Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Wolf Border Book Cover The Wolf Border
Sarah Hall
Literary Fiction
Harper Colins
June 9, 2015
TLC Book Tours

Rating: DNF rating

Synopsis: The award-winning author of The Electric Michelangelo returns with her first novel in nearly six years, a literary masterpiece about the reintroduction of wild wolves into the United Kingdom.

She hears them howling along the buffer zone, a long harmonic.
One leading, then many.
At night there is no need to imagine, no need to dream.
They reign outside the mind.

Rachel Caine is a zoologist working in Nez Perce, Idaho, as part of a wolf recovery project. She spends her days, and often nights, tracking the every move of a wild wolf pack—their size, their behavior, their howl patterns. It is a fairly solitary existence, but Rachel is content.

When she receives a call from the wealthy and mysterious Earl of Annerdale, who is interested in reintroducing the grey wolf to Northern England, Rachel agrees to a meeting. She is certain she wants no part of this project, but the Earl’s estate is close to the village where Rachel grew up, and where her aging mother now lives in a care facility. It has been far too long since Rachel has gone home, and so she returns to face the ghosts of her past.

The Wolf Border is a breathtaking story about the frontier of the human spirit, from one of the most celebrated young writers working today.

My Review

I received a free copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall is a contemporary literary fiction novel with vivid prose and a seemingly touching message. However, many aspects of the slowing plot caused me to lose interest in Rachel’s story and the book’s dialogue formatting confused me at times. Sadly, I could not finish the book because of these issues. This review is based solely on my interpretation of only reading the first half of The Wolf Border.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I love literary fiction and hate to give up reading a book. And I don’t mean to offend the author or anyone reading this review but I have to be honest. The Wolf’s Border just wasn’t my cup of tea. The story begins with Rachel Caine, a middle-aged zoologist who’s offered the chance to work on a prestigious new project. Thanks to the backing of the Earl of Annerdale, Thomas Pennington, Rachel is tasked with reintroducing the grey wolf back into the countryside of England.

This aspect of the plot is what caught my attention within the book’s first chapter or so. But then the focus shifts to Rachel facing opposition with protestors against the project, which seemed more like a nuisance than any real issue that needed handling. So, that problem is kind of pushed aside. In fact, much of what I thought this book would involve, the wolves, were set on the back burner. While Rachel’s personal and family problems take the spotlight.

Rachel seems to have problems with everyone in her life. She’s had a tough past with her promiscuous and snarky mother Binny. Rachel’s relationship with her brother has suffered over the years. And after one drunken night, Rachel becomes pregnant by her co-worker and friend Kyle. Of course much more is going on in her life, but that’s just the point of why this story didn’t settle well with me. From what I read of the book, the focus is mostly on Rachel’s relationship problems and has little to do with her fascinating job as a zoologist or her study of the wolves.

While I like Hall’s writing style, descriptions, and the peeks into Rachel’s past, I did not enjoy the way the dialogue is formatted in this book. The formatting makes it difficult to differentiate from the rest of the narrative. I can understand not using quotation marks for dialogue as an author’s preference, but many times I found myself confused about who was speaking because there were no quotations or enough dialogue tags.

I did like trying to understand Rachel’s problems with her mother Binny, and how Rachel drifted apart from a meaningful relationship with her brother Lawrence. I loved Binny. She seemed the most interesting of all the characters with her sarcasm and disagreeableness with her daughter. I was left wondering what really drove the two apart in previous years.

On the other hand, Rachel is a bit of an enigma. I can’t say for certain that I like or dislike her as a main character. Rachel’s problem with settling down and finding a mate, a relationship with someone she cares about, seems to be a prominent issue in the book. She, in many ways, mimics the pattern of a female wolf. Then there’s the issue with whether she will keep her baby or have an abortion. Meanwhile, she keeps that news hidden from Kyle.

There are a few sex scenes between Rachel and her partners, which I found slightly awkward since I was left wondering what Rachel’s ultimate goal was. It seemed that the wolf project would be the largest part of her life, yet the book only shares tidbits into her work with wolves. Instead, I was overwhelmed with Rachel’s flaws and mostly her dealings with her pregnancy. Perhaps if the book was presented with those aspects at the heart of the story then I would have had less trouble finishing the book.

Overall, my expectations of what The Wolf Border would involve and what it delivered left me disappointed and wanting more about Rachel’s work with the grey wolf and less baby drama. With that said, I cannot recommend this book since I did not finish it.

About Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall was born in 1974 in Cumbria, England. She received a master of letters in creative writing from Scotland’s St. Andrews University and has published four novels. Haweswater won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (overall winner, Best First Novel) and a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award.

The Electric Michelangelo was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Eurasia Region), and the Prix Femina Étranger, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Daughters of the North won the 2006/07 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction.

How to Paint a Dead Man was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Portico Prize for Fiction. In 2013 Hall was named one of Granta‘s Best Young British Novelists, a prize awarded every ten years, and she won the BBC National Short Story Award and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

You can find out more about Sarah at her website and on Facebook.

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5 thoughts on “Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

  1. I appreciate that you have taken care to explain why you did not connect with the novel without suggesting that it is somehow lacking, just that it is not, as you’ve said, your cup of tea. It is a contender for a favourite in my reading year, so some of the elements which most frustrated you were the ones which I found most fascinating. I hope you connect with the next book in your stack!
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