McConaghy's latest novel shares plenty of DNA with her 2020 breakout Migrations. Both novels follow memorable, hardened female leads who navigate life from behind carefully constructed defense mechanisms; both narratives are haunted by characters' pasts and also their presents; and both are shaded with an existential fear born of our climate change crisis. They also bear the influence of McConaghy's screenwriting background, arriving to the page rife with distinctive characters and plenty of dramatic tensions. That quality is perhaps even more present in this work, its lightly suspenseful contours almost recalling the shape of the average best-selling psychological thriller, but McConaghy smartly doesn't rise to such easy histrionics. Revelations are handled with restraint, never over-punctuating the novel's controlled rhythm, and even the bevy of metaphorical fodder—of which there is plenty, this being a story about wolves and human nature and the monster-making that takes place in our minds—remains welcomingly unsettled and intellectually rigorous. Ultimately, the narrative impressively roots itself in the center of a Venn diagram of diverse readers, marrying the complex character work and delicate prose of the best literary fiction with plenty of twisty mystery threads for genre-inclined readers, and peppering in the right amount of distinctive background and heady rumination to result in a truly arresting and singular work. VERDICT Another win for McConaghy that weaves together various modes and creates something that will be immediately appealing to a diverse spate of readers.—Luke Gorham, Galesburg P.L., IL
One woman’s mission to rewild the forests of Scotland with wolves yields far-reaching personal consequences.
Wildness in all of its forms is the central theme of McConaghy’s second book, which circles the lives of twin sisters Inti and Aggie Flynn as Aggie trails Inti, who's a biologist, from Australia to Canada and, eventually, Scotland. Inti and her colleagues hope that reintroducing wolves to the ecosystem will promote reforestation after the lumber industry has robbed the Scottish Highlands of timber, having seen success with similar projects in Yellowstone National Park. McConaghy’s powerful debut, Migrations (2020), dealt similarly with a woman determined to preserve a valence of wildlife while struggling with the violence and isolation of such a task, and some of the same tensions prevail here, as it becomes increasingly clear that the menacing wildness of wolves often pales in comparison to the cruelties of which humans are capable. Inti and Aggie are close to the point of codependence, having moved from place to place together and survived Aggie’s struggles with domestic violence in her marriage. McConaghy cleverly withholds the details of a trauma that has left Aggie without speech while Inti’s anger at the plight of the wolves and the local people’s resistance to their rewilding carries the narrative at a breakneck pace. All throughout, the language hews to the poetic: “Tiny leaves shimmer green...the color of ripe Colmar pears, Irish pitcher apples, and the glittering mineral called uran-mica.” Inti has a tendency to overidentify with the wolves she is struggling to help, and there is no shortage of emotional and physical violence here, but the payoff is the glimpse of gentleness and humanity that we spot through Inti’s and Aggie’s eyes.
A lovely, gripping tale about a world that could be our own.
Instant New York Times Bestseller
Instant Los Angeles Times Bestseller
Instant Washington Post Bestseller
Instant Indie Bestseller
#1 IndieNext Pick
Book of the Month Club Selection
A Most Anticipated Book (Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Good Morning America, Bustle, Scientific American, Publishers Weekly, Sydney Morning Herald, BookRiot, Thrillist, PopSugar, AARP)
"Blazing . . . Visceral . . . As McConaghy shows in this stunning book, the limits of language lead us to the limits of empathy."
—Los Angeles Times
"A stunning amalgam ofenvironmental fiction and a deep exploration of personal relationships . . . Anexceptional book that captures the soul and breaks the heart, only to put itback together again."
—Newsweek (A Best Book of the Year)
"Suspenseful and poignant . . . [Inti’s] story unfolds as a meditation on the social and scientific consequences of influencing ecosystems, while reminding us that humans and animals alike can break our hearts."
"Lyrical, captivating, thought-provoking and thrilling, this immersive read will capture your attention from the first page."
—Good Morning America
"Bold . . . A heartfelt and earnest novel."
—The New York Times Book Review
"[McConaghy] brings the reader into a world where humans have beaten the world into submission and out of balance, and mixes literary eco-fiction with elements of mystery and thriller novels."
—The Seattle Times
"Gripping and often very moving . . . Despite the darkness and pain at the heart of McConaghy’s novel, it is not a bleak book. Instead, it bears within it an argument about the possibility of change. Recognizing the presence of other ways of being, of other minds and presences enlarges us, affording us a glimpse of the unknowable."
—The Sydney Morning Herald
"Far more than an old wolves' tale. Instead, it illustrates what it’s like to be an outsider—from both a human and animal perspective—and the level of healing and acceptance it takes from within to be accepted and to accept yourself."
