Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Once There Were Wolves

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
8/3/21; 272 pages
Flatiron Books

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy is a very highly recommended unforgettable story which is a beautifully written, atmospheric, and emotionally charged novel about reintroducing wolves to Scotland and so much more.

Inti Flynn is leading a team of biologists who are going to reintroduce fourteen wolves into the Cairngorms National Park located in the Scottish Highlands. The goal is introduce a top predator to assist in rewilding the land, which has been successful in Yellowstone National Park. When the wolves are introduced, there is resistance from the local farmers who fear their livestock will be hunted by the wolves. Inti and her team try to answer their concerns, but the locals remain skeptical. When Inti finds a body of a local man, who was suspected of abusing his wife, she makes the decision to bury him to protect the wolves and begins to look into the murder. This is complicated by her relationship with the local police chief.

Inti has brought her twin sister, Aggie, with her. Aggie requires care and support from her sister due to a traumatic event that has left her wounded mentally and physically, as well as mute. Inti is hoping the change of location will help heal her, but the two sisters are actually very codependent. They grew up traveling between living with their naturalist father in the wilderness of British Columbia and their police officer mother in Australia. Complicating her life is the fact that Inti has a neurological condition called mirror-touch synesthesia, which means she feels what she sees happening to others. This can be with people or animals.

Once There Were Wolves is an elegantly written novel that uses expressive, beautiful language along with heartbreaking descriptions to describe both the natural world and the cruelty that can be inflicted on man and animal. The plot involves relationships, brutality, isolation, personal sacrifice, and fighting for a cause, while also trying to solve a murder mystery. It is both complicated and compelling, but presented in an authentic way rather than sensationalized. The novel moves at a quick pace and is impossible to put down. Between the release of the wolves, the question of what trauma happened to the sisters, and the murder mystery, the intricate plot will hold your attention throughout.

All of the characters are wonderfully rendered and portrayed as complex individuals. Even the supporting characters feel like real people. Inti is a strong woman but is also damaged and has been changed by some events in her past. She tends to keep to herself and keeps her own counsel. She clearly feels humans are more dangerous than wolves. The source of the trauma inflicted on Aggie and Inti's knowledge of the details are not revealed until late in the book, but there are indications in the narrative and it is horrific when finally revealed. It is clear that Inti as a child is quite different from the woman today.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

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