Part thriller, part redemptive love story, and sure to be a crowd-pleaser at your next book club meeting.
The pulse-pounding new novel from Charlotte McConaghy sees Inti Flynn arrive in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team tasked with reintroducing grey wolves into the remote Highlands. When a farmer is found dead Inti makes a reckless decision to protect her wolves. But if her wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will she do when the man she’s been seeing becomes the main suspect?
Discussion points and questions:
- The novel’s epigraph is ‘One beast and only one howls in the woods by night,’ from Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves. What is the significance of this quote and how does it resonate with the story?
- What genres does the novel combine, and how do they feed into each other and deepen the themes explored?
- Inti and her team of biologists attempt to rewild the remote Scottish Highlands by reintroducing wolves to the landscape. In what ways do ‘the wild’ and ‘civilisation’ clash in the book? Should they be viewed as opposites?
- Inti says: ‘The children in us long for monsters to take forms we understand. They want to fear the wolves because they don’t want to fear each other.’ How does the novel blur the boundaries between humans and ‘beasts’?
- Inti and Aggie share a rare connection as identical twins, and this is deepened by their private sign language. Discuss the role of their relationship in the book.
- What does the novel have to say about legacies of violence and trauma and whether or not they can be broken?
- Inti and Aggie’s father becomes a passionate environmentalist who advocates for compassion and kindness, yet their mother disparages his solitary lifestyle, claiming that ‘I’ve cared for more people in a day than that man will in his whole sorry life.’ How can we strike a balance between individual and collective action in bringing about environmental and social change?
- Inti says her mother ‘had a different knowledge of what people do to each other... I chose to live by my dad’s code, and it was easy until it wasn’t. It’s obvious now, and has been for a while. Mum was right... and now I have had enough, I have no more forgiveness left.’ What stance does the novel take on forgiveness and on people’s ability to change? Does it suggest that both humans and wolves have an ‘essential’, inflexible nature that drives their actions?
- How does the interweaving of different time periods and settings in the book contribute to its overall atmosphere?
- Inti’s mirror-touch synaesthesia gives her the ability to feel what others feel. Would you like to have this condition? Why or why not?
- Inti’s father says that ‘all creatures know love’. How are wolves depicted in the novel? What does it suggest about how humans and other animals can coexist?
- Inti is a tough, assertive character, not unlike Franny in Migrations. Who are some of your favourite strong female characters in literature?
- What is the significance of the quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest on p. 42 – ‘You taught me language, and my profit on’t / Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you / For learning me your language’ – in the context of the overall story?
- The novel shares a number of elements with classic fairytales. In what ways does it both tie in to and break away from that genre?
- What do you think the future holds for Inti and Duncan? What do you think happened to Aggie?
- What thematic similarities did you identify between Once There Were Wolves and Charlotte McConaghy’s previous novel, Migrations?
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