THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES won the 2006 Costa Book of the Year, and I confess to often reading prize winning novels with a less than subconscious desire to work out what the judges were thinking. This novel came as somewhat of a surprise - despite the prize winning, despite the talk about it since it was first released.
Slowly the story builds, told partially from the point of view of Mrs Ross. It is her son that has disappeared, she is the one who has found the body of trapper Laurent Jammet. The book switches perspective from her personal story, to the observations and actions of others central to the unfolding mystery. Friends of Jammet; the authorities (Company men); other members of the Dove River community; other communities. But the story returns, time and time again, to Mrs Ross. To her reaction to her son's disappearance, about her own background, how she comes to be tracking her son and Jammet's murderer through the extreme weather conditions in a winter in the frontier outback of Canada.
Whilst the central point of this book is the truth behind Jammet's murder, the book is about a lot more than just that. It takes the reader back to that time in Canadian (and probably a lot of other immigrant) outback settler communities. It provides some possible insight or reasons behind why people left their homes and went so very far away, and what it must have felt to have done that and to be "stuck" in their new world. It also provides some insight into the difficulties that anybody - indigenous or new settler - experiences in living in extreme weather conditions and amongst people with such diverse backgrounds. There are little indications of the tensions between the native Indian populations, the French and the English (or Scottish) immigrants, to say nothing of the isolation of a small Norwegian community.
In the world that the author has built, there is a central female character who has a difficult background, who, possibly because of that background, finds the most amazing strength and insight and fearlessness. The reasons behind the murder of Laurent Jammet are revealed, the reasons behind her son's disappearance resolved, what happens to Mrs Ross is a lot more complicated than that.
THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES is one of those books that you have to slow down and allow the thing to carry you along, but the experience is well worth the requirement.