The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

It looks like we’re headed for a long series of mini lockdowns and complex restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Combine that with the joys of the Scottish winter, and many will seek an escape into fiction. Any other world might seem preferable to this. Diane Cook ( offers such an escape.

Cook’s writing has appeared in Harper’sTin HouseGranta, and other publications, and her stories have been included in the anthologies Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. In 2020 she was the Leeds Lit Festival International Writer in Residence.

The New Wilderness (2020) ( is an ecological horror story which speaks directly to our current predicament. The summary is as follows.

Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the overdeveloped, overpopulated metropolis they call home is ravaging her lungs. Bea knows she cannot stay in the City, but there is only one alternative: The Wilderness State. Mankind has never been allowed to venture into this vast expanse of untamed land. Until now. 

Bea and Agnes join eighteen other volunteers who agree to take part in a radical experiment. They must slowly learn how to live in the unpredictable, often dangerous Wilderness, leaving no trace on their surroundings in their quest to survive. But as Agnes embraces this new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter’s life might mean losing her in ways she hadn’t foreseen.

Mercurial and increasingly desperate to protect Agnes, Bea is destined to become the community leader, attaining a quasi-folk-hero status. Yet it is through Agnes’s eyes that the bulk of this supremely well-crafted adventure unfolds. Her wild girl observations and lack of inhibition are at once humorous and lightly menacing, as when the plump legs of a woman freshly arrived from the City make her hungry.

Does living amid raw nature make the Community into better human beings? Certainly not in any way that the Romantics would have recognised. So much else is broached in these vivid, timely pages: tribalism, courage, consumption, storytelling itself – an art that Cook spirits back to its spark-enlivened, campfire origins. Enveloped in the modern human world of our own construction, the author confronts us with the raw and the primeval.

This is an urgent and compelling read which will take your mind from the pandemic and direct it to wider matters about human nature and our place in the world.

Enquire at your local library. Check if this important title is in stock by consulting the online catalogue at

416 pages in Harper

ISBN 978-0062333131

First published 2020

Diane Cook
Scroll to Top