I am both attracted to and repelled by novels that involve animals. I’m a big softy when it comes to critters, so normally I err on the side of caution and say no to animal books. The controversial subject of reintroducing wolves is one that will no doubt include some painful scenes (either for the wolves or lambs or humans who care about them). However, seeing as how I enjoyed The Loop by Nicholas Evens, I was intrigued by The Wolf Border and said yes to a review copy.
From the publisher: For almost a decade, zoologist Rachel Caine has lived a solitary existence far from her estranged family in England, monitoring wolves in a remote section of Idaho as part of a wildlife recovery program. But a surprising phone call takes her back to the peat and wet light of the Lake District where she grew up. The eccentric Earl of Annerdale has a controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, and he wants Rachel to spearhead the project. Though she’s skeptical, the earl’s lands are close to the village where she grew up, and where her aging mother now lives.
While the earl’s plan harks back to an ancient idyll of untamed British wilderness, Rachel must contend with modern-day realities–health and safety issues, public anger and fear, cynical political interests. But the return of the Grey unexpectedly sparks her own regeneration.
Exploring the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, The Wolf Border illuminates both our animal nature and humanity: sex, love, conflict, and the desire to find answers to the question of our existence–the emotions, desires, and needs that rule our lives.
I was blown away by an early scene in the book when Rachel visits her mother in the nursing home. It is so emotional and raw, yet well done. Other scenes, primarily landscape descriptions, made me put down the book and Google a location.
The overall plot was interesting and I kept reading to see what would happen to Rachel and the wolves, but I never really attached to Rachel or any of the characters (likeable or un). Was intentional on the author’s part, to keep the reader at arm’s length, sort of like how a zoologist spends hours/days/years observing her subjects, but has to maintain a distance to keep objective? I’m also wondering if the lack of quotation marks had some kind of psychological effect (there were none in the uncorrected proof I read).
Rachel is a bit of loner and her sex life is, for the most part, purely physical and uncomplicated by emotional attachment, a bit like what some humans might imagine wolf sex is like. The sex in this book, while graphic, serves to establish and maintain character as most literary sex should, I imagine. In the example below the “she” refers to Rachel, post-coitus (as Sheldon would say):
She pads down to the kitchen, the loam of semen slipping between her thighs.
“Yuck,” was my first thought. My second thought was, “The history of the novel would be better off without that sentence.” But looking back after finishing the book I can detect deeper meanings in that one sentence. Rachel pads like a wolf and the semen is described with a word that conveys earthiness, which, in the context of this novel, is an essential, positive thing. It signifies Rachel chose a good mate. It also shows how Rachel is a bit disconnected and rather passive to many things that happen to her even if she’s the one who chooses her mates (again, like a wolf).
Studying heterosexuals can be fascinating. 😉
The Wolf Border certainly gave my flame to visit the Lake District a good fanning. Literary fiction readers with a penchant for animals and environmental concerns will no doubt want to check out The Wolf Border.
Here’s a bit about the author: