The Word for Woman is Wilderness is Abi Andrews' debut novel. It tells the story of Erin, a 19-year-old who has barely left her home town, but who is perplexed by the prevalence of male explorers who seem to get to go on all the adventures. Writing in the Guardian, Sarah Moss called it 'unlike any published work I have read, in ways that are beguiling, audacious' and Lucy Scholes called it 'A thinking woman's adventure story ... beautiful, thoughtful, and often humorous.' Here, Abi explains how she has been influenced by Rachel Carson.

I have always been obsessed by ‘nature’ and the ‘environment’, or whatever we should call it (perhaps 'non-human people and Silent Spring Rachel Carsontheir uncivilised world' is best). But it was reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring that first woke me up to the way we tend to relate to nature, dichotomising it as ‘other’, as apart from us. It was a burning awakening; maybe it was the fact that the book had to be handled gently, that it wasn’t kept in the main collection in my university library and so had to be requested, the dignity of the old Penguin cover from the 60s, the dead birds and insects on it. There was a revelatory tone to every sentence, each one pulsing with urgency. It felt like handling a prophecy. I read and digested every sentence methodically, as though it were some archaeological manifesto, holding the key to staving off the planet’s demise.
Suddenly nature wasn’t just this diminishing thing we would be sad to lose; suddenly we were inextricable from it. And if we were part of it, it wasn’t enough to say ‘Oh the last of the black rhinos, what a shame’. If the Gypsy Moth dies because we started chemical warfare on it, then the web of complexity unravels and a part of us dies with the Gypsy Moth. If the pollutants we unleashed could be found in the blood of Eskimos, well, the Eskimos have done very little to get those particles into the blubber of the seals they eat. We in the developed world must bear a responsibility.
The place I grew up was post-industrial and pastoral. Nature, or the outside, was fields and hedgerows, similar to those in Silent Spring. It was anaemic, wilting wildflowers relegated to roadsides, leaves with mud splatters thrown up from car tyres. And bees crawling on pavements, lost, their internal compasses scrambled by neonicotinoids.
In the far corners of the world, there are places we haven’t got to yet in order to manipulate nature to our needs. Alaska is such a place, conceived of as a ‘final frontier’, where we go to chase our desire for the untouched, the virgin (with all of its patriarchal undertones). The premise for The Word for Woman is Wilderness was the question of why, in Alaska, in the myth of it, in all the books about it, is it only men who go into nature on their ego-building journeys?
Word for Woman is Wilderness Abi AndrewsIt felt significant to me that it was a woman that kickstarted the modern environmental movement, looking closely at what was in her home, at the polluted, evolving, mutating, extincting, resurging reality we live in, rather than running on a colonial quest into that pristine, separate, pure wilderness. Rachel Carson became a ghost in my novel, shape-shifting from lichen, to a figure with a bee-beard, to a most curiously embodied siphonophore.
She figures as the voice of the collective chorus, squawking and squeaking and howling that we are inextricable from this plethora, and that we can’t leave nature behind. And that, therefore, without the false dichotomy of them and us, of purity and corruption, the finality of it, there is also the possibility for renewal and re-wilding, of at least partial re-flourishing.
Rachel Carson taught me that we need to look closely and critically at our place in the order to know it, and we need to know it in order to care. Once we care, it is our responsibility to do something about it, and to write it. Because there is very little time left time for adventures into the colonial frontiers of old. There is an urgency for stories now that are not about going off on an individualist quest, into the solitude of the wilderness, but are instead stories about coming home.

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