I had the great pleasure of working with Beth Lewis when I was doing my internship in London last year. A few months later, wandering around the local bookshop, I saw an intriguing cover with an intriguing synopsis. Seeing the author’s name sealed the deal for me, and I finally had the opportunity to read Wolf Road in August.
When Elka is just a small child with a different name, she is cared for by her grandmother. Her parents have gone to seek their fortune in one of the few cities that exist after the Big Stupid years before.
Her grandmother goes out, leaving the little girl alone when a great storm hits the house and throws her miles away out in the wilderness. Trying to make her way back she stumbles across a cabin with meat drying on outside. The cabin belongs to a man she comes to know only as Trapper, her new daddy, who grudgingly takes her in.
But their years together are full of good times, and Elka learns to hunt and cure meat and survive out in the arduous terrain of BeeCee. She’s no longer a scrappy little girl, but a tough young woman.
Arriving in town one day, she sees a woman putting up a wanted poster of her Trapper. The man she’s come to admire and think of as a father is not who she thought he was at all, and she must get away from him – and the locked-away secrets of her past – if she is to truly survive in this strange and ugly world.
Immediately, I was captured by the language of the novel. Told in Elka’s gruff, unique voice, it pulls you straight into the story. But it is also a clever trick; you think that through the dialect Elka uses, as well as the discussions of gold-rushes and the wilderness, that you know the time and place. But Lewis leaves clues and interesting context that shows you that this is a very different world, and one that is very interesting indeed.
Elka is a wonderful character, full of grit and determination, but also ideals and flaws. She’s by no means perfect, but she acknowledges that too, and that is part of what gives the narrative such poignancy, particularly towards the end. Her interactions with other characters – after spending so long with only Trapper for company – feel genuine and help develop her in a way that feels natural. Her relationship with Trapper, too, is one filled with the complexities of attachment and a kind of bereavement as well as anger. She wants to run from him, but she wants to run to him too. While this kind of internal struggle for Elka may have come across as repetitive and irritating for pages of self-pity and confusion, Lewis keeps it restrained and purely within Elka as a character. It deepens Elka’s character as well as allowing for a clever, varied pace for the story.
A character in itself, the landscape of the novel is also brilliantly developed. You can feel yourself moving through the different scenery of the world with Elka, attuned to the scents and sights around you. It’s both an evocative way of drawing us further into the story, as well as adding to the atmosphere of the choices Elka makes along her journey.
Perhaps the main difficulty I have with reviewing this novel, is not wanting to give anything away. There are some beautiful twists and turns that weave their way through, and part of the pleasure of the novel was not having these things spelled out early on.
All I can say is that this is an excellent read – well worth picking up, especially with autumn drawing in.
What are your favourite seasonal reads? Let me know down below!