Whereas sufferers from diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis and multiple sclerosis have produced graphic accounts of their experiences up to only a few hours before their deaths, with Alzheimer’s there cruelly comes a moment when the victim is literally lost for words. Fortunately, from time to time some writer – not a sufferer but possessed of exceptional intuition and literary skill, such as Norah Hoult in her 1944 There Were No Windows (reissued by Persephone four years ago) and now Samantha Harvey in this remarkable first novel, long-listed for this year’s Booker Prize – manages to persuade one that, yes, this is exactly what it must be like to suffer this ghastly affliction.
At the beginning of The Wilderness, the still vigorous Jake, a successful Jewish architect, is travelling in a private plane to a retirement party given in his honour. He is already suffering a vague unease at his increasing difficulty in recalling a name or recognising a face. All