15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?
Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve – an extraordinary creation, a patient shepherd to his wayward flock, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy.
Shortlisted for the 2015 James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the 2015 Jerwood Prize
In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget.
Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night – a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.
Leonard is alone and rootless, returning to London after his father's death. He moves in with his distant brother William and his family, hoping to renew their friendship but learning to drop his expectations of brotherhood. William is a former lecturer and activist who now runs informal meetings with ex-students. He is defiantly unworldly and forever questioning.
When a young student follows William's arguments to a shocking conclusion, it appears William has already set his own fate in motion. Against a backdrop of tabloid frenzy, Leonard can only watch as William embraces the danger in the only way he knows how, which threatens to consume not only himself, but his entire family.
It's Jake's birthday. He has lost his wife, his son is in prison and he is about to lose his past. Jake has Alzheimer's.
As the disease takes hold of him, the key events of his life shift, and what until recently seemed solid fact melts into surreal imaginings. Is his daughter alive or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? There was a cherry tree once, and a yellow dress, but what do they mean? Is there anything he'll be able to salvage from the wreckage?
From the first sentence to the last, The Wilderness holds us in its grip. This is writing of extraordinary power and beauty.
Samantha Harvey is the author of The Wilderness, All Is Song and Dear Thief. She appeared on the longlists for the Bailey’s Prize and the Man Booker, and the shortlists of the James Tait Black Award, the Orange Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. The Wilderness won the Betty Trask Award in 2009. She is a tutor on the MA course in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.