The Word for Woman is Wilderness

The Word for Woman is Wilderness

Erin is 19. She's never really left England, but she has watched Bear Grylls and wonders why it's always men who get to go on all the cool wilderness adventures. So Erin sets off on a voyage into the Alaskan wilderness, a one-woman challenge to the archetype of the rugged male explorer.As Erin's journey takes her through the Arctic Circle, across the entire breadth of the...

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Title:The Word for Woman is Wilderness
Author:Abi Andrews
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Word for Woman is Wilderness Reviews

  • Paromjit

    Abi Andrews has written a remarkably ambitious and thought provoking meditation on what it is to be a woman with strong connections to the earth, the environment and the wilderness. She develops a philosophy through the young 19 year old Erin, a brave and courageous woman, who embarks on a thrilling and enthralling adventure through the Arctic wilderness and across the US. It begins with a reflection on why it is men who are explorers and adventurers, such as Bear Grylls. She watches a Chris McC

    Abi Andrews has written a remarkably ambitious and thought provoking meditation on what it is to be a woman with strong connections to the earth, the environment and the wilderness. She develops a philosophy through the young 19 year old Erin, a brave and courageous woman, who embarks on a thrilling and enthralling adventure through the Arctic wilderness and across the US. It begins with a reflection on why it is men who are explorers and adventurers, such as Bear Grylls. She watches a Chris McCandless documentary which provides the impetus for the far reaching decision to travel across the Arctic through a difficult road trip and eventually choosing to live in an isolated cabin in Alaska completely alone. She undertakes the mission of making her own video documentary and biography, filming interviews with people and the events that she encounters, including her personal impressions and emotional feelings on the whole process. This is an extraordinary challenge to the tenet that this is a man's world.

    I loved Erin's exploration of a wide and diverse range of subject matter, crucial to the development of a universal feminist philosophy on the protection of the wondrous wilderness, connecting the threads of her thinking on being a woman with that of the need for environmental protection. She draws on Inuit approaches on life and death in her conclusions. This is a terrific story of adventure, original in its construction of a philosophical approach to the study of feminism, with a Erin who is implacable in her determination to protect the wilderness she is bewitched by and loves. A wonderfully brilliant and intelligent read that makes a change from my usual reading fare. Highly recommended! Many thanks to Serpent's Tail for an ARC.

  • Anna

    I initially hesitated between four and five stars for this novel, as I wondered whether a major part of its appeal wasn’t that I found the narrator especially sympathetic and relatable. I too have often fantasised about retreat to a cabin in the wilderness with a pile of books to think big thoughts in peace and quiet. Then I wondered why the hell that wouldn’t be a legitimate reason for enjoying a book. ‘The Word for Woman is Wilderness’ is the tale of nineteen year old Erin, who wants to follow

    I initially hesitated between four and five stars for this novel, as I wondered whether a major part of its appeal wasn’t that I found the narrator especially sympathetic and relatable. I too have often fantasised about retreat to a cabin in the wilderness with a pile of books to think big thoughts in peace and quiet. Then I wondered why the hell that wouldn’t be a legitimate reason for enjoying a book. ‘The Word for Woman is Wilderness’ is the tale of nineteen year old Erin, who wants to follow in the footsteps of Mountain Men and claim some share of wilderness wandering for women. She plans to make a documentary about her adventure and sections of it periodically enter the narrative. As her journey progresses, she comes to question the need for the documentary and the writings of previous Mountain Men. I found all this very involving and satisfying to read. I am very much an armchair traveller, so love it when fiction takes me somewhere beautiful and wild with such a thoughtful perspective. Erin reflects on questions of feminism, colonialism, and environmentalism, as well as the simple joy of climbing something to get a great view. I particularly appreciated this comment on free market economics:

    There is also an excellent deadpan humour to the narrative, for example this aside on Bear Grylls:

    At heart, this novel is a critical deconstruction of the hyper-masculine mythologies of wilderness survival and a refreshingly female adventure story.

    The balance between the intellectual and visceral is well judged throughout. Needless chapter titles aside, I enjoyed everything about it.

  • grass_harp

    Dear Erin,

    I spent so much time with you over the past week, either reading your (fictional) words or thinking about them throughout the day, criticising some of your standpoints and being fully convinced by others. I loved the way you set out on your great journey, somewhat independent and prepared, somewhat open to whatever comes your way. Moreover, I loved accompanying you through Iceland, Greenland and Canada to Alaska and see you grow along the way. I appreciated being taken along your inter

    Dear Erin,

    I spent so much time with you over the past week, either reading your (fictional) words or thinking about them throughout the day, criticising some of your standpoints and being fully convinced by others. I loved the way you set out on your great journey, somewhat independent and prepared, somewhat open to whatever comes your way. Moreover, I loved accompanying you through Iceland, Greenland and Canada to Alaska and see you grow along the way. I appreciated being taken along your interpretation of Thoreau’s, Rachel Carson’s and other writer’s works; as well as Eskimo and Athabaskan culture. Your synthesis of all these worldviews and convictions was inspiring to me, especially because you develop your own ideas through them.

    I may not have agreed with everything that you wrote. Especially at the beginning I felt like some of your behaviour and thoughts regarding men fell a bit on the ‘overglorifying the female, shaming the male’ side that always leaves a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, because it does not agree with my view of feminism and what it should be about. BUT I got reconciled by the fact that later on you start questioning yourself and your way of thinking. I think this added another layer to the book, seeing that nobody starts out with having perfect opinions that are free of contradictions. Usually they only develop into more mature understandings, and seeing this growth made me appreciate your story even more.

    I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you, on your journey into the wilderness and to a deeper understanding of yourself and things around you. Your voice was eye-opening to me, made me curious about things, and fall in love with earth, science and literature all over again. Thank you for all of that. Farewell, dear Erin. (But I’m sure I’ll revisit you sometime from now, to let myself be ‘colonised’ by your thoughts again).

    With love,

    grass harp

  • Neil

    This is an adventure novel unlike any adventure novel you have read before (I think so, anyway: clearly, I haven’t read all of them, so I can’t be sure). There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the author, Abi Andrews, takes her female protagonist, Erin, into what has historically been a man’s world: exploring the wilderness. Secondly, the book’s mixture of fact and fiction is so well constructed that without the phrase "A Novel" in the title you could be forgiven for thinking you are reading a

    This is an adventure novel unlike any adventure novel you have read before (I think so, anyway: clearly, I haven’t read all of them, so I can’t be sure). There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the author, Abi Andrews, takes her female protagonist, Erin, into what has historically been a man’s world: exploring the wilderness. Secondly, the book’s mixture of fact and fiction is so well constructed that without the phrase "A Novel" in the title you could be forgiven for thinking you are reading a travel diary, albeit a very literary one. What we get when these two combine is a "feminist documentary on wilderness".

    That first characteristic, a woman in a man’s world, is key. Without doubt this (at least, the first 80% of it) is a feminist book setting out to show the injustice and oppression of the patriarchy that has dominated society.

    After watching a film about Chris McCandless, Erin makes a decision to take a road trip across Canada in order to stay on her own in a remote cabin in Alaska.

    Because

    She decides that she will use a video camera to capture events and interviews with people she meets and to create a documentary for which she has great plans on her return. The way the documentary and her feelings about it develop are fascinating elements of the story: the documentary serves as a way of filtering experiences to decide what or how things matter.

    For a while, I was a bit worried that the premise of the book seemed to be “man has subjugated woman and man has subjugated nature, therefore women and nature should have an affinity”. I wasn’t sure about quotes like:

    But, as the story and the philosophy develop, they become more and more compelling and coherent. I am not saying I am in 100% agreement and am converted to Erin’s views of women’s place in the world and the right way to live, but her thoughts are well put together and make for an engrossing, thought-provoking read.

    The book is the story of her journey and the time she spends alone in Alaska. The journey to Alaska includes a number of incidents that confirm Erin’s view that it is a man’s world (mainly unwanted sexual attention).

    Mixed in with the events, Erin takes time to record her thoughts about a wide variety of topics, all of which she connects together. So, we get a travel documentary filled with feminism, biography and then also thoughts about things such as the Voyager space missions, the lunar landings, time capsules, the Golden Records, Rachel Carson, the Unabomber, Jack Kerouac and many others. Gradually, all of these different topics converge and connect and the final 20% of the book becomes Erin’s philosophy for life which is largely based on the Inuit philosophy of metempsychosis:

    This combination of story and contemplation gives the book the feel of a documentary rather than a work of fiction (and clearly not everything in it is fiction). Andrews' writing is vivid and observant: I was left feeling that someone somewhere must have lived all of this given the detail as it’s hard to imagine someone thinking of all that without experiencing it.

    Alone in Alaska, Erin’s thoughts get more and more extravagant and include dream sequences. It is this that helps her pull it all together and leads us to the final sections of the book which focus more on philosophy and how to live life.

