Review | Once There Were Wolves : by Charlotte McConaghy

Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with introducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. Reading this introduction propelled me into Charlotte McConaghy’s novel. At the heart of her story is the pursuit to rewild the Highland ecosystem.

“I wrote this novel out of a sense of profound distress over the loss of our natural world. I wanted to imagine an effort to rewild a landscape, such as the ones brave conservationists are attempting throughout the world. To them I say a heartfelt thank you, for the courage it takes to try to turn back the tide.”

Charlotte McConaghy

Entwined in Inti’s pursuit are a tangle of story lines including domestic abuse, the dynamic between twins, community fear of the unknown and Inti’s own awareness that she is unlike most people.

I am unlike most people. I move through life in a different way, with an entirely unique understanding of touch. To make sense of it, it is called a neurological condition, mirror-touch synnesthesia. My brain re-creates the sensory experiences of living creatures, of all people and even sometimes animals; if I see it I feel it, and for just a moment I am them, we are one and their pain or pleasure is my own.

For the first sixteen years of their lives, Inti and Aggie spend a couple of months each year visiting their father in “his forest” outside Vancouver. Every year, Inti and Aggie made the long journey from logger-turned-forest-dwelling-naturalist father to city=bound-gritty-crime detective mother in Sydney, Australia. Their father carried “Werner’s Nomenclature of Colors” everywhere with him. He taught them how the book connects things in the natural world. For each hue was an animal that shared the color, plus a vegetable and a minerral. Inti learned the need to protect nature’s shared sustenance. Her father’s passion became her own.

Inti’s project is to reintroduce wolves to the Caledonian Forest at the base of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland. Native wolves have been hunted and killed to protect the sheep that graze the Scottish pastures. They have not only been culled – they have been eliminated. The ecosystem’s apex predator has been removed/eliminated to protect sheep and deer.

Woodlands and Forest –,uk

The balance of nature has been disrupted and the forest suffers. Inti’s team introduce fourteen Canadian wolves, broken into three groups/territories, with hopes of reestablishing balance and a healthy ecosystem.

Duncan, the local chief of law enforcement, is never far from Inti’s side in her pursuit. He is in touch with local sentiments and fears.

“The people here are good people , and they work hard. I don’t like to see them scared. Fear makes for danger, whether it was there to begin with or not.”

Both Dunan and her father help Inti to realize the significance of words her father spoke in her youth, “Nothing gets through life alone.” – not trees, not animals, not people.

This story is full of conflict, emotion and resolition. It’s a fast read and one I recomend.

Lastly, I must acknowledge the wild creatures and places in this world, which inspire every word of this novel. The gentle they have shown us far outstrips anything we have ever shown them in return. Though Scotland has not yet passed an initiative to reintroduce wolves, it is my hope that they – along with the rest of the world, and especially my homeland of Australia – will further embrace the essential work of rewilding, and maybe in doing so, we will begin to rewild ourselves.

Charlotte McConaghy

Published by Audrey Newhall

I am an avid reader and contributor to Penna Book Reviews

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