Thursday, August 31, 2023

August Read: The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

 I finished this novel a week ago and had to take some time to deal with all the book emotions it gave me. It's one of my top ten books of 2023. 

I haven't read any Lauren Groff books before this and from what I understand this one is a bit different from her previous novels. The buzz around this novel is accurate and if you're going to read any book this year, make it this one. 

Two things you'll notice pretty quickly: there is no dialogue, and you don't know the narrator's name. In fact, you finally find out the narrator's name towards the very end, and that in itself is a heartbreak. 

This short (less than 300 pages) novel centers around a young woman who has fled from a colonial settlement in America in the dead of winter. Carrying only a knife, a flint, a tin cup, leather gloves and a few blankets, she runs into the vast wilderness, bent on survival. She's leaving a terrible situation: there's no food, and people are either starving to death or dying of small pox. There's also another reason she's fleeing, but you don't know exactly what that is until the last bit of the book. 

The novel follows the narrator as she journeys far into the wilderness, struggling to survive. She's resourceful and smart, and given her limited resources, she's able to keep going when most of us would have just given up. During her journey she encounters wild animals, horrible weather, indigenous people, and one wild man who is so unsettling I was holding my breath reading that chapter.

Along the way, the narrator looks back over her short life and the journey that brought her to "the vaster wilds". Deserted as a baby, she was brought up in an orphanage in London until she was picked out at age four to be a servant in a wealthy household. There she encounters some stability, but also a few awful things. Her employer remarries a preacher man who is cloaked in handsomeness but is actually pretty awful. He decides they need to begin again in the new world.

I don't want to tell you any more, because I'll give too much away. Nature vs. man is a HUGE theme; the wonder this character finds in her surroundings even as she battles to survive. She has some pretty deep soul-searching moments, and a lot of those reflections apply to today's world. Man's determination to conquer the unknown, women feeling unsafe and powerless in a man's world; finding spirituality in nature. It's all there. 

This novel sent me on an emotional journey. The end is as it should be. I hope this novel wins all the awards. It is stunning. 

Rating: 6/6 for a short but powerful novel about survival, regrets, female power and our connection to nature, which can sustain or destroy us. 

This novel will be out on September 12th in the U.S. in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. A huge thank you to Riverhead Books (Penguin/Random House) for an ARC. 

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