Diane Cook’s extraordinary novel is both a blazing lament for our contempt of nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood.

In a world ravaged by climate change, Bea’s five-year-old daughter is wasting away, consumed by the pollution of the metropolis they call home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die. There is only one alternative: Wilderness State. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, Bea and Agnes slowly learn how to survive on this unpredictable, often dangerous land. But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of her new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter’s life means losing her in a different way.

The 2020 Booker Prize
Published by
Oneworld Publications
Publication date

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Diane Cook

Diane Cook

About the Author

Diane Cook is a critically acclaimed novelist and short story writer. A former producer for the radio show, This American Life, she lives in Brooklyn.
More about Diane Cook

Diane Cook on The New Wilderness

‘My book is only being published this week, and the announcement of the Booker Prize longlist completely changed its trajectory. This year has been really hard for writers publishing books. It’s hard to focus, hard to get attention, and it can feel strange to ask for attention amid the pandemic, protests, all that is happening in the world. I know the judges have expressed this, but it’s a real gift that so many debuts were selected this year of all years. I was expecting a pretty quiet launch, with the people who already know my stories being the majority of who might have read The New Wilderness. Now, so many more people are going to read my book. Some may love it. Some may not. But they’ll read it. And that is really all any writer wants. To have their work read, engaged with, taken seriously. I’m really grateful the judges responded to what I created.’

Read the full interview here.

‘Wonderfully imagined and written, this is a tense future-shock novel that’s also a tender exploration of a mother-daughter relationship under extreme pressure.’

— The Booker Prize 2020 judges

What the critics said

Téa Obreht, The Guardian

‘Cook takes command of a fast-paced, thrilling story to ask stomach-turning questions in a moment when it would benefit every soul to have their stomach turned by the prospect of the future she envisions. I, for one, was grateful for the journey.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘Cook writes about desperate people in a world of ever shrinking livable space and increasingly questionable resources like air and water but also about the resilience of children who adapt, even enjoying circumstances that overwhelm the adults around them. Cook also raises uncomfortable questions: How far will a person go to survive, and what sacrifices will she or won’t she make for those she loves? This ecological horror story (particularly horrifying now) explores painful regions of the human heart.’

Zack Graham, The Nation

The New Wilderness is carefully constructed, but the mechanics of the novel, just like the mechanics of Cook’s short stories, are those of a simple parable. We have pushed the world to the point where we will soon have to change our way of life. The lives that we will soon lead will test our morality, our courage, our sheer willingness to survive. What sacrifices will we have to make to stay alive in the next 20 years? The next 50 years? Will those sacrifices even be worth making?’

James Goodall, Cumbria Times

‘In many ways, The New Wilderness is a pertinent read and a well-timed wake-up call. There has never been a better time to sit up and take note of the messages it imparts than in our era of climate anxiety, and with our current race for net zero. But there are no bombastic eco statements or histrionic pronouncements of doom. The green messages Cook imparts are subtler than that.’

Eliot Schrefer, USA Today

‘A gripping adventure that denies its readers easy answers, The New Wilderness is an important debut, and an illuminating read in these times, when the stakes of humans’ relationship with nature have never felt higher.’ 

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Being able to remember how much we share with the natural world makes the business of being human a little less bewildering, and lonely

Roxane Gay on Diane Cook's The New Wilderness

Actor Anne-Marie Duff reads from The New Wilderness


Actor Anne-Marie Duff performs a reading from the 2020 Booker Prize-shortlisted author Diane Cook’s book, The New Wilderness.

This was originally streamed during The Booker Prize 2020 winner ceremony.

The New Wilderness