Earlier this month, a week before the announcement of the winner, I attended an event in Nottingham featuring some of the authors shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. One of those authors was Emily Fridlund, who was nominated this year with her debut novel, History Of Wolves.
Fridlund grew up in Minnesota, and it is the northern backwoods of Minnesota that provide the backdrop for this haunting and beautiful debut. The story is narrated by Linda, a fourteen-year old girl who lives with her parents in an ex-commune in which most of the other inhabitants have long moved on. This results in Linda struggling to fit in with her peers, with the other girls at school resorting to name calling, and Linda being left largely to her own devices. But when new faces appear on the horizon, Linda finds herself drawn into another family’s world. Living in a cabin across the lake, a couple move in with their young son Paul, and Linda soon becomes well acquainted with them. The couple pay Linda to babysit Paul, and he accompanies her as they explore the world around them, a world that isn’t always easy for a young girl to understand. From the opening pages we learn of the tragedy that Linda has witnessed, and over the course of the novel, the circumstances of such tragedies emerge, as we uncover the truth…
As I read the opening pages, I was immediately drawn into this world of isolation that Emily Fridlund has depicted. Her descriptions of the environment in all its harsh beauty were wonderfully written and helped build the atmosphere and tension of this story. And the story itself is a complex one, and one that is filled with secrets, regret and heartbreak. And at the centre of it all, there is a teenage girl trying to make sense of the world. We see this world through Linda’s eyes, as she recalls moments from her teenage years through to adulthood as she reflects on what has passed. The narrative jumps back and forth through time, and whilst I didn’t always find this easy to follow it certainly helped build the tension and intrigue as we begin to discover the truth. The plot deals with some difficult subject matter, and makes for a thought provoking read. It is a book that questions how humans act in certain situations, and whether or not we should be responsible for our inaction as well as our actions. I read on in interest to see how the story would develop, keen to find out the peculiar circumstances surrounding the tragedy, and around Linda’s life.
I enjoyed History Of Wolves and found it to be a compelling read that was beautifully written. Within its pages Fridlund has captured the isolation of the Minnesota lakes, and the isolation of a young girl who finds herself on a difficult path through life. It is a story that deals with a lot of themes – a coming of age tale in which we see a world of love and loss, religion and science, and finding our place in the world. It was a book that stayed with me after reading the final sentences, and I will be interested to see what this author writes next!