    You don’t have to agree with everything Andrews gives Erin to say and think, but, even if you don’t, there is plenty of food for thought in what Erin discusses. The story is fairly straightforward, but is well written. The combination of story and contemplation makes this an absorbing book.

    To be published by Serpent’s Tail, I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

  • Paula Bardell-Hedley

    Erin is a young woman with a calling. She has barely ventured beyond her home town, but she

    watched

    survival programmes on TV. She wonders why it is that men, but never women, get to be intrepid adventurers, and decides to prove that it is possible for a lone female to voyage throu

    Erin is a young woman with a calling. She has barely ventured beyond her home town, but she

    watched

    survival programmes on TV. She wonders why it is that men, but never women, get to be intrepid adventurers, and decides to prove that it is possible for a lone female to voyage through the Arctic Circle, travel across the American continent, and survive in the Alaskan wilderness on basic rations.

    She takes with her a video camera to record the journey, using it to interview people along the way, with the intention of creating a feminist documentary. But her evolving objectives regarding this film become an integral part of her odyssey – one that is sometimes fraught with danger and would certainly scare her parochial mum and dad witless should she choose to be completely open with them. She is, however, a strong-willed, resourceful character, and develops coping mechanisms such as chiding herself for growing overly attached to temporary travelling companions.

    As she travels, she ruminates on the solar system, nuclear weapons, Inuit culture, cetaceans, the pill, dreams, history, nothingness and a profusion of diverse subjects. She contemplates the works of writers, travellers, scientists and philosophers like

    ,

    and James Lovelock - looking to

    for feminal inspiration – and puzzles over what impelled men like

    to seek enlightenment through solitude and immersion in the natural world.

    Erin may be a deep thinker, but she is also great company – her perceptive humour often at its funniest when she is at her lowest ebb. There are amusing sub-headings strewn throughout the narrative, with titles like: MANNED SPAcE FLIgHT IS THE TROPHY WIFE OF THE SuPER-PHALLUS, and I found myself chuckling at some of her throwaway remarks.

    When eventually she reaches her isolated cabin in Denali, her experiences thereafter sometimes remind me of those recounted by

    in her 2009 memoir,

    in which the author spent long periods of time living alone in remote places. Like Erin, she was occasionally perplexed by unsettling, if not downright creepy mental images. There were times when she was unsure if she was awake or asleep, and if the things she saw were real or merely brought about by lack of human contact. So it proves for Erin.

    So authentic is the protagonist's voice that in many ways

    seems more non-fiction travelogue than novel. Moreover, if I hadn't been informed otherwise, I might have assumed Erin was American. Her first-person interior-monologue doesn't have a particularly British feel to it – in fact, it could be described as mid Atlantic - but I have no doubt this is a generational thing. These days young people use a globalized form of English, and Erin is a mere 19 years-old. The author herself is in her late twenties, while I'm in my early fifties, so our use of language will inevitably differ.

    There is much to admire in

    debut novel. She has created an inspiring character in Erin, one you will think of long after reading the final page. This book appealed to me at first because I am fascinated by countries like Iceland and Greenland, and I was also intrigued by the description of a young woman challenging the archetype of the rugged male explorer. By the time it ended, an abundance of anomalous thoughts were coursing through my brain. I could ask for no more. (3.5 STARS)

  • Eric Anderson

    Sometimes it can be so difficult to separate my emotional response to a book compared to my critical response. I don't think I necessarily have to which is one of the great things about a book blog! But reading Abi Andrews' debut novel “The Word for Woman is Wilderness” I was even more aware of this dilemma because it's inspired by and about subjects I'm really interested in and sympathetic towards. It's narrated from the perspective of nineteen year old Erin who has a passionate interest in the

    Sometimes it can be so difficult to separate my emotional response to a book compared to my critical response. I don't think I necessarily have to which is one of the great things about a book blog! But reading Abi Andrews' debut novel “The Word for Woman is Wilderness” I was even more aware of this dilemma because it's inspired by and about subjects I'm really interested in and sympathetic towards. It's narrated from the perspective of nineteen year old Erin who has a passionate interest in the writing of Thoreau and the life of Christopher McCandless whose tragic journey led to his accidental death in the Alaskan wilderness. This was chronicled in Jon Krakauer's nonfiction book “Into the Wild” and a film with the same name directed by Sean Penn. Erin observes how the famous instances of individuals pioneering into the wilderness to establish a distance from the society whose values they question have all been directed through a men's perspectives. Certainly the experience and perspective of a woman who sets out on such a journey would be very different. So (against her parents' wishes) she ventures out from her home in England to the Alaskan wilderness and chronicles her journey on video with the plan to edit it into a documentary. She states: “if running into the wild is so often a wounded retreat from societal constraints and oppressions, then shouldn’t anyone but straight white men be doing it more?” Erin charts the mental and physical struggles she faces on her way while also contemplating both the dynamic distinctions and commonalities between the journey of mankind vs womankind.

