Last year, we reviewed Australian writer Charlotte McConaghy’s American debut, Migrations, and we were kind of blown away that a story about a woman following the last trek of Arctic terns could be so engaging. It was about more than birds and flight patterns, of course. Relationships, secrets, and regrets filled the pages. And so, when her follow up, Once There Were Wolves, came out, we knew it was only a matter of time before we dove in.

Lara: I was SO excited for this book. I need to know, right now, what did you think?

Jennifer: I was thrilled too. I loved Migrations. My opinion? It’s a very good book. I don’t think it blew me away, like the earlier one. I think it was a solidly good and worthwhile book. I’m trying to figure out how to categorize it—maybe “eco-fiction,” maybe even literary thriller. On the eco-fiction front, McConaghy does seem to have a literary preoccupation with environmentalism and climate change (though that seems a little dumb to point out; do other writers have a literary preoccupation with love or friendship—or are we all just preoccupied with life?).

In this, the protagonist, Inti Flynn, is a biologist sent to Scotland in an effort to “re-wild” or re-introduce the gray wolf into the Scottish Highlands (the famous case of this in real life is in Yellowstone).

I love that she takes this premise and turns it into literary fiction. I also find her beautiful prose to be a relief as compared to a lot of, um, “thrillers.” My complaint might be that I wasn’t as mystified as I was with Migrations. Who knows why? I think Migrations made it into our Best Books of 2021. (Actually, it was YOUR NUMBER ONE!) I’m not so sure about this one . . .  

Lara: I wouldn’t classify it as a thriller, but I like literary suspense as a description. McConaghy is great at building a story, full of flawed characters that, in themselves, aren’t bad or good, just human (that’s a paraphrase). And there’s a lot going on in the book, but not so much that you feel that you can’t keep track of people or storylines.

Inti is a twin. Her sister, Aggie, has gone with her to Scotland, but stays in their cabin. Aggie isn’t verbal and only speaks with her sister via sign language. You know this hasn’t always been the case, and that’s one intriguing story.

Then, you have Inti and her team of Wolf Re-Wilders, going up against the sheepherding townspeople who are vehemently and violently against the wolves.

Also, there’s Stuart, an older man against the re-wilding effort. He has a volatile relationship with Inti, and goes missing. Some believe that he was a victim of a wolf attack, and you have the complication brought on by the fact that Inti has started a relationship with Duncan, the town Sheriff investigating Stuart’s disappearance.

McConaghy’s writing and observations are strong, especially about the violence and pain humans can inflict on one another. Here’s what I mean:

“My father used the say the world turned wrong when we started separating ourselves from the wild, when we stopped being one with the rest of nature, and sat apart.”


“I’m not minimizing. It’s just that if you paint a picture of him as a monster, then you make him mythical, but men who hurt women are just men.”


“There are languages without words and violence is one of them.”

This was a slow build for me, much like Migrations was. It’s a solid book that offers a lot to talk about. What did you think of Inti’s and Aggie’s parents?

Jennifer: Well, we get an image of polar opposites:

“[a] logger-turned-forest-dwelling-naturalist father to city-bound-gritty-crime-detective mother. Life with Mum a different world altogether.”

I think, maybe, a central issue in this book is the question of what it means to care about the world. How do we care? While the dad is all for the environment, the mom is bound to dirty humanity. The mom scoffs at the dad, saying,

 “You mean the madman who lives out in the wilderness alone and doesn’t have contact with other humans? That Dad?” I watched her shake her head and look out the window. “I’ve cared for more people in a day than that man will in his whole sorry life.”

And yet the daughters feel neglected by their mother.

This leads into another feature in this story. Inti is pregnant. What will this mean?

What are your thoughts?

Lara: I thought the parent/child, parent/adult child dynamic was a good one. Flawed and problematic. Reflective. I loved when Inti’s mom said to her,

“Darlin’, you’re going to figure this out one day, but we’re most fallible when trying to raise our children.”

I don’t think truer words have ever been written.

Jennifer: In relation to this mother-theme, I do want to point out one of my favorite lines (among many). In this line, Inti looks at her newborn:

“She opens her eyes. And looks at me. I am halved and doubled at once.”

Mom line.

Lara: Total mom line.

Jennifer: I’m curious to know if you read a hard copy, or if you listened to an audiobook? I read this one, because I’m into her sentence structure! I also admire her unusual settings. Plus, the characters are not stereotypes. Refreshing writing.

Lara: I listened! And the narrator was GREAT.

Jennifer: One more note of praise: I like her end. In homage to wolves and U2, let’s think about re-wilding while listening to this song . . .

Lara: It was at least a dozen years ago, and I haven’t ever heard that U2 song. ! I have, however, kind of read a lot. Here’s a list:

  • The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins. A modern thriller take on Jane Eyre. It was light and twisty.
  • Hell of a Book by Jason Mott. This could be my best book of the year. It will definitely be in my top 5. Everyone should read it.
  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. Fun Rom-Com that stars a leading lady with chronic pain. When do you see that?
  • Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka. Literary. Suspenseful. But not a mystery thriller. Really well written.
  • Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner. A grief memoir. A good addition to the genre by an Asia-American creative that bucked the conventions her family had of her.
  • Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy. Good, historical, frustrating how hard women had (and have to) to fight.
  • The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. Historical fiction about the mobile libraries started in the 1930s on horseback! Badass women coming up in a time when they were expected to do nothing of the sort.

Jennifer:  I gotta admit that I’ve quit a million books lately. I think you’ve always had a great attitude about quitting books; I’ve felt guilty about it—until recently. Now, I’m, like, I ain’t got time for this . . .

Books that I did not quit include Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter (you know I love her), Francesca Marciano’s Animal Spirit (another Italian Babe), Jane Hamilton’s When Madeline Was Young, which will probably be among my Best Books of the Year (though it was published in 2006), and Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties (for some Gen X theorizing).

There’s a lot to say about all four of these. I just might leave you with two faux-profound thoughts:

On Ferrante: I find her wildly intimate, too-close-for-comfort, in-your-head in an unflattering way, not always rational. I’d draw strange comparisons. David Sedaris sometimes says the unsayable—and I laugh, DEAR GOD, I APOLOGIZE, BUT I LAUGH. James Joyce did his hateful “stream of consciousness” thing that I loathed. Yeah, I read Joyce in school, and stopped forever maybe thirty years ago. Ferrante is a bit like David Sedaris and James Joyce–telling it like it is, in all its ugly.

On Hamilton: Madeline reminded me a bit of a secular Marilynne Robinson novel. I will forever remember, as a young mom who got, like, a two-hour break at Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon, finishing Robinson’s Home at a Starbucks’ chair with my Pike Place, gulping in an unflattering way so as not to cry aloud in public over the, well, beauty of a book.This was like that. I finished it, and I think it’s amazing. I was near tears. 

Enough of the profundity.

Next Month!

Join us next time when we come together to talk about The Sentence by Louise Erdrich.

Until then, happy reading Snotties!


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