Book review – Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

I loved this book. It is well written and a real page turner.

The context is the rewilding of the Cairngorms. Inti, a wolf specialist is the lead on a project to reintroduce wolves to encourage natural regrowth of the forest. The tensions set up in local farming community are intertwined with the complex story of Inti and her twin sister, Aggie, and their upbringing by parents living unconventional lives in Australia and Canada. The story becomes a ‘whodunnit’ when a member of the Cairngorm village is attack and the mystery of who would carry out such a violent attack in this isolated and close community must be solved.

The descriptions of forest ecology in Canada and Cairngorms are entrancing. The way in which trees form a network of roots through which they communicate fascinates me. The significance of top predators in maintaining an ecological balance and enabling the stability of the forest is a hot topic and vital to the health of our planet. This is a book for the general reader but particularly those with an interest in geography, ecology and climate change.

Inti’s synaesthesia is key to her reactions and relationships. It provides a mechanism for the author to describe both human and wolf experiences vividly, portraying the beauty of the wolves and the way in which they see their world. This is not a sentimental book, the otherness of the wolf is emphasized.

A stark contrast emerges as a complex drama unfolds between the wolf pack who kill because it is their nature to eat and feed their young, and the humans whose violence reflects their desires and emotional deprivation. There are critical moments where the wolves react on instinct but the human has a choice. Yet the dramatic finale demonstrates that all creatures, including flawed and vulnerable humans, are capable of love.

This complex and delicately balanced tale intrigued me and drew me in. It left me wanting to. know more about rewilding and the introduction of wolves to Scotland, which has been discussed since the 1960’s.

It is an adult read with scenes of violence; rape and bloodshed . As the story unfolds, the power of the human spirit to triumph over difficulties is portrayed but so is our tragic vulnerability to trauma. Once There Were Wolves is dramatic and worthwhile from the first page to the end.

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