Wild Novels

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Flickr icon
Google+ icon
RSS icon

As in all these blog posts, any pictures below are all linked to full-sized versions.

I just came across a review article that cited 14 novels that have wildness or wilderness as theme or subject. I had to make the list my own, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Compiling the list and the links to the books on Abebooks.com was a learning experience. For years I've been going to Abebooks.com as an alternative to shopping that other behemoth online book/everything-seller Amazon, under the assumption that I was somehow subverting the online big-box paradigm. Come to find out, Amazon acquired Abebooks.com in 2008 - almost a decade ago. This news either went under my radar or straight out the memory leak. So here then, carefully preserved, is a remnant of my online innocence. If you wish to buy the books from Abebooks, or Amazon for that matter, by all means go ahead. The authors will be happy no matter your choice. But think about visiting the private booksellers in your community first.

Onward. It looks like this is my reading list for the next couple of months:

  1. Wild Life
    by Molly Gloss
    Presented as the early 1900s diary of a proto-feminist, single mother author of pulp fictions who goes into an Oregon forest in search of a missing girl, only to get lost herself and discover mysterious creatures beyond what her insistent rationalism allows for, Gloss’s novel delves into myths of the “wildman” and myths of gender and does it all with a magnificent narrative voice as wild as the forest around it.
  2. The Wall
    by Marlen Haushofer, trans. by Shaun Whiteside
    The nameless middle-aged narrator visits friends at their remote mountain hunting lodge, only to be left alone by the inexplicable appearance of an invisible barrier at the edge of the valley it occupies. Left to fend for herself, she breaks restraints built up over years spent sublimating her individual identity into that of a mother and wife, allowing a wilder self to emerge.
  3. Birdbrain
    by Johanna Sinisalo, trans. by David Hackston
    Birdbrain is the most “outdoorsy” among her English translations, as it brings us along with a Finnish couple hiking in New Zealand and Australia. Alternating between their accounts of events we’re privy to the relationship’s tensions and strains as the couple are stripped of pretenses and niceties by their time in the wild, but we’re also aware of an eerier presence in the forest around them.
  4. Wild Harbour
    by Ian Macpherson
    Published in 1936. An account of a Scottish couple fleeing the city for a wild home in the hills ahead of the imminent threats of perpetual war, disease, and disaster. But what makes it stand out from other stories of escaping modernity “back to nature” is how unavoidably the outside world presses in, and how earnestly Wild Harbour takes on harder questions seldom asked in similar stories about the ethics and impossibilities of hiding out in the back of beyond while the world burns.
  5. The Blue Fox
    by Sjon, trans. by Victoria Cribb
    Moves between a hunter, his vulpine quarry, a boy with Down’s syndrome, and other characters in mysterious tandem, woven together as any place is with threads of history and folklore and transformation. 
  6. The Year of the Hare
    by Arto Paasilinna, trans. by Herbert Lomas
    About a journalist who stops by the roadside to enter the forest in aid of an injured hare. There are plenty of novels offering sentimental accounts of characters giving up their fast city lives at the inspiration of some noble animal; perhaps some of those are imitations of this. But Paasilinna’s has a depth of wit and sadness, and awareness, that for me elevates it above many others.
  7. Into the Forest
    by Jean Hegland
    When the world collapses in ways and for reasons they don’t quite understand, sisters Eva and Nell are left alone at the remote cabin their family retreated to in preparation. Into the Forest is as gripping as any thriller or rural horror, but there’s a thoughtfulness to the novel perfectly balanced with details of the pragmatic, often painful means by which the sisters survive. Like some others on this list it pulls us so fully into its wild bubble that even as we know we should root for rescue or the world’s recovery, we’re torn because of what would be lost.
  8. The Man Who Spoke Snakish
    by Andrus Kivirahk, trans. by Christopher Moseley
