Julie Christine's Reviews > The Wolf Border

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
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Oct 30, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary-fiction, british-isles-theme-setting, best-of-2016, read-2016

Freedom/captivity; wild/ tame; fertile/barren; desire/indifference . . . it's rarely just one or the other in life, is it? We walk on the border between each, sometimes falling one way, sometimes another, ever in search of balance. In this extraordinary novel, Sarah Hall explores the borders nature creates, borders imposed by man, borders the heart transcends no matter how tightly we exert out control.

Rachel Caine, a wildlife biologist who specializes in Canis lupus, left her home on the border between England and Scotland ten years ago to work on a wolf restoration project on Idaho's Nez Perce reservation (another borderland to which I would love to see Hall return for a complete story). Elusive, guarded, solitary—yes, a lone wolf—Rachel seems at home in her work and in this rough and beautiful place, forming few attachments, until a wealthy and powerful aristocrat proposes that she lead his project to reintroduce wolves to Cumbria, the border county where she was raised.

The scheme seems one conceived in madness and arrogance—the Earl of Annerdale is known for his controversial, costly ecological passions—but the proportions of this venture are epic. His estate sprawls across the mountainous terrain of Cumbria that touches the border of Scotland, which is about to vote for independence from the United Kingdom. He has fenced in vast acres, creating a massive wildlife park in anticipation of the introduction of a male and a female wolf currently in rehabilitation in Romania. The hope is the pair will mate and eventually the pack will be released into the wild, resettling in land claimed by farmers nearly 500 years ago. This weaving together of the natural world and the machinations of politics becomes a vital and fascinating frame on which this novel is structured.

Rachel turns her back on the project until a drunken tryst with a trusted colleague and friend leaves her pregnant. She accepts the Earl’s offer and flees Idaho with a secret growing inside her. Settling into a cottage on his estate, Rachel commits herself to a quixotic mission. And the wild becomes the tamed, at least on the surface.

This is a novel where all the parts—the characters and their narrative arc, the plot and themes and the quality of the writing—unite in gorgeous concert. Hall takes time to develop and deepen her characters, no matter how minor, and the relationships that extend to each from Rachel’s psyche and her heart. Yet, the story moves every forward in surprising and breathtaking ways. Sarah Hall writes a nuanced, thickly-layered and fascinating story with stunning, masterful prose.

This image, of wolves being released into freedom, left me aching. It is emblematic of how this novel made me feel- story I could not put down, one I did not want to end:
Soon she is at full tilt, flooding across the moorland. Within moments there is a large white wolf alongside her. The pair veer away from the gorse-covered hillside, divide and make for the nearest cover – a gathering of thorn woods on the hill, spindled and bent by the wind.... They cover the open moor in less than a minute. One dark, one light, stellar and obverse, their hind muscles working sumptuously under their coats. The months of docile quarantine are shaken off in seconds; power always lay just underneath.... They climb the gradient of the hill opposite without slowing, then disappear from sight in the broken terrain.


I have discovered a new favorite author. Pardon me while I lose myself in her backlist.

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Reading Progress

October 30, 2015 – Shelved
October 30, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
February 6, 2016 – Started Reading
February 6, 2016 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction
February 6, 2016 – Shelved as: british-isles-theme-setting
February 7, 2016 –
page 73
16.9% "This is why I love Goodreads. I may never have heard of this book, this author, were it not for this place. Hard to set this novel aside. Something akin to Louise Erdrich, earlier Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett. Beautiful, intense."
February 9, 2016 –
page 176
40.74% "Tearing myself away from this book . . . to be immersed in such a gripping novel is exactly what I need right now- wish I could linger..."
February 10, 2016 –
page 216
50.0% "Okay. Will be exploring Hall's entire backlist. New favorite writer. Boom."
February 11, 2016 –
page 272
62.96% ""Rachel sits with him and nurses him. He latches, tugs hungrily—a savage pain passes through the swollen nipple, like broken glass crackling through ducts.""
February 13, 2016 – Shelved as: best-of-2016
February 13, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 15, 2016 – Shelved as: read-2016

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill Intriguing Julie ... thanks!


Julie Christine Bill wrote: "Intriguing Julie ... thanks!"

You're welcome, Bill! I hope it's one you enjoy!


Renata Thank you for writing such an articulate and eloquent review of this novel. I greatly enjoyed the story and the writing and just didn't know how to put my thoughts into words. I liked your insight into comparing her to a lone wolf. It was a surprise book - not knowing anything about it (but being passionate about preserving wolf habitat) it continues to


Renata Nuts! ...continues to haunt my thinking on different levels. :-)


Julie Christine Renata wrote: "Thank you for writing such an articulate and eloquent review of this novel. I greatly enjoyed the story and the writing and just didn't know how to put my thoughts into words. I liked your insight ..."

Thank you for the beautiful comment, Renata. I'm so glad this novel resonated with you. I know it will be one of favorite reads this year. So beautiful and rich.


Renata Funny that I came across your review of this wonderful book almost a year later! I reread your first few lines several times thinking how perfectly they capture the themes in this story and in several other books I've recently read (I'm thinking Eowyn Ivey's novels right now) Still an outstanding review and reminds why I still remember not just the story but the character of Rachel Caine and her struggles to find her authentic self so clearly. Happy New Year!


Julie Christine Renata wrote: "Funny that I came across your review of this wonderful book almost a year later! I reread your first few lines several times thinking how perfectly they capture the themes in this story and in seve..."

Happy Happy to you as well, Renata! I just saw this book on a friend's shelf the other day and raved about it- I love it when books remain in my soul so long after reading. This was decidedly one of the best of my 2016 reading year!


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