Review: Once There Were Wolves, by Charlotte McConaghy
Ladies and gentlemen, we have another contention for top of 2021 list! Honestly, at this point I do not know what I am going to do - there are still six weeks of reading left in 2021 and my list is 26 books long; but I guess it's a good thing that I loved so many books this year I will struggle to pick ten (maybe I'll expand it to 20 this year - I feel like 10% of my total books read would be an appropriate percentage?) Anyway, apologies, I digress. This is a review of Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy and it was a very good book that I loved a lot.
This is the story of Inti, a scientist who works to rewild remote parts of nature by re-introducing wolves (if anybody is interested, I would recommend researching and reading about the project to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park in the United States - our tour guide when my family took a trip there earlier this year was involved in this project and had a lot to say about it and how it had an immediate beneficial impact on the surrounding areas, and honestly, it's fascinating) and evening up the food chain issues that were caused by people hunting the wolves to extinction in these specific areas. Her project takes her to the Scottish highlands, where she comes up against a local community of farmers who, for relatively obvious reasons, do not want wolves back around their farms. And then people start dying, and the farmers (fairly reasonably) think the wolves are to blame, and everything kind of spirals from there. It's a literary mystery that centres around Inti, flashbacks that flesh out her backstory, and how she really doesn't want it to be the wolf pack who are doing the killings.
Although that's the basic premise of the plot, this is a book about a lot of things (and, ultimately, that is I think the only thing I didn't like about this book - McConaghy tries to do so much that when she goes to wrap it all up at the end she does lose the subtlety that she's been using throughout the rest of the novel). But I did like the overarching themes, even though I do struggle with fiction whose central tenet is climate change disasters - it's hard to feel like I'm escaping from reality when my escapism is also saying that the world is ending.
The mystery aspect of this story is gripping - I stayed up way past my bedtime in order to read it, because I needed to find out how all the puzzle pieces fit together and who Inti and Aggie's backstories added up to the conclusion. The romance aspect of it I also enjoyed, how it was a slow-burn that felt relevant but not central to the mystery and the development of the characters. And I loved, loved, loved the sense of atmosphere and setting and place, and how completely McConaghy was able to transport me to this part of Scotland. Absolutely beautiful writing, as well.
All in all, I highly recommend this novel and I can't wait to read more of this author's work! You should definitely read this book.