Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 17, 2017

History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund #BookReview

With the blurb as a guide, I wouldn’t have spent my hard-earned on Emily Fidlund’s debut novel History of Wolves, but the publisher offered it to me and I thought, why not?

It turned out to be a monumental disappointment.  Not so much in terms of the novel itself – but because it’s shortlisted for the Booker and some part of me still expects the Booker shortlist to deliver something important or significant or memorable or original.  And History of Wolves is not any of those things.  It’s the story of a misfit teenager *yawn* who fails to understand adults *yawn* and finds her own relationships handicapped ever thereafter  *yawn* because she is damaged *yawn* by her experience and lets it control her destiny.  She’s just unlucky she can’t sue someone because of it…

It is Madeline/Linda/Mattie’s misfortune to be raised by ex-hippie parents who are not very interested in her. Her mother thinks she should  be grateful for the beauty that surrounds her in the backwoods part of Minnesota but Linda feels the poverty.  She gets a hard time at school.

Into this loneliness comes a family and Linda becomes a babysitter to the precocious child Paul.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the child dies, and that there is a trial afterwards because this is revealed very early in the novel.  (The chronology chops and changes but surely this is not what the Booker judges thought was original?)  So the reader doesn’t have to be very smart to guess at why there is a trial, especially not when a quotation from Mary Baker Eddy signals it right at the beginning of the book.

Well, there are religious nutters all over the world, but we get to hear more about the American ones because, well, they are American.  And I guess being blamed for not believing in miracles is likely to happen to any hapless sceptic who hangs around with religious nutters. Any reasonably alert reader is going to predict the plot, and has to rely on the somewhat confusing subplots and the lyrical descriptions of nature to find anything worthwhile in this novel.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to read.

Author: Emily Fridlund
Title: History of Wolves
Publisher: Weidelfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion Books (Hachette), 2017
ISBN: 9781474602952
Review copy courtesy of Hachette

Available from Fishpond: History of Wolves: Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize


  1. Thank you! Sounds just exactly like a book which is not up the right alley for me. lol – Spare me a space on my wish list. Your post also reminds me to be honest and unsparing in my own reviews.

    • Well, we’ve all got too many great books to read to be bothered with the ordinary, eh?

  2. This one had been added to my list but it can come off again, now. Thank you. And I’m not gong to dwell on the travesty of omitting Reservoir 13 but including this instead…

    • Yes. You know, I am a fool, because I really thought that it would have to have been a great book to tip out Reservoir 13 and I only needed to look harder at it to find out why it was so…

  3. Hi Lisa, I agree with you completely. I was so disappointed in this read. I struggled to finish it.

    • That’s it, it’s so disappointing. It’s not the author’s fault, she’s written a serviceable novel that’s been elevated beyond what it can bear. It’s the judges’ fault for raising our expectations.

  4. Totally agree, it really was not Booker shortlist material. I was very disappointed by the lack of wolves.

    • Yes, that too. A symbol in search of a novel…

  5. I laughed all the way through your review. Don’t judges of awards realise how jaded some of us are. The same themes continue to be presented to us again and again as new, original ideas and so often put us to sleep.. No wonder I haven’t been excited to read for the past couple of months. I find I am more drawn to all the literary magazines with such interesting covers in my favourite indie book store. I haven’t heard much excitement about this year’s Booker books.

    • Ah, *smile* I may have something for that jaded palate. I’ve just bought an intriguing new novel called The Town that I saw reviewed by Ed Wright in The Australian. I don’t fully trust his judgement (not like Peter Pierce’s) but *keep your fingers crossed* it might be like Lois Murphy’s Soon and surprise me!

    • I don’t mind the same old themes necessarily if the writing is amazing – or just fresh and new. Think A girl is a half-formed thing. Similar themes, though there is, admittedly, a serious issue in the family, but the writing is astonishing.

      I don’t feel the need to read award-winning books, even the Booker these days (though I used to read them all), because judges are, in the end, just people, and we don’t always look for the same things. (But then I don’t have a lot of time for reading – some days I’m lucky to find half-an-hour – so I try to be picky about what I’ll read. I don’t expect to read this.)

      • I think I would go mad if I didn’t have time for reading…

        • I do sometimes, it’s very frustrating, but I guess I just have too many commitments and responsibilities. I sometimes think I’d like to do an online or U3A course but I know I couldn’t commit to anything more. BTW, I do have time for reading, just not very much of it!

          • I realized after I wrote my note (above) I actually do want to read this anyway. The thing is I love that part of the US and know it well. Also, I’m familiar with commune life – albeit California styles. There were two other books not too long ago which dealt with the children of the communes – Arcadia was one of them – not sure about the other. So … we’ll see. I will read it though.

            • Good, I’d love to know what you think of it!

            • Haha, this made me laugh Bekah. I’ll try to watch out for it!

              • It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve encouraged people to read a book by disliking it!
                No, #correction I didn’t dislike it. I just think it’s too ordinary to have edged out other more special books in the shortlist.

                • Ah yes, Lisa .. there’s a difference isn’t there between something that might be well-enough written and something that is above the pack.

  6. I wasn’t tempted by the blurb. And now I’m definitely not tempted by your review.

    • I sense that there is global rebellion on this one…

  7. […] disappointment to elation! The 2017 Booker shortlist has its shortcomings (and I found the winner unreadable, […]

  8. […] History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) (Update 18/10/17 see my review) […]

  9. […] History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), debut novel, but I’m open to persuasion (Update 18/10/17 see my review) […]

  10. I’m glad there are books you dislike too. I don’t think my kids minded having ‘hippy’ parents, had to be better than the 1950s ones we all rebelled against.

    • Have you read Hope Farm by Peggy Frew? ( That one painted a clear picture of a dysfunctional parents in a hippy commune, but *wink* of course they weren’t all like that..

      • Hope Farm is now in the wish list. lol – yes, lots of dysfunction in those old “hippie” communes. Different kinds though – Very curious to me.

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