    Read my full

  • Elaine Mullane

    , the debut novel by Abi Andrews, introduces us to a teenage feminist explorer who ventures through the Arctic Circle, across the continent of America and on to Alaska, all in the name of woman.

    19-year-old Erin leaves her home in England and embarks on a journey that challenges both herself and the male dominated world of exploration. Drawing on the experiences of Bear Grylls and Christopher McCandless, Erin writes her own feminist narrative on nature and

    , the debut novel by Abi Andrews, introduces us to a teenage feminist explorer who ventures through the Arctic Circle, across the continent of America and on to Alaska, all in the name of woman.

    19-year-old Erin leaves her home in England and embarks on a journey that challenges both herself and the male dominated world of exploration. Drawing on the experiences of Bear Grylls and Christopher McCandless, Erin writes her own feminist narrative on nature and the wilderness. In one of the most ambitious musings I have read in a long time, our protagonist tackles topics from space travel, climate change and physics to gender theory and ecological science. Her knowledge on literature and nature is vast, and her ponderings on feminist writing, technology and patriarchy prove quite interesting.

    Erin is making a video documentary of her travels, logging her experiences on cargo and research ships across the Atlantic, her stints in Iceland and Greenland, her hitchhiking adventures across Canada and her eventual habitation of a cabin in Alaska’s Denali national park. There are some scenes that will amuse you and some that will worry you, particularly those that involve her hitchhiking at night (or maybe that’s the mother in me talking!). While I found Erin to be engaging, well read and witty, I felt that her intelligence and knowledge was often called into question by her use of teen-speak, swearing and, in parts, poor grammar and choice of vocabulary. Her opinions are often ageist, with Erin believing it is the adults in the world who are responsible for ruining anything good about it. At times like this, I found myself becoming irritated by her. I am a millennial myself (just about) but I found Erin’s arguments, musings and opinions to be particularly...well...millennial.

    An all-encompassing, ambitious and impressive read, ultimately, with thought provoking discussions of feminism, gender, nature and the wilderness. Recommended to fans of women’s writing, feminist theory or nature writing, or anyone who would like a teenage, millennial revision of the work of Jack London.

  • Léa

    2,5/5

    C'est le sentiment de déception qui règne après avoir refermé ce livre.

    J'étais tombée par hasard sur ce roman dans une librairie indépendante de Bath en février dernier. J'avais ensuite participé à une interview et séance de dédicace de l'auteure dans cette même librairie. Ce qu'elle disait de son roman me plaisait énormément : prenez Into the wild mais transposez le à un personnage féminin. Comment cette quête d'aventures se passerait-elle pour elle ? Entre nature writing et roman féminist

    2,5/5

    C'est le sentiment de déception qui règne après avoir refermé ce livre.

    J'étais tombée par hasard sur ce roman dans une librairie indépendante de Bath en février dernier. J'avais ensuite participé à une interview et séance de dédicace de l'auteure dans cette même librairie. Ce qu'elle disait de son roman me plaisait énormément : prenez Into the wild mais transposez le à un personnage féminin. Comment cette quête d'aventures se passerait-elle pour elle ? Entre nature writing et roman féministe qui se moque de Bear Grills, mon intérêt avait été éveillé.

    Et puis voilà, mes attentes n'ont pas été remplies. Le roman oscille entre beaucoup trop de choses et cela m'a perdue par moment. L'auteure s'est dispersée en abordant l'astronomie, la philosophie, le féminisme, l'écologie et le nature writing. Par moment cela ressemble plus à une thèse qu'à un journal de voyage. N'étant pas passionnée par l'astronomie par exemple, j'ai eu énormément de mal à aller au bout de certains chapitres sur ce sujet... Cependant ce qu'elle évoque tout au long du roman est intéressant (notamment les réflexions sur l'écologie, le féminisme et les conditions de vie des indiens d'Amérique, des Inuits ou des Esquimaux) mais au final cela tient plus de l'essai que du roman. Ce n'est pas ce que j'attendais ici.

  • Varsha Ravi (between.bookends)

    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 o

    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 millennial in some sense. 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.

    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 will appreciate it for it's uniqueness and what it tries to achieve, though my overall reaction was rather mixed.

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