Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Title: The Tenderness of Wolves
Author: Stef Penney
ISBN: 9781847240675
Publisher: Quercus
No. of pages: 450
Rating: 8/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
It is 1867, Canada: as winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man's cabin head north towards the forest and the tundra beyond. In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the township - journalists, Hudson's Bay Company men, trappers, traders - but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it? One-by-one the assembled searchers set out from Dove River, pursuing the tracks across a desolate landscape home only to wild animals, madmen and fugitives, variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for 17 years, a Native American culture, and a fortune in stolen furs before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.

Once in a while, the literary awards people get it right. When the Costa crowd made The Tenderness of Wolves their choice for Book of the Year and First Novel Award in 2006, they were certainly on top form!

This novel reads like a dream from start to finish, from the way the characters' lives and relationships are gradually revealed, to the unfolding of the mystery surrounding an artifact that may prove the existence of a written culture of the Native Americans, to the investigation of a murder that rocks a small and seemingly close-knit community. There's a timelessness to it all that means it could easily be transported to any era, but it sits perfectly in the onset of the harsh winter of 1867, and charts the journeys - physical, mental and emotional - of each of the players.

Told partly in first person from the point of view of Mrs. Ross, the mother of a teenaged boy who has gone missing immediately after the murder of a French trapper, and partially in the third person, taking an overview of what happens to the others as she ventures out on her quest - to find her son, and herself. It's a much internalised epic that strikes deep into your heart as you read, pulling you effortlessly into the narrative and forcing you to journey with her.

Highly recommended.


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