"The Australian author made waves with last summer's Migrations, a meditation on climate change and loneliness, and returns with a new story set in the Scottish Highlands, where two twin sisters join a team attempting to reintroduce a pack of wolves to their natural surroundings."
"Spellbinding . . . Charlotte McConaghy has once again created a world where we must balance trust and fear, humanity and nature."
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"From the author of 2020's gorgeous Migrations comes a similarly earth-shattering tale of humanity's influence on the natural world."
"Urges us to take a lesson from the wolves, and learn to lean on one another."
"A lyrical novel with a wild heart."
"A moving, moody story by the author of the 2020 novel Migrations."
"This poetic and atmospheric novel is a mystery, a celebration of wolves, and a tribute to those who work to rewild our landscapes."
"McConaghy excels at conveying the sensuous experience of nature and the emotions it provokes: wonder at its majesty, sorrow at its destruction. Unflinching in its view of the harm humans inflict on the environment and on each other—and insisting on the interconnectedness of the two—Once There Were Wolves delivers a powerful call for hope in the face of catastrophe."
"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 . . . Another triumph for a rising fiction star, offering an intensely realized world for readers to get lost in."
—BookPage (starred review)
"Vividly realized . . . Gorgeously rendered . . . A story full of subtle surprises . . . This is a stunner."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Poetic . . . A lovely, gripping tale about a world that could be our own."
—Kirkus (starred review)
"McConaghy infuses Inti's adventures with ravishing descriptions of the landscape and the 'infinite mysteries of wolves' . . . McConaghy's richly plotted tale of suspense and psychological insight poses provocative questions about predators and humanity's impact on Earth."
"One of those very rare, special novels that changes you as you read, which you do as slowly as you can because you want to savor it, except the pages keep turning furiously because the story is so thrilling and so powerful, with some of the best characters I have ever read. Charlotte McConaghy has cemented herself as a sure-thing, must-read writer for me."
—Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is
"So damn good. A page-turner that makes you think and has a huge emotional impact."
—Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times bestselling author of Annihilation (via Twitter)
Praise for Migrations
"True and affecting, elegiac and imminent . . . [Filled] with suspense and surprises, parceled out so tantalizingly that it took disciplined willpower to keep from skipping down each page to see what happens."
—The Washington Post
"Visceral and haunting . . . This novel's prose soars with its transporting descriptions . . . Migrations is a nervy and well-crafted novel, one that lingers long after its voyage is over."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Powerful . . . Vibrant…Unique . . . The novelistic equivalent of an energizing cold plunge."
"Suspenseful, atmospheric . . . As much a mystery as an odyssey."
"Thrilling . . . A detailed portrait of a woman on the cusp of collapse, consumed with a world that is every bit as broken as she is."
"Gripping . . . By merging cli-fi and nature writing, the novel powerfully demonstrates the spiritual and emotional costs of environmental destruction."
"A good nautical adventure . . . Migrations moves at a fast, exciting clip, motored as much by love for 'creatures that aren’t human' as by outrage at their destruction."
—The Wall Street Journal
"[A] tantalizingly beautiful epic."
"You can practically hear the glaciers cracking to pieces and the shrill yelps of the circling terns."
"At a time when it feels like we're at the end of the world, this novel about a different kind of end of the world serves as both catharsis and escape."
"An ode to our disappearing natural world."
"This page-turner is captivating, enlightening and surprisingly full of hope."
"Gorgeous . . . A personal reckoning that cuts right to the heart. This beautiful novel is an ode—if not an elegy—to an endangered planet and the people and places we love."
"Migrations is a gripping tale that ultimately celebrates the beauty and resilience of the creatures—human and animal—that endure."
"Migrations is as beautiful and as wrenching as anything I've ever read. This is an extraordinary novel by a wildly talented writer."
—Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven
"This novel is enchanting, but not in some safe, fairy-tale sense. Charlotte McConaghy has harnessed the rough magic that sears our souls. I recommend Migrations with my whole heart."
—Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord and March
Saskia Maarleveld narrates this novel, a paean to the majesty of wolves. She convinces listeners that reintroducing wolves into remote forest environments is a positive step in restoring the balance of nature. Head biologist Inti Flynn is an Australian scientist who has touch synesthesia, a sensory disorder that causes her to literally feel whatever pain she witnesses. Maarleveld captures both her accent and the tension that lurks in her psyche. The 14 grey wolves released in the Scottish Highlands are the real stars of this drama. The humans— including the heart-throb sheriff, a psychotic twin sister, and angry sheep farmers—are well depicted, but it is the wolves whose welfare becomes paramount to the listener. D.L.G. © AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine