Embracing the wild: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall


Susiraja (Finnish) – Literally ‘wolf border’: the boundary between the capital region and the rest of the country. The name suggests everything outside the border is wilderness.

Rachel Caine studies wolves. Her work takes her to some remote places. She’s often alone, isolated. Her relationships are fleeting. She is, and forgive me for saying it, the archetypal “lone wolf”. Raised by a mother who lived by her own rules, alienated from her family, she finds herself moving to her homeland in England’s north to embark on a controversial project to reintroduce wolves to the landscape. But it is a landscape steeped in history, class and politics, and the wolves aren’t the only part of her new life that tends towards the “wild”.

Delving into the idea of the separation between civilization and the wilderness, the sense of place is amazing, Hall obviously has an affinity for the locations she describes so well. And of course it isn’t just animals that are wild things. From sex and reproduction, child birth and motherhood to fear and love, each character confronts their own primal nature alongside the instincts of the wolves their fates are intertwined with.

I’m not entirely sure what Hall did here, one minute I was opening this novel and what felt like five minutes later I was racing to finish the last few chapters having not moved for eight hours. I suppose when you’re laid up with a virus these things happen, but her novel seems to have some kind of hypnotic quality. It is a tale so artfully told it seems effortless, almost plain. The threads between the different themes, the different kinds of “wildness” are connected with such tiny stitches you hardly notice them.I love Hall’s work, I always have and I really enjoyed this one. But. But. Something felt off. This novel has a strangely tame feel. I expected it to unravel in a far more dramatic manner but Hall keeps it in check, steering it confidently while keeping me on the edge of my seat. The conclusion was satisfying, don’t get me wrong. But something I expected, don’t ask me what it is, didn’t eventuate and it left me slightly unsatisfied.  I think I wanted this tale of the wilderness to have a little more bite.

The Wolf Border, Sarah Hall: four and a half stars.

Read it if: you need to see that the line between wild and tame isn’t so clear cut as you might think.

About Rachel Watts

I am a writer from Perth, Western Australia. My speculative fiction novella Survival will be released in early 2018. View all posts by Rachel Watts

2 responses to “Embracing the wild: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

  • annabelsmith

    I am finding this book agony and I think part of that is I hate descriptions of place – which is what you obviously loved in it. I have a poor visual imagination and can’t picture things in my head so when I read descriptions of place, I’m like, lalala, get to the story please.


    • leatherboundpounds

      I liked the descriptions of place, yes. But I felt the pacing was strange. I kept expecting something terrible to happen and it didn’t. And when plot points did happen they weren’t treated with the dramatic tension I expected.


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