Monday, July 20, 2015

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

Rachel Caine, a foremost wolf biologist, has agreed to leave her post in Idaho in order to lead the reintroduction of wolves into England. This means returning to Cumbria, where she grew up and has long been estranged from her mother and brother. The wolf project encounters resistance, unsurprisingly. Meanwhile, the political background feels very contemporary: across the border 40 miles to the north, a referendum for Scotland's independence is taking place.

Sarah Hall's The Wolf Border is a character-based novel that progresses at a measured pace. I happened to be reading a book with similar themes concurrently: The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson. Both are about wildness, power, truth and lies, and feature people who have difficulty forging human connections. Both stories use weather to reflect the protagonists' emotional states. Here is a sample of Hall's lyrical prose:

"All week, rain. Big splashing drops on every surface, like a child's illustration of rain. Blue vanishing light and winds from nowhere, bringing slant, destructive showers, or fine drizzle. At night there is rain that exists only as sound on the cottage roof, leaving doused grass in the morning and pools in the rutted lane. The streams and rivers on the estate swell. Spawn clings to submerged rocks and reeds as the current tugs. The lake accepts the extra volume indifferently. And then, when it seems the rain will never end, there's an explosion of sunshine, the startling heat of it through the cool spring air. Within days a green wildness takes over Annerdale."

I first encountered Sarah Hall's writing in her feminist dystopia Daughters of the North (The Carhullan Army is the UK title) some seven years ago. I also enjoyed How to Paint a Dead Man, a stimulating and astonishing novel. Hall has received the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the BBC National Short Story Award, the Portico Prize for Fiction, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the E M Forster Award. The Wolf Border was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Readalikes: Wild Dogs or The Evening Chorus (Helen Humphreys); Adult Onset (Ann-Marie MacDonald); All the Birds Singing (Evie Wyld); and Fauna (Alissa York). For a much shorter readalike, try The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, which is only 181 pages compared to The Wolf Border's 435. I'm not saying shorter is better, by the way. It is all about style, and both authors have used what seems the correct number of words to tell their respective stories.


Claire G said...

There's a wonderful, lyrical focus on water, too, in Hall's first novel, Haweswater. I'm intrigued though to know how The Wolf Border could be like Adult Onset. I'll have to read and see!

Lindy said...

The Wolf Border doesn't have lesbian content and it doesn't use humour. The way that it is similar to Adult Onset has to do with writing style and central themes. When you've read it, I'd love to hear what you think.