Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
Publisher: Harper. June 9, 2015
Pages: 448
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Publisher
First Line: It's not often she dreams about them.



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. - Goodreads

I'm so torn about this book. To be completely honest, I almost put it down several times. I didn't, because Sarah Hall's writing was actually stunning and I wanted to know what was going to happen with Rachel and the grey wolves. The problem was that I was waiting anxiously for Rachel to stop being a passive character. And I don't know that she ever really did.

Rachel's an interesting one. She's often cold, distant, quietly analyzing; almost wild herself. Much of our time is spent watching things happen to her. And that made me kind of crazy. I realize that inaction is a choice in itself, but that doesn't make for an amazing reading experience when it's the default choice.

If I had known this book would be mostly about pregnancy and having a kid and relationships, and hardly about wolves, I don't know that I would have read it. I mean, I obviously expected the wolf stuff to reveal things about those topics and for Rachel's life to be the main story. But a lot of the time the wolf stuff felt inconsequential. I would've at least liked to see them a bit more, if not learn about them more.

Despite my issues with the plot and characterization (which made it a pretty slow read for me), Sarah Hall's vocabulary is incredible. When we get to see the wolves and the wilderness, it's beautiful and vivid. And Hall wrote some profound moments/realizations about familial relationships, love, and motherhood. Her talent can't be denied, I just wished the action had picked up sooner than 70% in.

Some Quotes:

"What use are higher faculties now, Rachel thinks, as she indicates and pulls out onto the road. Cognition and invention, the internal combustion engine, intermittent wipers, peace treaties and poetry, the homosapien thumb and tongue? Is optionality really evolutionary ascent when it leads to paralysis?"

"The strong April sunlight renders his fur brilliant, pale gold and silver-white, like the blaze of a matchhead. He could almost set fire to the trees. He's going to vanish, Rachel thinks, against the snow and the moors, against the blonde sward of the grassland."

"What else can she say amid the banal, undramatic language of the medical world? How will I be a mother? Will I feel love?"

Outlandishness Rating: 4/10

It's kind of weird, because it's almost an alternate history of the UK. Obviously wolves haven't been reintroduced to the wild. But also Scotland becomes an independent nation. Kind of interesting, but not touched on very much.


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