Posts Tagged ‘wolves’

Last summer I read Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, and this week, I remembered that McConaghy’s second book came out in August and I could check it out as a library eBook. I’ve been reading some heavy stuff — Pauli Murray’s memoir, books about theology and capitalism — and I wanted a good story to fall asleep with. Once There Were Wolves met that need, except instead of falling asleep reading it, I stayed up too late because it is a good story.

I will say, it’s not for the squeamish. McConaghy’s work could be called ecofiction; both books deal with environmental degradation, climate change, and species loss. But in addition to examining the darkness of the world and our utter hubris when it comes to nature, she also explores the darkness within her characters and their lives. In Once There Were Wolves, there is less environmental degradation than in Migrations, where nearly all wildlife is gone. Once There Were Wolves seems to be set in a time more like the present, where species are depleted but things haven’t yet reached the grim state of Migrations. But, the characters in Once There Were Wolves are facing all manner of human darkness.

The main character in this novel, Inti, is an Australian biologist working on a rewilding project, bringing back wolves in the Scottish Highlands, where they were hunted to extinction. She has a rare medical condition, mirror-touch synesthesia, which causes her to feel physical sensations that other humans — and in her case, also animals — are feeling. In addition to facing the opposition of local people who are afraid the wolves will kill their livestock, she and even more so her twin sister, Aggie, lives with the trauma and grief of having experienced violence and loss. Inti is also drawn to Duncan, who is her neighbor, the local police chief, and a fellow trauma survivor. McConaghy makes clear how much trauma impacts not only its victims, but also a community, especially when it’s a small rural place like the village near Inti’s wolf project. When a local man disappears, some believe a wolf attacked.

All the trauma was a bit much right now, as COVID seems to circle ever closer. Still, the combination of interesting ecology and rewilding information, a strong sense of place, some resilient and sensible folks who are in favor of the rewilding, and the mystery at the center of the story kept me reading. I found a few plot points just a step too unbelievable towards the end, but hey, it’s fiction. And actually, if we’ve learned one thing in the past few years, it’s that strange, even unbelievable events are really a part of life. McConaghy’s writing also drew me in. Here’s a passage where she describes Inti watching a wolf pack:

“I spend the morning watching two of them play, one with a long white swan feather, which brings her no end of joy, waving it between her teeth and batting at it with her paws, while the other — the male alpha — dances with the shadows of clouds for hours on end. Old male Number Fourteen, our oldest wolf, watches them serenely, while vigilant Number Ten stalks the riverbank, up and down, mesmerized by something in the water. The more I watch them, the more I understand that I will never know what happens inside a wolf’s mind. I won’t even come close. I smile at the foolish teenager in me who thought she could discover their secrets.”

Definitely an entertaining read.

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