Wednesday 8 March 2017

The Wolf Border

(February 2017)

A wonderfully written book, this, but one that took me far too long to read.

I'm not sure why, exactly. There's a certain tension that's built in to the style, I think, and that made me quite nervous about where the story was going. This sounds a little odd, I recognise, and is maybe a function of reading too much crudely structured genre stuff wherein the tension revolves around something awful happening with the plot, and the knowledge that that awful thing will eventually happen. It took me shamefully long to realise that I was in much more graceful hands here, and that what was making me tense was far more subtle than cheap shock tactics.

Rachel Caine (Significant Name Alert) is a biologist specialising in wolves. Brought up by her non-conformist mother in Cumbria, she has spent most of her adult life working in America. After her mother's death she is tempted back to her home county by the Earl of Annerdale, who, seemingly on an aristocratic whim, has embarked on a rewilding project and is looking to reintroduce wolves to the British Isles. As an added twist, on just before leaving America she has a fling with a colleague and ends up pregnant.

So, Rachel is a loner from a dysfunctional family who has dedicated her lives to the archetypal social animals. Throw in reconciliation with a step-brother and the Scottish Referendum (remember that?) and you've all the ingredients for meditations on kinship and independence that, in less assured, could have come across as crushingly unsubtle. Here though it all meshes beautifully. The prose, shorn of dialogue marking punctuation, is beautifully limpid; poised with a clarity that embodies Rachel as someone who consistently and deliberately positions herself of but not necessarily in her situations and social circles. There's a distance to both thought and expression here that, counterintuitively, brings everything into much closer, much sharper focus. This book has clearly been written by an author who trusts both the reader and themselves, and is all the better for it.

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