Review: ‘The Wolf Border’ by Sarah Hall

This is among my favourites of what I’ve read this year so far. I’ve admired Sarah Hall for a long time. As a sixth former applying to University I attended a talk about her life as an author and was both impressed and inspired. When I was first given a Kindle, The Carhullan Army was one of my first purchases. While I think now that I probably missed a lot at the time, I was excited by it, particularly at an age when I had limited exposure to contemporary fiction. Yet for some reason, this book is the first of hers I’ve read since then.

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The Wolf Border follows Rachel Caine, an expert in maintaining wolf populations with years of experience, who is returns home to the Lake District from Idaho by a new job for the Earl of Annerdale and his ambitious project: to reintroduce the wolf to the UK. This all occurs along an alternative timeline around the Scottish independence referendum.

A lot of criticisms I’ve read of the novel seem to centre on it not being quite what was expected – the focus is no primarily on the wolves but on Rachel herself, taking in not only her work but all other major events and shifts in her life, with the wolves and all that concerns them as an undercurrent to this. When reading this didn’t bother me, but I do take the point that the book is perhaps blurbed in a slightly misleading way. On the other hand, I would find it difficult to write a blurb which indicated what else the book will cover without spoilers, which are the worst thing to put on a book jacket. The wolves do however provide the architecture for large elements of the plot.

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As for my own response – I really enjoyed this, as a reading experience. The character of Rachel Caine is incredibly distinct and strongly drawn, and I enjoyed getting to know and begin to understand her and her motivations. The political aspects of the novel, while often treated with a light touch due to Rachel’s own disinclination, are fascinating. The presence of romance in the plot was incredibly interesting – it is in no way a focal point, not the site of wish fulfillment, but of something calmer. It is the background to other events of her life, not the thing all events point toward.

Not all of the themes explored come to fruition within the novel – some are just hinted at – but leaving the reader to ruminate on these isn’t something which bothers me. In the end though, what I really enjoyed about this book is simply the way Sarah Hall writes. I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work in the future.

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