Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Wolf Border.
There are no new frontiers in an age when everything can be known and measured, Google Earth documenting the parameters of the globe. Undaunted, Sarah Hall turns inward, combining science and the human spirit to imagine an unexpected event: the reintroduction of the grey wolf into the English countryside. Melding the privileges of wealth and class with science, the creation of such an experiment holds a variety of challenges--political, environmental, and moral.
As part of a wolf recovery project in Nez Perce, Idaho, British-born
zoologist Rachel Caine has found a satisfying if isolated existence. Her estranged family left far behind in her country or origin, Rachel finds fulfillment monitoring wolves in their natural environment. With their instinctive intelligence and ability to navigate terrain, the species has always fascinated her, allowed her proximity to the natural world at the edges of civilization, compensation for the more treacherous landscape of human behavior. Responding to an offer by Thomas Pennington, the Earl of Annendale, Rachel returns to England to meet with
him and hear his unique proposal to reintroduce the grey wolf onto his property in northern England, essentially recreating the natural wolf pack in a vast but protected environment. Though she at first declines the offer, Rachel is intrigued with the idea of a scientifically-monitored project, the male and female wolves to be sheltered, untainted by contact with those who study them.
The return to England is fraught emotional territory for Rachel Caine. Her elderly mother, Binny, with whom she shares a historically fractious relationship, is currently in care and nearing the end of her days. Binny is a domineering and provocative woman, proud of choosing an unconventional life. Rachelís relationship with her half-brother, Lawrence, is also fragmented and unresolved. Regardless of the temptations of the Earlís proposal, even with its limitations, Rachelís family history will be impossible to ignore should she accept. A complex character
who has absorbed her motherís instincts for self-reliance and independence, Rachelís choice of career has been a useful tool for sidestepping the complications of emotional intimacy, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow workers and an unpretentious lifestyle, devoted to her work with the wolves at the recovery project. Her conundrum resolved by unforeseen circumstances, Rachel leaves the project in Idaho for the Earlís great adventure.
Hall blends these opposite worlds and characters brilliantly, a delicate balance of hope and reality: the creatures released to the Earlís fenced wilderness versus the ignorance and fears of those rallying against the project, the elegance and simplicity of days spent observing the wolf pair versus
public relations events held at the Earlís grand manor house, a remnant of centuries past and the elite class system of a once world-dominant country. Ensconced in her cottage on the estate, Rachelís emotional life expands, both rich and challenging, drastically altered by circumstances that demand a reevaluation of priorities, her heart with the wolves, her mind cognizant of the many ways a precious project can go wrong.
For this once-cautious and self-contained woman, the time spent planning and managing the reintroduction of the wolves becomes a catalyst for change, an awakening, a call to embrace the future differently, an oasis of discovery, even when confronted with the hubris of political meddling and the predictable encroachment of civilization on the wilderness. Ironically, Binnyís words frequently intrude when least expected, reminding Rachel of the many gifts sheís culled from a painful childhood and the power of forgiveness when stepping bravely into the future.