Wildlife

Wildlife

Wildlife

by Fiona Wood

Pan Macmillan, $16.99 pb, 369 pp, 9781742612317

Emma Hayes

Emma Hayes

Emma Hayes is completing a PhD in literary studies, focusing on the Golden Age of children’s literature.

Fiona Wood’s second novel addresses a theme that is common in Young Adult fiction: the loss of innocence. Wildlife, a cleverly composed coming-of-age novel, introduces the reader to the world of Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education campus at Mount Fairweather. Although it revisits the character of Lou from Wood’s début novel, Six Impossible Things (2010), Wildlife is an absorbing, stand-alone book.

Sibylla and Lou spend ten weeks in the ‘wilderness’ and confront what Lou identifies as ‘the big stuff: sex and death’. As Lou mourns the death of her boyfriend, Sibylla embarks on her first sexual relationship, with the enigmatic Ben Capaldi. Wood’s depiction of Lou’s grief is masterful. Rather than being forced to share Lou’s experience, the reader is invited to sympathise with her. Lou’s magnetic narrative voice skilfully evokes grief, inspiring genuine sympathy in the reader. Lou befriends Sibylla’s intelligent and self-contained childhood friend Michael; together they demonstrate Wood’s ability to create endearing characters.

Conversely, while Sibylla is an affable and often relatable character, her narrative voice does not engage the reader in the same manner as Lou’s. Notably, Sibylla’s failure to recognise her best friend Holly’s cruelty, instead attributing her jibes to ‘honesty’, can be alienating. Predatory and cunning, Holly suggests the eponymous wildlife as she fights to maintain dominance over Sibylla.

While it might have been difficult to match the appeal of Wood’s first book, Wildlife proves a worthy successor. Wood’s adroit use of Othello and her allusions to a wide variety of texts (such as works by Thoreau and Keats) reveal her confidence in her readers’ intelligence. Wildlife expertly shows us that, while the loss of innocence is a vital part of growing up, it is not an easy phase.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.