With her 2020 debut, Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy established herself as a powerful new voice in fiction. With her follow-up, Once There Were Wolves, the Australian author proves that her particular brand of deeply evocative literary lightning can indeed strike twice. Intense, emotional and rich with beautifully rendered prose, McConaghy’s novel is a powerful meditation on humanity, nature and the often frightening animalistic impulses lurking within us all.
Inti Flynn and her sister, Aggie, were raised in two different households by two different parents who each had their own very specific reasons to distrust humanity. Inti turned to the wild for inspiration, comfort and fulfillment. Now grown and working in conservation, Inti arrives in Scotland to release the first gray wolves, absent from the region for centuries, back into the country’s Highlands. As local farmers respond with resistance and the wolves struggle to adjust to their new home, Inti finds herself caught between a sister who needs her, a man who wants her and a community that perhaps wants her gone for good, and that’s all before the dead body shows up.
As McConaghy navigates Inti’s emotional state through past and present, from the wilds of Alaska to the town halls of Scotland, it becomes clear that Once There Were Wolves is as much concerned with charting Inti’s own wild nature as it is with the wild nature of the wolves she so loves. Whether McConaghy is writing about the deep, wordless connection between two sisters or the strange respect that forms between ideological enemies, her prose never feels overwhelmed or even particularly hurried. There’s a density of meaning to her language, filling every paragraph with poignant, poetic life, and it’s clear even in the opening chapters that she’s mastered this world and these characters.
Once There Were Wolves is another triumph for a rising fiction star, offering an intensely realized world for readers to get lost in.