The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

tendernessfinal Intrigue among the fur-trappers of 1860s Canada does not seem to hold much appeal. But then I am not drawn to historical sea stories either yet Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger and Harry Thompson’s This Thing of Darkness – two historical sea stories – are among the most memorable books I’ve read. Stef Penney never set foot in Canada. In fact – being agoraphobic – she barely set foot out of her house, if the publicity is to be believed. So the snowy wastes have been conjured via reading other books. Put another way: the author made it up. This doesn’t seem so unusual. The Tenderness of Wolves  has something of Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow about it – not least because there is a murder begetting a quest by a lone woman towards a violent confrontation – but perhaps this is just a reader’s response to another blank white landscape. So much begins with murder, after all. In this case, a neighbour of reluctant frontierswoman Mrs Ross is brutally killed, the key suspect – who has cut and run – is her son, and she must go after him to clear his name. A variety of people and elements inveigle their way into, and entwine throughout, the story: an adventurer and dandy called Sturrock, who appears to know a great deal about what’s going on; a strange gothic tale of sisters who disappeared years ago; Mr Knox the magistrate, whose motives are sometimes obscure, even to him; a fragment of paper on which appears to be code; and then there’s the enigmatic, virtually silent, Parker. Overshadowing all is the ‘Company’, a commercial and political entity with which everyone, whether they want to be or not, is connected. Among these multiple strands, only Mrs Ross has a first-person narrative, the others making do with third-person ones. As a result, while hers is the most immediate and personal account, it is perhaps the most limited. Events are foreshadowed and, like several other characters, we often know more than Mrs Ross does at any given time. This dramatic irony has a pleasing, often slightly unsettling effect – yet Mrs Ross remains the heart of the story. And she has her own secrets too. A truly wonderful literary novel.

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One thought on “The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

  1. This sounds a very interesting book… I do remember now reading reviews of it and thinking I’d like to read it. Thanks for jogging my memory!

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