‘History of Wolves’ by Emily Fridlund


2017, 275 p.

This book was short-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize but I really can’t work out why. It does well enough as a first novel – and perhaps that is its appeal – but it doesn’t have the depth or skill that I would expect in a shortlist for an award of the calibre of the Man Booker. (That said, the Booker shortlist is not necessarily a fool-proof guide to quality!)   Its shortlisting only serves to highlight its shortcomings.

Fourteen year old Linda lives in the backwoods of northern Minnesota with her parents, the last stragglers of a hippy commune that had disintegrated over the years. We learn from the opening pages that a little boy, Paul, has died and the rest of the book explains how. We learn that Linda is ostracized by her school mates, a fact which perhaps prompted the rather irrelevant blurb on the front cover “How far would you go to belong?” (yes, yes…I know that the author is not responsible for the marketing….) She hangs around the more unpopular kids and teachers, and it was her history teacher Mr Grierson who encouraged her to submit a project on wolves to the History Odyssey tournament. Her statement “An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason” resonated for her beyond the topic of wolves. When a young Christian Scientist couple, Leo and Patra and their young son Paul shift into a cottage on the lake, Linda gravitates towards them and through babysitting Paul feels that she is part of the nuclear family that she lacks. When Paul dies- again no spoiler because we are told that he dies from the start – Linda tells herself, without quite believing it, that “It’s not what you do but what you think that matters”.

The descriptions of landscape are excellent, especially those of the snow that blankets the lake and isolates them even further.  But there are too many themes in the book (belonging, dominance, the distinction between act and intent) and the writer labours them.  It’s not a bad book by any means and, indeed, I enjoyed reading it, but the marketing world of the Man Booker Prize has shifted it beyond its grade, and done it a disservice.

My rating: 6.5

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

One response to “‘History of Wolves’ by Emily Fridlund

  1. There are so many writers in the (Anglophone) world, that I don’t understand how the Booker-winner each year is anything other than a masterpiece, and yet so often they seem to be no more than reasonably well-written fiction. Not that I read ‘world’ fiction. I have A.Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and Nike McCormack’s Solar Bones on the TBR shelf and that’s about it.

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