The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

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:

Sarah Hall was born in 1974 in Cumbria, England. She received a master of letters in creative writing from Scotland’s St. Andrews University and has published four novels. Haweswater won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (overall winner, Best First Novel) and a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award. The Electric Michelangelo was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Eurasia Region), and the Prix Femina Étranger, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Daughters of the North won the 2006/07 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. How to Paint a Dead Man was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Portico Prize for Fiction. In 2013 Hall was named one of Granta‘s Best Young British Novelists, a prize awarded every ten years, and she won the BBC National Short Story Award and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Find out more about Sarah at her website.

Sarah Hall
HarperCollins, U.S. release: June 9, 2015
Read for TLC Book Tours: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. To read more TLC reviews of this novel click here.


  1. What a great observation about her padding to the kitchen; I missed that, but of course, it makes perfect sense. I certainly do have the sense that every word and every layer of this novel has been deliberately and skillfully crafted. It's not only a good story, but such a well-written work of fiction: perfect balance for my reading taste!

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