History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)


Here’s a hint: do not read this book after Solar Bones or Days Without End. While on any given day it may be considered a fine book, after those two it becomes merely ordinary.

The writing feels jagged, the story cumbersome. I’m frankly not so interested in this young misfit of a girl who lived in a rundown cabin with very weird parents. She babysits Paul, who stuffs an old leather glove with leaves, and befriends his mother, Patra, who is only 26. Her full name is Cleopatra, and she was once called Cleo, but that would never work with her 37 year old husband named Leo.

And then there’s Lily, a girl from their school who became involved with their teacher, Mr. Grierson, who was discovered to be a pedophile when dogs searched his old apartment in California, from which he fled to teach in Minnesota.

So there is a certain tension within the first 100 pages as all this is set up, but the point for me now is, “Who cares?” I’m eager to reach the end so that I can move on to another book from the Man Booker long list. Autumn, by Ali Smith, to be exact.


Addendum: I have just finished the book, a day after I published this post, and my feelings about it have not changed. I’m baffled as to how it managed to land on the Man Booker long list, curious as to what the judges saw in it that completely eluded me.

9 thoughts on “History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Man Booker Prize long list 2017)”

    1. I am struggling to finish it, being compulsive that way. I have to finish what I begin. Even though I find his book mediocre, at least in comparison to the others I’ve read, I am caught up a bit in a certain amount of tension. What is this court thing the narrator (Linda) keeps referring to? It’s just that the relationships between all the people is so bizarre! No one seems to understand or support anyone else, not the parents or the teachers.

      I’m sure that is not the way we are in our classrooms.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The one thing I admired about this book was the description of the woods–sharply observed details but not written in a self-consciously “lyrical” or poetic way. It made me think about Linda as a wolf, in the sense of a wild creature attuned to her surroundings, though in ever other way I thought the predator/prey metaphors were shoe-horned in.

    I found myself wondering how this even got published, let alone long-listed, without another kick at making the plot more suspenseful. I unintentionally picked up a thriller with a lot of similar elements right after this (girl with an isolated childhood, North Woods setting, cuts back and forth in time) and while it doesn’t aspire to be Booker material it sure is keeping me turning pages. The genre author knows how to build suspense where with Fridlund’s book she planted so many early clues I knew more or less what would happen and was just hanging around waiting for the naive narrator to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was no point in which I would have scored this high: not writing, nor plot, nor even characterization. Although the later was its best point, if any. I felt tossed around, rather than gently or expertly led, from one point to another. It was ridiculous, to me, to connect Lily and the teacher to Linda and the Gardners. Such a stretch! But, again, none of the book pleased me, nor even the description as you are gracious enough to point out.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I really enjoyed reading it, and I have read it a few times since.


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