Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

There are very few positive portrayals of wolves in literature and folk tale; they are mostly scary or bloodthirsty: the Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf in The Three Little Pigs, the Wolf in Peter and the Wolf, the wolf in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the list goes on. Combine these portrayals that stay in the forefront of the modern imagination with the fact that wolves are apex predators and will attack and kill valuable livestock and it is easy to see why the gray wolf was driven to the brink of extinction through fear and miseducation and why there's still an ongoing challenge today to protect and preserve these amazing creatures. Sarah Hall's haunting latest novel uses wolves and their controversial reintroduction into a contained wilderness to examine an entirely different pack, the human pack.

Rachel Caine is a zoologist who specializes in wolves, an expert in her field. She's been tracking a wolf pack in Idaho for many years, monitoring its well-being and trying to educate the public about the need for wolves. When a wealthy earl in Britain decides that he wants to reintroduce wolves into the semi-wild of his vast estates and then has the political clout to overcome all of the difficult logistics of doing so, he meets with Rachel and offers her the job of being the one to make this happen. Rachel grew up in Cumbria, not too far from the earl's estate, so her trip to speak with him comes with loaded memories and a visit to see her dying mother, from whom she has been semi-estranged for years. Despite, or perhaps because of, her connection to the area, Rachel has no intention of taking the position until an unplanned pregnancy sends her running from the complications of Idaho.

Her role in the re-wilding and reintegration of wolves in Britain is far different than her role in Idaho and as the project moves slowly towards success, the personal plot thread dealing with Rachel's own life, her pregnancy, her growing relationship with the vet in the area, her tentative interest in repairing the troubled relationship she has with her younger brother, and the Earl's complicated family situation come to the fore. The human situation weaves enticingly throughout the tale of the breeding pair of wolves offering parallels between these two disparate species. Rachel, like her wolves, must obey the imperatives of nature and find a way to live in the world we've created, a world of the unpredictable, of power and back room dealings, and of the wild.

Hall has written a beautiful and powerful literary meditation on nature ascendant, parenting, and familial bonds. The story is haunting and the tone is often contemplative, even when she describes the political dealings and maneuverings necessary to the preservation of the wolf. Her evocation of weather to reflect the narrative atmosphere is superbly done. Drawing Rachel as initially solitary but eventually coming to be a part of a self-created pack is in many ways a subtle reflection of Merle and Ra's fledgling pack. The stylistic choice of foregoing quotation marks around dialogue is particularly difficult here in that there is also a plethora of internal musing which is hard to differentiate from the spoken without the proper punctuation.  This deliberate exclusion seems to be a hallmark of current literary fiction for some unfortunate and frustrating reason. Despite this, overall this is a breathtaking and visceral novel about the concept of wildness and being outside the settled area (the wolf border), both in nature and within ourselves and is a magnificent and compelling read.

For more information about Sarah Hall and the book, check out her website or like her Facebook page. Takes a look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Wolves are fascinating to me, and the idea of reintroducing them in Britain of all places is extremely intriguing. I'm glad to see you recommend this book so highly. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. I like your idea of Rachel being a solitary and then becoming part of a pack; I think the way that Sarah Hall plays with the idea of independence is fascinating.


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