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The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

The Tenderness of Wolves (2006)

by Stef Penney

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Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
This was an enjoyable historical mystery set in the Canadian wilderness in the middle of winter. The one thing that bugged me throughout is why all these people kept hiking through the snow and didn't use either skis or, more likely, snowshoes. Finally at the end of the book, someone was smart enough to put them on! ( )
  Electablue | Apr 20, 2016 |
What a remarkable book. How to remember the best parts - without giving away spoilers. The relationships between the various characters was one of the things that hooked me right away. Mrs. Ross and her husband; Mrs. Ross and her son; Mrs. Ross and Parker - to name but a few. To find out about all these characters, their past, their present, and to speculate on their futures was wonderful. I understand why she ended the book the way she did, but I somehow wish it could have been different. The northern setting was beautifully described, and I could picture the settlements, the barren land and the forests, and of course, the impact of the snow. This story was about finding the killer of the French trapper Laurent Jammet, but it was so much more. I can see myself reading it again at some point. ( )
  MelAnnC | Feb 28, 2016 |
I chose to read this book because it won a Costa Book of the Year Award (for 2006), and I’ve often liked the winners of this particular literary prize. I was also intrigued by the repeated reference to the fact that the author set this book in Canada though she had never visited the country; apparently she suffered from agoraphobia for years and so relied strictly on research for details about the setting.

The novel is set in 1867and begins in Dove River, a small settlement on Georgian Bay. The body of Laurent Jammet, a trapper and trader, is discovered by his neighbour, Mrs. Ross. Representatives of the Hudson Bay Company are called to investigate. Mrs. Ross’ adopted son, Francis, has gone missing and he becomes a major suspect. Mrs. Ross sets out with William Parker, an Indian tracker and another suspect in the murder, to find her son who himself seems to have been following a set of tracks. An adventure/survival story is thereby joined to a murder mystery.

Everyone in this book seems to go on a journey looking for someone; the supposedly isolated woods around Lake Huron have a lot of people travelling through them in the winter. Mrs. Ross and Parker set off in search of Francis; David Moody, an HBC representative, and Jacob, his Indian companion, set off in search of Francis, Mrs. Ross and Parker; a search party of five sets out to find Francis, Mrs. Ross, Parker, Mr. Moody, and Jacob; and there are even flashbacks to the searches for two teenaged girls who went missing twenty years earlier. Some searches are successful, but some people find only themselves at the end of their journeys.

The novel lacks focus. There are so many characters. Besides Mrs. Ross, William Parker, David Moody, Jacob, and Francis, individual and specific attention is given to Angus Ross, Francis’ father; Andrew Knox, the magistrate of Dove River, and his two daughters, Susannah and Maria; Mackinley, the leader of the HBC investigators; Thomas Sturrock, an itinerant searcher and former journalist; three residents of Himmelvanger, a cloistered religious village; several people who live and work at Hanover House, an old fort; and even Dr. Watson, an asylum superintendent. There are several chance encounters amongst these characters: Maria meets a man in Sault Ste. Marie whom Thomas had known in Toronto; David meets a woman whom Thomas had met years earlier in Burkes Falls; Parker has a connection to the husband of one of the women living in Himmelvanger.

And there are too many subplots. Besides the murder investigation, there’s a plot involving a Norwegian religious settlement, another about a bone tablet which seems to be a Rosetta Stone for a native language, and a third about the decades-old mystery of missing sisters. All three of these subplots are largely abandoned. And then there are the love stories; love features prominently in the stories of several of the characters. A potential reader should be warned that there are a lot of loose ends at the end of the book. (The murder case is solved, but by the time the murderer is identified, the reader may not really care since it has become obvious for some time that the innocent will not be punished.) In fact, there are unanswered questions throughout; one that bothered me throughout was how Mrs. Ross came to leave the mental asylum in which she resided for years.

I don’t understand the title since the tenderness of wolves is not discussed. There is a story about a wolf cub who is raised as a pet but who eventually leaves its master: “’The Chippewa have a word for it – it means ‘the sickness of long thinking’. You cannot tame a wild animal, because it will always remember where it is from, and yearn to go back.’” The Sickness of Long Thinking is mentioned again at the end and explains one person’s choice, and it seems that other characters suffer from this ailment as well, so it would have been a much more appropriate title.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I was interested in how many people were surprised that the author wrote so convincingly about a place she had never visited. Many writers never visit the settings of their novels so I don’t understand why this fact is noteworthy. But because Penney’s lack of firsthand knowledge and reliance only on research were emphasized, I found myself looking for possible errors. Perhaps I found one: a woman mentions working in Kitchener but the city now known as Kitchener was named Berlin from 1854 until World War II.

I do not understand why this novel won such a prestigious award. Looking back at the longlist, A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon would have gotten my vote. The Tenderness of Wolves has potential but should have received some judicious editing.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Feb 18, 2016 |
Interesting read, and more so for having a first person narrator intertwined with other third person narrators, but I felt the action wasn't described very well. I also struggled to discern the different characters. ( )
  ellohull | Feb 10, 2016 |
I had not picked this up before, despite it's prize winning status, and despite my wife's book group rating it highly. Then I read "The Loneliness Of Others" which convinced me that I should try her debut. I am very glad I did!
The narrative style is interesting, being mainly third person, but using "the historical present" (thanks to another reviewer for that) when the heroine narrates. The descriptive writing about the wilderness is likely to linger in my memory for a long while. The plotting is intricate, with a few surprising twists and turns and much of the characterisation interesting.
Some reviewers have tried to place this book in the "crime/thriller" genre, almost as to try to diminish it (ASIDE - in my view two of the very best writers in the English language, James Lee Burke and Ian Rankin work in the genre, so why would such categorisation diminish any book?) but, in any case it does not belong there.
I look forward to Stef Penney's future books. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
I read The Tenderness of Wolves and fell into the story right away; the characters were well drawn and Penney is able to lead the reader from one page to the next.
added by mikeg2 | editThe Times, Alyson Rudd (Jun 23, 2007)
There are few things like an endless vista to make a novel seem really gratifyingly contained. The novel itself comes to seem like a fragile bubble of consciousness beyond whose limits is a threatening void. (And that's what novels, in one essential manner, are.) And living in the rudimentary civilisation of mid 19th-century Canada must have been like living in a novel: there is nothing to concentrate on except the flawed characters of your fellow human beings, and the spoor left by their movements. And that, in a way, is all The Tenderness of Wolves is about.
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The last time I saw Laurent Jammet, he was in Scott's store with a dead wolf over his shoulder.
Laurenta Jammeta sem nazadnje videla v Scottovi trgovini z mrtvim volkom čez ramo.
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Book description
1867, Canada

As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a woman steels herself for the journey of a lifetime. A man has been brutally murdered and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. The violence has re-opened old wounds and inflamed deep-running tensions in the frontier township - some want to solve the crime; others seek only to exploit it.

To clear her son's name, she has no choice but to follow the tracks leaving the dead man's cabin and head north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it....
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1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, an isolated settlement in Canada's Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees tracks leading from the dead man's cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. But soon she makes another discovery: her son has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect. A variety of outsiders are drawn to the crime and to the township--but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it? One by one, searchers set out to follow the tracks across a desolate landscape, variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.--From publisher description.… (more)

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