Academic journal article ARIEL

Kylie Crane. Myths of Wilderness in Contemporary Narratives: Environmental Postcolonialism in Australia and Canada

Academic journal article ARIEL

Kylie Crane. Myths of Wilderness in Contemporary Narratives: Environmental Postcolonialism in Australia and Canada

Article excerpt

Kylie Crane. Myths of Wilderness in Contemporary Narratives: Environmental Postcolonialism in Australia and Canada. New York: Palgrave, 2012. Pp. 228. US$90.00.

Kylie Crane's slim monograph, based on her dissertation at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, focuses on approaches to wilderness in six contemporary Australian and Canadian books, ranging across realist and speculative fiction, memoir, travel and nature writing, and "geografictione"--Aritha van Herk's term for her own genre-crossing experimental feminist writing. Although the subtitle announces its "environmental post-colonialism," Crane's book more specifically examines "post-settler" narratives of wilderness and place (7). In this study, "post-settler," a term left undefined, describes narratives and perspectives based on settler-colony mythologies. Crane adopts a settler perspective, she argues, in order to distinguish contemporary Canadian and Australian wilderness writing from the dominant United States version of wilderness and to examine how contemporary settler wilderness writing engages with the legacy of settler colonialism for aboriginal people. Mythologies of wilderness as pristine land have played a role in erasing and over-writing historical traces in the physical environment of long-standing aboriginal inhabitation. Crane's primary methodological approach is a combination of thematic criticism and narratology, with most of the textual analysis focused on constructions of narrating persona, wilderness themes, and narratives of encounter with place and people.

Margaret Atwood's Survival, her now-classic thematic guide to Canadian literature, looms large in Crane's study, serving as the basis for positing a common Australian and Canadian distinctiveness from the US and from European notions of nature. It is the "deathly trope of nature as an active agent" that "captures imaginations," Crane argues, and all six of the texts she discusses share the trope of survival in the wilderness (6). Published within just over a decade of one another, from van Herk's Places Far From Ellesmere (1990) to Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003), the six texts Crane selects exemplify the variety of genres, terrains, and concerns that now comprise the wilderness oeuvre. Atwood's dystopian novel is the most unconventional inclusion--and Crane strives to make the case for reading it as "post-wilderness" writing on account of its emphasis on survival, human absence, and contrast to civilized space (162)--since the others venture into the isolated island, desert, mountain, and arctic landscapes associated with wilderness survival since the beginning of colonial-era European exploration. Crane juxtaposes three fictional texts--Oryx and Crake, Tim Winton's Dirt Music (2001), and Julia Leigh's The Hunter (1999)--with three non-fictional texts that foreground family history and personal memory. …

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