The Word for Woman Is Wilderness

The Word for Woman Is Wilderness

by Abi Andrews


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"Beguiling, audacious... rises to its own challenges in engaging intellectually as well as wholeheartedly with its questions about gender, genre and the concept of wilderness. The novel displays wide reading, clever writing and amusing dialogue." —The Guardian

This is a new kind of nature writing — one that crosses fiction with science writing and puts gender politics at the center of the landscape.

Erin, a 19-year-old girl from middle England, is travelling to Alaska on a journey that takes her through Iceland, Greenland, and across Canada. She is making a documentary about how men are allowed to express this kind of individualism and personal freedom more than women are, based on masculinist ideas of survivalism and the shunning of society: the “Mountain Man.” She plans to culminate her journey with an experiment: living in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, a la Thoreau, to explore it from a feminist perspective.

The book is a fictional time capsule curated by Erin, comprising of personal narrative, fact, anecdote, images and maps, on subjects as diverse as The Golden Records, Voyager 1, the moon landings, the appropriation of Native land and culture, Rachel Carson, The Order of The Dolphin, The Doomsday Clock, Ted Kaczynski, Valentina Tereshkova, Jack London, Thoreau, Darwin, Nuclear war, The Letters of Last Resort and the pill, amongst many other topics.

"Refreshingly outward-looking in a literary culture that turns ever inward to the self, although it still has profound moments of introspection. Uplifting, with a thirsty curiosity, the writing is playful and exuberant. Riffing on feminist ideas but unlimited in scope, Andrews focuses our attention on our beautiful, doomed planet, and the astonishing things we have yet to discover." —Ruth McKee, The Irish Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937512798
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Publication date: 03/19/2019
Pages: 284
Sales rank: 646,792
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 17 - 18 Years

About the Author

Abi Andrews is a writer from the Midlands, England. She studied Creative Writing at Goldsmiths college in London, and her work has been published in Five Dials, Caught by the River, The Clearing, The Dark Mountain Project, Tender, and other journals, along with a pamphlet published with Goldsmiths Shorts. Her debut novel The Word for Woman is Wilderness was originally published by Serpent’s Tail in February 2018 and Hoffmann und Campe in October 2018.

Reading Group Guide

Book Club and Reader Guide: Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Erin sets out to deconstruct the trope of the ‘Mountain Man.’ Who is Mountain Man? What are the character traits of a Mountain Man? Can you think of any Mountain Men, in literature or in popular culture?

2. Initially, Erin intends to emulate the Mountain Man. But over the course of her journey, Mountain Man becomes a more problematic figure for Erin. What do you think Erin finds difficult about the glorification of Mountain Men?

3. Erin sees her trip as a feminist quest. She is claiming her right to the freedom of white men. However, this freedom starts to sit uneasily with her as she encounters other women who cannot claim it like she can. On the Highway of Tears she wonders if her experience could ever be comparable to that of the many native women who have been murdered on the very highway that enables her adventure. How does Erin’s quest relate to the questions of intersectionality in feminism?

4. ‘Millenial’ is often used pejoratively to describe Erin’s generation of Internet literate young people. Erin’s voice is playfully kaleidoscopic, paradoxical, sardonic, roping in high and low culture, making a mosaic of the ideas of others — it could be said that her voice is distinctly millenial. Do you think the voice of Erin shows a lazy misuse of grammar and language conventions, or do you think it does something more? In what ways do you think it could be said that the language itself is intersectional?

5. Erin finds identification with the plight of whales and dolphins; she says ‘cetaceans are women’s allies in the war against patriarchy because patriarchy holds the cetaceans down with us.’ What do you think she means by this? Do you think patriarchy might affect our relations to nonhumans, and if so, how?

6. At the same time Erin is troubled the reduction of women to their biological functions, and worries about reaffirming myths that allow patriarchy to oppress, own, and plunder both women and nature. Does Erin fall back into trap of reducing women to nature, or does she overcome this by opening out a space where there is no ‘nature’ & ‘human,’ but a queering of these old dichotomies?

7. Erin’s trip is framed by danger. But the dangers that chafe against Erin mostly come from strange and familiar men. Do you think Erin is right to put herself in danger? Is she naive? How does Erin’s trip relate to the problematic narrative of women ‘asking for it,’ of ‘victim blaming’?

8. ‘Solastalgia’ is the feeling of distress caused by environmental degradation. Have you ever felt solastalgia? Do you think global climate catastrophe significantly affects individual’s mental health, or do you think Erin is lucky that this malaise is the worst of her worries?

9. Erin becomes critical of the colonial powers at play in map-making, documenting, and time-capsulizing; she sees the Voyagers as a corrupting ejaculation into the wilderness of space. Damon represents the opposite — absolute negation of the self, but he chose the extreme of suicide. Perhaps Erin finds a place between negation and propagation; she destroys the documentary, but she keeps mementos of her trip for her own recollection. Why do you think she decides to get rid of the documentary but keep some record of the trip for herself?

10. Ultimately, Erin leaves the cabin happy to return home. Is shrugging off individualism and deciding to return to society a failure, or has she learned something more important than the Mountain Men tried to keep from her all along? Is she really leaving, if she takes something of the place with her in memory?

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