    The language is wild, the setting is wild, the narrator is absolutely one of a kind, and this whole account of his life as the last speaker of the language of snakes?—?and one of the last members of his ancient forest culture who hasn’t abandoned the trees for life in town?—?is full of tragedy, comedy, mystery, absurdity, and everything you could possibly want from a novel
  9. The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz
    by Russell Hoban
    Account of a cartographer who abandons his family, his son’s expedition to find him, and a lion stalking the streets of a city long after lions disappeared from the world has gripped my imagination for twenty-some years. It is like nothing else, which is the wildest way to be wild of all.
  10. Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile 
    by Verlyn Klinkenborg
    A domesticated English garden hardly seems wild, but Klinkenborg’s novel narrated by the titular Timothy, a female tortoise kept by eighteenth-century naturalist Gilbert White, makes it so. There’s no fast-paced adventure or dangerous action but by slowing the world down in a small space as described by a creature with her own sense of what’s worth looking at, Timothy is a gently disorienting read that gives us no choice but to slow down, pay attention, and see a world where the unexpected might happen? What’s more wild than that?
  11. Power 
    by Linda Hogan
    Power is the story of a Taiga teenager pulled into a maelstrom of media and politics after she watches her aunt kill a tribally sacred and legally protected panther. It’s a deceptively straightforward novel, at least in its telling, that sneaks up to unsettle by making us take a fresh look at what may seem familiar. Wild places aren’t usually what I associate with Florida, but Power is a welcome challenge to those assumptions?—?as are Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach novels, which would be on this list were it longer.
  12. Beastings 
    by Benjamin Myers
    This one’s as dark as dark gets, like Southern gothic in northern England, as it follows a teenage girl and a baby fleeing two men on her trail. But what offsets the grim cruelty of Myers’ characters is the implacable, steady presence of his landscape?—?yes, what’s happening is horrible, but how much does it matter in the longview of stone and hill? That’s a dual-awareness I often long for in fiction, and Myers delivers whether in the realist mode of novels like Beastings or in his novella Snorri & Frosti, a treat of absurdist minimalism about a pair of woodcutters.  (Ordered from Abebooks, 12/01/16, 1st read off the list.)
  13. Infinite Ground 
    by Martin MacInnes
    MacInnes’ debut is a detective novel, following an inspector whose search for a missing man takes him deep into a strange jungle. And it’s also a story about the literal and figurative breakdown of identity, whether as a result of the daily grind of work or of sharing the landscape of our own skins with millions of microorganisms. Or in this case, both. Or possibly neither. It’s hard to pin down, like all wild things.
  14. The Hunter 
    by Julia Leigh
    M, who goes by the name Martin though it isn’t his, gets hired by a pharmaceutical company to hunt and harvest DNA from the world’s last living Tasmanian tiger, long after the species is thought extinct. Somehow, in a very short novel, Leigh weaves together the shadowy reach of modern business, the tragic colonial and ecological histories of her setting, a classic story of exploration stripped of its celebratory machismo, and a mother and children left behind broken by the blinkered desires of men. Despite the remoteness of this novel’s forest, it is enmeshed in the networks of money and power that entangle us all, wherever we live.

Original article from Electric Literature, by Steve Himmer.

And here's a (hopefully) handy list of just the books and authors: 

  1. Wild Life
    by Molly Gloss
  2. The Wall
    by Marlen Haushofer, trans. by Shaun Whiteside
  3. Birdbrain
    by Johanna Sinislao, trans. by David Hackston
  4. Wild Harbour
    by Ian Macpherson
  5. The Blue Fox
    by Sjon, trans. by Victoria Cribb
  6. The Year of the Hare
    by Arto Paasilinna, trans. by Herbert Lomas
  7. Into the Forest
    by Jean Hegland
  8. The Man Who Spoke Snakish
    by Andrus Kivirahk, trans. by Christopher Moseley
  9. The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz
    by Russell Hoban
  10. Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile
    by Verlyn Klinkenborg
  11. Power
    by Linda Hogan
  12. Beastings
    by Benjamin Myers
  13. Infinite Ground
    by Martin MacInnes
  14. The Hunter
    by Julia Leigh