Jenny (Reading Envy)'s Reviews > History of Wolves

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
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I read this because it was on the Man Booker Prize Long List. I loved the title, the cover (peek inside the dust jacket), but that's where the love stopped.

At first glance, it was hard to stop comparing this book to Marlena by Julie Buntin, a book I read this summer. Both have girls in mid-teens as protagonists, in the woods of a rural northern state that starts with an Mi-, trying to navigate difficult situations with parents that are less than present. Comparing the two, I found Marlena to be better written, more cohesive, and more believable/realistic.

This novel starts by introducing Madeleine, who lives in the woods where a cult compound used to be. The only people left are her parents, at least two adults who are acting as her parents. Across the lake a woman and her child move in and she befriends them and becomes a sort of nanny to the 4-year-old. There is also a storyline going on about a teacher at Madeleine's school who is fired for inappropriate sexual conduct.

First let's take the school storyline. It was puzzling what place this had in the novel. She has one interaction with the teacher that explains the title, but it almost felt like the author was so attached to the title she was forcing this story in there. In the end, I don't think it belongs. The other student, Lily, who is stigmatized based on a rumor about her involvement with the same teacher, is an interesting story but shows up at strange moments. And Madeleine acts strangely towards Lily, in ways that are inconsistent with her character otherwise. There are moments where she seems to be threatening her, almost like a sociopath, but I have no idea where that came from. It seemed like a different novel.

It's also hard for me to think of the main character as Madeleine, because she introduces herself to the family across the lake as Linda, and most of the time when she is addressed, it is by this name.

Gradually a new topic of Christian Scientist and their beliefs against modern medicine starts to pop up. This was interesting but not as developed as it could be. It was like the author wanted to write it with suspense it didn't need, so the ideas are sprinkled in in such a way that even Linda has no idea what is going on. Having both the cult background plus the CS thread seeemed like overkill; the cult ultimately has no major role in the novel.

I was left unsatisfied. I would be shocked if it makes the Booker shortlist, but I've been wrong before. 2.5 stars.
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Reading Progress

July 27, 2017 – Shelved
July 27, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
August 20, 2017 – Started Reading
August 24, 2017 –
August 24, 2017 – Finished Reading
August 26, 2017 – Shelved as: read2017
August 26, 2017 – Shelved as: booker-winners-and-listed
August 26, 2017 – Shelved as: location-usa-minnesota
August 26, 2017 – Shelved as: around-the-usa
August 26, 2017 – Shelved as: cults-and-communes

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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Elizabeth☮ I felt like you when reading this one. There are so many disparate parts that nothing really comes together.

Leah Bayer I would have MUCH rather seen Marlena on the Booker longlist, I agree that they are similar books but History of Wolves just doesn't have the punch I wanted from the premise

Gumble's Yard Jenny. I completely agree with you that this should not have made the Booker list, but there are links between the two stories and the cult past of the narrator does play a vital role in the rest of the book. If you are interested in exploring more then this link is a good one.

Jenny (Reading Envy) Gumble's Yard wrote: "Jenny. I completely agree with you that this should not have made the Booker list, but there are links between the two stories and the cult past of the narrator does play a vital role in the rest o..."

The points are interesting, but I guess I wonder if the author intended all those connections or if we are giving her the benefit of the doubt. One thing that is clear to me is that Linda/Madeleine is naive about much if the world and has many fantasies. Who is to say that what she wonders about regarding her parentage is true or not? Most normal kids assume at some point that they're adopted, it's like the normal expression of self identity ... so I didn't assume she was right. I would have liked more to be definitively revealed or confirmed OR more clearly been nebulous, like in Ill Will, where everything is up for misinformation.

(But thanks for pointing me in that direction as I enjoyed the discussion more than the book!)

Anita Pomerantz I definitely liked this one more than you did, Jenny, but adding Marlena to my TBR pronto!

Gumble's Yard Jenny I enjoyed the discussion more than the book also.

To be fair to the author I have read a interviews with her now and I think the connections are deliberate.

PattyMacDotComma Good review and understandable opinions, Jenny. I was also conflicted and didn't like the school storyline at all. I haven't read "Marlena" so I can't compare. But I have to admit it affects my enjoyment of a book if I've already read something similar (and better).

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