Sarah Hall's The Wolf Border (2015)

The Wolf Border - Sarah Hall

Having worked in Idaho for many years, Rachel is invited to return to England, where the Earl of Annerdale seeks to reintroduce wolves to the countryside. It is an offer she plans to refuse, but one which is too tempting to ignore outright.


"The moors were endless, haunting; they had everything and gave upsecrets only intermittently – an orchid fluting in a bog, a flash of blue wing, some phantom, long-boned  creature, caught for a moment against the horizon before disappearing. Only the ubiquitous sheep tamed the countryside."


The concept of re-wilding is fascinating on its own. (The author acknowledges the value of specific works on the subject in her notes at the back of the novel, if readers would like to explore independently.)


But Sarah Hall lays parallels for the reader, so that the layered themes -- ideas of stewardship and dependence, taming and observing, protection and isolation -- are particularly striking.


This novel is not titled for the content about wolves, but for the border between one state identified as civilized and another state identified as wild.


Both definitions are conceived of by humans.  There is some observation of the wolves, of course, but always through the lens of the human gaze, of a world dominated by humans as the ultimate predator.


Rachel's borders are shifting, expanding. And that makes for a solid character-driven tale. (Readers are completely immersed in her perspective; even the dialogue is presented all-of-a-piece with the story. There are no borders here either: a thought in the mind may or may not be spoken, but exists in Rachel's consciousness whether or not it is shared.)


"For the first time in her life, work is not the primary concern: work is not in full possession of her soul.... She cannot hide in it. All those years in which she was safe and exempt, focused on the management of another species. Now, a different sphere has ascended. The qualities of human reward and failure rest with her. It is terrifying."


As complicated as it was to erect a barrier to protect the rewilded wolves in England, constructed barriers are not necessarily effective. Barriers break down when not all inhabitants of the world agree that their construction is a priority.


This is the kind of dilemma with which Rachel grapples in The Wolf Border: the ascendance of a different sphere.


A sophisticated and engaging novel: Sarah Hall's The Wolf Border. (I have more to say about it, here on BuriedInPrint.)