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The Tenderness of Wolves
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Diane  | 12974 comments Start discussion here for The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney.

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Diane  | 12974 comments About the Book (from the publisher)

A brilliant and breathtaking debut that captivated readers and garnered critical acclaim in the United Kingdom, The Tenderness of Wolves was long-listed for the Orange Prize in fiction and won the Costa Award (formerly the Whitbread) Book of the Year.

The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner.

A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man's cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. It is Mrs. Ross's knock on the door of the largest house in Caulfield that launches the investigation. Within hours she will regret that knock with a mother's love -- for soon she makes another discovery: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect.

In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the crime and to the township -- Andrew Knox, Dove River's elder statesman; Thomas Sturrock, a wily American itinerant trader; Donald Moody, the clumsy young Company representative; William Parker, a half-breed Native American and trapper who was briefly detained for Jammett's murder before becoming Mrs. Ross's guide. But the question remains: do these men want to solve the crime or exploit it?

One by one, the searchers set out from Dove River following the tracks across a desolate landscape -- home to only wild animals, madmen, and fugitives -- variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.

In an astonishingly assured debut, Stef Penney deftly weaves adventure, suspense, revelation, and humor into an exhilarating thriller; a panoramic historical romance; a gripping murder mystery; and, ultimately, with the sheer scope and quality of her storytelling, an epic for the ages.

About the Author

Stef Penney was born and grew up in Edinburgh. After earning a degree in philosophy and theology from Bristol University, she turned to filmmaking, studying film and TV at Bournemouth College of Art. On graduation she was selected for the Carlton Television New Writers Scheme. She is a screenwriter. The Tenderness of Wolves is her first novel.

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Diane  | 12974 comments Discussion Questions (from

1. The novel is divided into four parts: Disappearance, The Fields of Heaven, The Winter Partners, and The Sickness of Long Thinking. Characterize each of these parts by what occurs within them and discuss why you think the author chose this format.

2. The people of Dove River are mostly settlers from foreign countries who have a very particular worldview rooted in their own struggle for survival. In what ways are the children in this book reflections of their parents? In what ways have they broken from their parents' examples? Does this lead to joy or sorrow? Give examples.

3. Living so rustically in such a closed society has given rise to a very particular set of rules in Dove River, such as the expectation that neighbors will make return offerings in kind when they've borrowed something. What other rules of survival -- either literally or socially -- are presented in this novel?

4. Francis is introduced as a mystery from his first day in Dove River: He arrives dressed as a girl for unknown reasons. Did you suspect that his relationship with Jammet was more than a friendship? Why or why not?

5. The Tenderness of Wolves is a story told from the perspective of several different characters, but Mrs. Ross's sections are the only ones written in first person. What effect does this have on your reading experience? Why do you think the author does this?

6. Mrs. Ross is always referred to formally as "Mrs. Ross," even by the narrator. What is the significance of this choice?

7. On page 154, Parker explains what the "sickness of long thinking" is to Mrs. Ross. Who in this story is suffering from the sickness of long thinking? Support your opinion with examples from the novel.

8. The author has been applauded for her ability to build suspense. Identify some of the clues she subtly drops along the way and explain how they either misdirected you or gave you hints toward solving the various mysteries of the novel.

9. Donald tries to elicit sympathy from Elizabeth for her father on page 338 by telling her, "It's only human to want an answer." Do you think this explanation satisfies her? Would it satisfy you? Why or why not? Who else in this novel is searching for answers? Does anyone find what they are looking for?

10. In contrast to most of the other relationships in this novel, Line and Espen seem to have a deep passion for one another. Were you surprised that he abandons her? Why or why not?

11. The women in this novel find themselves in situations of varying frustration and sorrow. Compare and contrast these characters: Susannah and Maria, Mrs. Ross, Ann Pretty, Line, and Elizabeth Bird. What do they have in common, and how are they different? Do you feel sympathy for any of them? Why or why not?

12. Explore the symbolism of Donald's spectacles and his near-sightedness. What does this symbol tell you about his character? What is it that he sees most clearly just before his death?

13. Do you think that Mrs. Ross really loves William Parker, or is it something else? What did you expect would happen to Mrs. Ross when she left with Parker to track down Francis?

14. The backdrop of Canada, still largely unsettled in the mid- to late 1800s, provides a hauntingly beautiful and frighteningly dangerous setting for the lives of these very different people. How does the wilderness change the characters in this novel?

15. What is the significance of the title, The Tenderness of Wolves? Relate it to the story and give examples to support your interpretation.

Silver This book had me hooked from page one. I abolutely love Mrs. Ross. She is such a compelling woman especially the more we get to know about her. All of the characters in the story are so well drawn and intriguing. Everyone seems to have their own secrets. Who can really be trusted? Nothing and noone appears to be what they/it seems to be.

There is so much mystery and elusiveness. I also wonder if there will be any connection between the disappearance of the missing girls ( which seems an important part of the story for how often it is brought up) and the murder of Laurent.

I wondered if perhaps there was an intinate relationship between Francis and Laurent.

I also love the setting. All this mystery taking place on the backdrop of this cold isolated place in the wilderness where man must struggle to survive.

Silver I enjoyed learning more about Sturrock, he seems a very interesting character, and it was good to hear things from his point of view regarding the Stenon case.

I wonder if the strange piece of paper Mrs. Ross found in Laurent’s flower bin could be the same one that Sturrock wrote to copy the mysterious symbols of the tablet? But if so how did it get there? I cannot wait to find the truth about the meaning of the tablet.

Also I wonder if the Steon girls could have ended up in the isolated religious community where Francis was taken. I think there is more to their disappearance than meets the eye and why did one girl make it back alive? I am not sure I believe her story about the girls becoming separated. But why would she lie?

There is so much depth and complexity to the novel I cannot wait to see how everything comes together for I think in some way all the events are connected.

Daina Jurika-Owen | 39 comments This was one of my recent favorites, so subtle and at the same time, powerful writing. Liked the description of the setting, how the plot developed and how Mrs Ross turned from being constantly miserable (as her adopted son Francis sees her) to happy and radiant, -- through learning to cope with the harsh conditions of the landscape, plus, finding love and self-acceptance. I especially enjoyed some of the hidden clues or signs that author so masterfully included, like the one about the protagonist's first name.

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