The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews

IMG_0056Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Author: Abi Andrews

This is a very tricky one to write a review for as my overall experience was rather conflicting. This novel is part adventure, part travel writing, part philosophical musings, part coming-of-age and rediscovery, speckled with feminist ideals, the myth and beliefs of the Native Peoples of North America and vilifying of patriarchy and it’s societal repercussions. That’s a handful. And it works to the advantage and disadvantage of this novel. It’s far too ambitious, with too many ideas, that none of the ideas felt fully realised. 
Right at the start, its clear that Erin is a rather unconventional 19 year old. Drawing on experiences of Bear Grylles, Chris McCandless, etc. Erin sets off on a journey into the Alaskan wilderness as a challenge to the ‘rugged male archetype’ for an experience as authentic and disconnected from the thrum of civilisation as she could possibly get. Opting out of air travel for environmental reasons, she journeys by ship, pausing for a few weeks in Iceland, Greenland, finally reaching North Eastern Canada, and traversing the entire breadth of Canada onto Alaska, by hitchhiking rides with strangers. Her purpose is to document this journey and hence the book includes descriptions of the landscape and it’s people, conversational dialogue style writing, interviews, video transcripts, photographs, diagrams, and philosophical musings aplenty.

I thought the entire concept of a documentary not sitting too well within the frame of the story. Despite the meandering nature, and rare moments when the book dragged, I found the first half to be an engaging, informative and thought provoking read. I can’t say that I completely agree with Abi Andrews views on feminism & patriarchy (which did seem a little too extreme at times), but the instances I wasn’t in complete agreement, it was more of an ‘agree to disagree’ situation which didn’t bother me much. The narrator’s self consciousness and musings were both a pleasure and an annoyance as the novel proceeded. But will say, some of her most simple observations on feminism and nature were really moving, endearing and incredibly well written.

“Sat in a diner on my own, waiting for the coach to Ottawa. I am thinking about how the small autonomy of just being alone in public for a woman is also a right that needs to be claimed and kept on being claimed until it is a given. In order to do away with the anxiety that is shaping you from outside, like the deer in the glade that twitches its ears as it grazes, looking up and behind itself always in anticipation of predatory eyes. Women can’t eat alone unless we claim it, can’t go to a bar and sit alone, be solitude in social places, as though always the female body is a lonely body, an invitation.”

Her constant trajectories into philosophical musings, except for occasional gems, got more and more grating and distracting as I kept reading on. Once Erin reaches Alaska and settles into a lonely cabin for a self imposed solitary exile for 3 weeks with no human contact, the initial descriptions and her perceptions were stunning and acutely captured what it might be like. However, the last 80 pages which basically intends to summarise Erin’s take on life, took a nose dive. The book gets profound and philosophical to a dizzying degree that I found both pretentious and tedious to get through. Obviously, this is a personal opinion and might not apply to other readers.

It is fiction, that doest read like fiction. It reads more like a documentary/ non fiction/ travel memoir and there are several facts interspersed throughout. And I’m sure Abi Andrews must have embarked on a trip of some nature, as I cannot imagine someone conjuring up entire experiences solely from imagination. I appreciate it for it’s uniqueness and what it tries to achieve, though my overall reaction was rather mixed.

While there were moments that were stellar, it had some significant flaws too, so I’d say give it a try if the subject matter really interests you, otherwise, I’d give it a pass.

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