‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ by Stef Penney

A beautiful portrayal of the Canadian north in 1867. Ironically, the author is British and I read it for my UK reading group. But I am a Canadian and loved the view into that time period, the days of trappers and the early days of the Hudson’s Bay Co. Even walking into The Bay in Toronto the other day made me think back to an earlier time…I bought some very warm gloves (on sale).  The novel is atmospheric and affecting, you do carry it with you while reading it. I often felt chilly while reading this book, but perhaps it was just being in Canada in January.

A woman’s son disappears following a brutal murder in a small town. She journeys into the snowy cold wilderness to track him and clear his name, but she is not alone. Many others are tracking as well, and as new characters are introduced, suddenly the wilderness seems full of other trackers and possible suspects, all on their own journeys. Penney’s writing captures the spirit of the place and the time and the themes are around a sense of longing, a yearning for something you seek, but may never find.  There is little tenderness in the wild and rugged landscape.  The wolves are often feared but never turn out to be the culprits – man is much more to be feared than wolf.

The suspense in the novel centres around the murder but there are many other secrets and suspicions.  There are a lot of characters to keep track of in this one, so I kept a yellow sticky in the front to scribble a ‘who’s who’ list which becomes a handy reference. The various narratives become clearer as the story progresses. This book reminded me of Joseph Boyden’s novel ‘Through Black Spruce’. The author is interesting – she never travelled to Canada because she was agoraphobic and couldn’t fly or even travel by train. She did her research at the British Library in London.

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