Wilder Girls is the first novel by Rory Power.
Finished on: 1.8.2022
Content Note: suicide, self harm, starvation
Hetty, Byatt and Reese are students at the Raxter school for girls. The school is located on Raxter island and pretty much the only thing on that island. For the past 18 months, Raxter island has been hit by the Tox – a sickness that has been changing the animals and the people on the island. At least the people who survived it. Hetty has lost an eyes. Byatt grew a second spine. Reese has a claw. What hasn’t changed is the friendship between the three, as they wait to be released from quarantine on the island, to be cured. But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty is done waiting, even if it means breaking all the rules.
Wilder Girls reminded me a lot of Annihilation, though there is much more emphasis on body horror here and the two novels are far from alike (apart from a very changed nature). There is just this sense of unsettled strangeness that they both work with. In any case, I found myself entirely engrossed by Wilder Girls.
Wilder Girls is not a particularly easy book. Power’s writing doesn’t flow, but is rather ragged which fits the novel altogether and is well done. But it does mean that it takes a little while until you settle into the story and the style. Especially since we’re thrown in the deep end at the beginning of the book: the girls have been living through the Tox for 18 months already and the reader knows nothing about it.
So, we encounter a situation that is deeply fucked up, and Power is excellent in describing just how fucked things are. The way the girls fight over the little food they have, the hunger behind it is palpable. The various physical changes are intense, their descriptions almost wondrous, but in a horrifying way. The body horror is really where the novel excels for me.
That, and the central trio of characters and their complicated relationships with each other. It’s the kind of complicated that we get way too little with female characters. Usually, complicated seems code for “they don’t actually like each other all that much, but have decided that they are friends anyway”. Here things are much more difficult. There is love in all shapes and forms, but also secrets and distance and jealousy and sometimes even something close to hate. It was really fantastic to get to know the girls this way.
The ending is rather open. That may not be satisfying for everybody, but I rather enjoyed it. There are some things that we can perfectly imagine how they will continue from there, we don’t need to have them spelled out. And other things are best left uncertain. The important thing here is the commitment to each other, not the exact outcome of this commitment.
Altogether, Wilder Girls is a very special book – strange and unusual (despite some more tropey moments) with resistant girls at its heart, it will creep you out as much as touch you. I can’t wait to read Power’s other books.
Summarizing: fascinating and intense.