true source of brilliance—lies in the relationship between Bea and Agnes, the most intricate and morally arresting relationship Cook has conjured to date ... Cook asks: How can we morally balance the initial sacrifice with the later abandonment? How much are we willing to justify such a reprehensible action, considering the brutality of life in the Wilderness to which Bea was exposed? ... If you strip away its apocalyptic backdrop, the novel presents fresh commentary about group-think, human psychology, and governance ... Cook undergirds these human dynamics with bewildering, otherworldly terrains ... Cook makes the appeal of climate fiction apparent: Novels like hers can help us more deeply understand the estrangement and horror produced by each extreme weather pattern or mass extinction event we read about in the news.
[Cook] expands the conventions of the climate dystopia genre, moving away from the familiar post-apocalyptic landscape. Her novel takes place in a nearish future, where things are terrible, but in a recognisable way ... As relations between the Community and the Rangers become increasingly fractious and the forces of the outside world begin to erode the boundaries of the Wilderness State, Bea and her daughter face a series of obstacles: the descriptions of how they overcome them often seem to serve as a substitute for character development ... There is something very appealing about these carefully plotted fantasies of human resilience, which invite the reader to imagine how she might survive and even flourish in similar circumstances ... the argument is put forward again and again by various characters who seem to exist primarily for the purpose of making it: the work of survival does not permit such luxuries as sentiment, which in the world of the novel can be defined as caring about anything other than your immediate family, and even about them.
... soulful, urgent ... Cook is adept at matter-of-factly deploying unadorned detail to deadpanning, gut-plummeting effect ... a propulsive narrative ... The push-pull ambivalence of Bea and Agnes’s bond forms its beating heart ... it is through Agnes’s eyes that the bulk of this supremely well-crafted adventure unfolds. Her wild girl observations and lack of inhibition can be at once humorous and lightly menacing, as when the plump legs of a woman freshly arrived from the City make her hungry ... So much else is broached in these vivid, timely pages: tribalism, courage, consumption, storytelling itself – an art that Cook spirits back to its spark-enlivened, campfire origins. What lingers, though, beyond the awesome power of Bea and Agnes as heroines, is pure wonderment at all in this world of ours that is not human.
It is the anthropological acuity in Cook’s writing that makes it so persuasive. She explores how our nature is informed by the land we inhabit, how our conception of civility is relative to the circumstances in which we find ourselves ... expertly plotted ... Such foregrounding of action does, at times, reduce the opportunity for nuanced character development ... The chief power of The New Wilderness, and what distinguishes it from less successful environmental dystopian fiction, is Cook’s talent for world-building. The Wilderness State’s topography is deftly rendered, based on field research Cook conducted in eastern Oregon ... In these moments of respite from the ever-turning gears of plot, the writing is highly seductive.
In her gripping and provoking debut novel, Cook extends the shrewd and implacable dramatization of our catastrophic assault on the biosphere that she so boldly launched in her short story collection, Man v. Nature (2014) ... As fiercely precise and intimate as Cook’s physical descriptions are, the novel’s edgy bewitchment is generated by her characters’ elaborately elucidated psychological struggles ... Violence, death, tribalism, lust, love, betrayals, wonder, genius, and courage—all are enacted in this stunningly incisive and complexly suspenseful tale akin to dystopian novels by Margaret Atwood and Claire Vaye Watkins. When Cook finally widens the lens on her characters’ increasingly desperate predicament, the exposure of malignant greed, deceit, and injustice resonates with devastating impact.
Cook writes about desperate people in a world of ever shrinking livable space and increasingly questionable resources like air and water but also about the resilience of children who adapt, even enjoying circumstances that overwhelm the adults around them. Cook also raises uncomfortable questions: How far will a person go to survive, and what sacrifices will she or won’t she make for those she loves? ... This ecological horror story (particularly horrifying now) explores painful regions of the human heart.
... wry ... 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.