Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 16, 2018

The Wolf Hour, by Sarah Myles

The Wolf Hour is Sarah Myles’ second novel.  I read and admired Transplanted (2002) not long after it was released so I retrieved my reading journal – and yes, there are some common themes with this latest book.

Myles is interested in the dark side of human nature, and how society contributes to violence.  What I wasn’t expecting in The Wolf Hour was the way tolerant liberal parenting was exposed as flawed and irresponsible.

The story begins in Uganda where 30-year-old Tessa Lowell is researching the effects of PTSD on child soldiers rescued from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). She’s an idealist, who wants to make a difference, but her naïve enthusiasm for being at the coal face of peace talks with the LRA leader Joseph Kony is disastrous.  She gets abducted while others in the delegation are injured trying to protect her.

Back in Melbourne, her mother Leigh was worrying even before the ominous silence from Uganda, and there are small fissures in an otherwise loving relationship with her husband Neil.  When they are told about the abduction by Dominic, a former child soldier now working for reconciliation and restorative justice, they turn to Tessa’s brother Stephen, who is living and working in some unspecified business in South Africa. 4000 miles away from Tessa’s plight, Stephen jumps in a plane with his mate Rebe, and momentarily the novel’s credibility falters when he miraculously manages to rescue her. (This is not a spoiler, it’s implied on the back cover blurb).

But it is no miracle.  Stephen is like those amoral American he-men in movies who parachute into impossible situations and do whatever it takes to get a result.  It’s his ‘business’ that makes it not only possible but also entirely credible … and when his parents realise what that business is, they are horrified. In a shattering moral quandary about what to do, Neil reflects on Stephen’s childhood misdemeanours, and remembers that he had thought at the time that they were pretty harmless.

But he’d had the opportunity then, hadn’t he?  It had been like looking into a crystal ball—a match struck in a darkened room where he’d been given a glimpse into what the future might hold, each incident a foreshadowing which he might have chosen to address, and yet what he had done but allow Stephen free rein?  By omission he had become the absentee father who relied on school fees to cover ethics and on team sports to instil fairness. (p.291)

It’s with insights like this that The Wolf Hour transcends any categorisation as a suspenseful thriller even though it’s unputdownable.  (After starting it last night and reading till two in the morning, I nearly made myself late for French lessons today because I just had to finish it).  But it’s not just a very thought-provoking novel, it’s also beautifully written.  Myles writes evocative prose with a sensitive authenticity that is drawn from her trekking in Africa, particularly in remote areas of Uganda.

Two months earlier, when Tessa arrived in this part of northern Uganda to overwhelming hospitality and constant questions, huts of mud and thatch, red earth under cloudy skies and low hills, it smelt like nowhere else she’d ever been – sour cassava, dusty cow manure, frank sewage, burning rubbish.  There were things that unnerved her: the raw stump of an amputee, the blind eyes of a child—smoky, white orbs, like the eyes of a baked fish.  For all her travel and education, a privileged world had filtered the details of the lives she was only beginning to witness now.  She half listened to the advice her parents gave and nodded at the cautionary tales from her colleagues and friends, but mostly she wanted to understand more. (p.6)

Theresa reviewed it too at Theresa Smith Writes – and we agree about the curious title!

Author: Sarah Myles
Title: The Wolf Hour
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2018, 340 pages
ISBN: 9781760632519
Review copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin.

Available from Fishpond:  The Wolf Hour: A Novel of Africa


Responses

  1. Thanks for the link Lisa. I’m glad you read this and also enjoyed it. I was the same, read until 2am and couldn’t put it down. The parenting reflections were particularly meaningful, I found.

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    • Yes, and also the tensions around Westerners dropping in for their own purposes…

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  2. A book that causes you to lose sleep before an obligation is a good book indeed. Glad to hear that you enjoyed this one so much! My reading log is indispensable to me when I carry on with an author’s work; I love to begin with their debut and follow along but, mostly, I seem to fall out of order along the way (only occasionally do I keep up and in proper order – but it’s quite rewarding).

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    • Yes, I know what you mean. I tend to go forwards with Australian authors, and backwards with famous European ones, that is, that we discover someone when they are translated for the first time and get attention for some reason or other, and then gradually we get to read previous books that become translated over time.

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  3. When you mentioned the title, I thought I was a real smarty pants because I had a feeling I knew the answer. Just went over to read Theresa’s review and I see you thought of it before me!

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    • Isn’t it interesting how this expression has become something we’re supposed to know even though it is not just culturally irrelevant here in Australia but in most of the rest of the world too!

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  4. Modern lenient parenting (and teaching) for which I suppose we boomers are to blame, appears to have been a mistake. Kids definitely need boundaries, but even more they need to model themselves on adults who observe boundaries, and I think that is where the problem is today for kids with (relatively) normal home lives.

    What to do about young adults, whether child soldiers or just from dysfunctional families, who have grown up with no or bad guidance, I’m not sure.

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    • I’m not ducking the baby boomer blame (though I got some comments about being too strict with the Offspring, often from the same people who said how well-behaved he was), but I think Spock influenced the parenting of parents having children in the 1950s. So that’s where it began…

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  5. […] you’ll know if you read my recent review of The Wolf Hour, I have been a fan of Sarah Myles since I read her first novel Transplanted (Hodder […]

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