Lauren Groff's beautiful and brutal novel The Vaster Wilds follows a young servant girl running from the Jamestown colony's disease and starvation; she reveals her secrets while scrabbling for survival in the unforgiving wilderness.
The world, the girl knew, was worse than savage, the world was unmoved. It did not care, it could not care, what happened to her, not one bit. She was a mote, a speck, a floating windborne fleck of dust.
Lauren Goff's novel The Vaster Wilds begins in the Jamestown colony in the early 1600s. A servant girl is fleeing her early colonial household in the brutal aftermath of plague and starvation.
Our main protagonist knows she is being chased because of something she's done, but the facts of the situation aren't revealed to the reader until late in the book. (She doesn't realize, as the reader does, due to the omniscient narrator, that her pursuer succumbs to death early on, and that she is evading new dangers but has no need of pushing on to escape threats of repercussions from her household.)
The orphan girl is essentially nameless--she doesn't attach to any of the insulting, ridiculing, or general names adults have carelessly thrown at her in her short life.
She is uneducated but thoughtful, and she frequently considers issues of faith and life, separating these from the faulted holy men who introduced her to such concepts. She has visions of the past and of versions of the future in which her spirit transcends the pain and violence and knife-edge of death upon which she has survived.
Upon being on her own for the first time, she discovers that she is capable of cleverness in the wild as she dives deeper and deeper into the unforgiving wilderness. She manages to problem-solve enormous challenges and, against all odds, survive. Her life in the wild consists of scrabbling for sustenance and carving out shelter; floating deadly cold rivers; and fleeing from wild strangers and beasts.
Hers is a brutal existence buoyed only by meandering thoughts of the past--including her life's one tender connection, to the young daughter of her former household, her former charge--and her growing wonder at the mysteries of the natural world, which are wonderfully imperfect and beautifully wrought by Groff.
I listened to The Vaster Wilds as an audiobook.
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Groff is also the author of Fates and Furies, Matrix, The Monsters of Templeton, and other novels.