History of the Wolves by Emily Fridlund: Book Review

Title: History of the Wolves

Author: Emily Fridlund

Genre: Fiction

History of the Wolves is a multilayered book that explores the themes of belonging and guilt. It pits strong beliefs against actions and their sometimes unintended consequences.

Review

Fourteen year old Linda lives with her parents on the edge of the woods and the lake, in a harsh landscape that is still lyrically beautiful.

When a family comes to the house opposite theirs, across the lake, Linda is drawn to then and soon starts babysitting their four year old boy Paul. Her own family, her father and mother accept her as a self reliant child and do not question her much. Nor are they a part of her daily life or activities. There is a silence on the things that should matter to Linda. And yet, in the family that she adopts, there is a different kind of silence. Here is a cult of another kind with such strong conditioning that it would impact the lives of all those who are in contact with the family.

What works well

The pace of the book is good throughout. There is a lot of description of the lakes and the woods but the beauty of the landscape creates a wonderful atmosphere. The story of Linda’s life as a babysitter to four year old Paul is interesting and because of extensive foreshadowing, there is an indication of disaster and a death that kept me turning the pages fast.

Paul’s mother is drawn very well, as is Linda and their interaction have an edge which points to much roiling beneath the surface.

What does not work well

The title of the book seems whimsical because there seems to be absolutely no relation of the title to the story that plays out in the book. There are no Wolves there, just one stuffed animal in the local museum and she too plays a minor role in the story. And of course, there is no history of those animals there.

Linda is a well rounded character but there are too many opposites in her character and I could not understand many of the things that she does. She is christened Madeline and called Mattie by her history teacher, Mr. Grierson. Just as Linda has many names, so are there different facets to her, bobbing to the surface at unexpected times. Linda is fiercely independent and self sufficient and yet she has a longing to be part of the crowd and to belong.

Linda’s life as a grown up, with her motor mechanic lover is on a different realm altogether. This part of the book is least believable and one I found the toughest to follow.

Verdict

A wonderous tale of the complexity of relationships between people and the relation between our beliefs and actions.

An impressive debut work that had been shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker.

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