Facing an unplanned pregnancy, Rachel Caine leaves the Idaho reservation where she’s worked for 10 years. At home in the UK, she takes charge of a project to reintroduce the grey wolf, “tawny as the landscape, and utterly congruent” to the Cumbrian countryside. The controversial scheme is the latest pet venture of the Earl of Annerdale, a “landed British entrepreneur, known for causing trouble in the House, for sponsoring sea eagles and opposing badger culls”. He is also, Rachel eventually learns, after a prominent role in the redefined landscape – both political and ecological – that looks set to emerge after Scottish independence.
Regeneration in a multitude of guises is the mainstay of the novel; but rather than overworking the metaphor, Hall organically incorporates each and every instance into the narrative, adding a tensile strength to the base architecture upon which the story hangs. She is both master storyteller and skilled wordsmith. Her evocation of the landscape is particularly sensual – “Moorland, peat, ferns, water and whatever the water touches: the myrrh of autumn” – but she also draws her characters and the relationships between them with an equivalent richness. It is still only April, but I’m confident The Wolf Border will be one of the fiction highlights of this year.
The Wolf Border is published by Faber (£17.99).