Cassy is a young girl, not quite in her teens, who lives with her grandmother, whom she calls Nan. Of her father, she knows nothing, and Nan is determined to keep it that way. Cassy’s mother is less shrouded in mystery; she’s an odd woman, who behaves like a giggling kid most of the time, and spends her life moving from squat to squat – unfit to take care of her own daughter. On one particular morning, long before dawn, a visitor knocks the door of Nan’s flat. Before Cassy can even see who it is, Nan has put him in the spare room and ushered Cassy out of the house with a bag full of rations and instructions to go and stay with her mother for a spell. It’s all seems a bit unusual to Cassy, but what can she do except obey?
And so the novel gets off the ground staight away with a fairly interesting mystery. Cassy soon finds her mother, and a large portion of the rest of the story is devoted to developing the characters she meets at her mum’s squat: Lyall, an old man who visits schools to give talks on wolves, and his loyal son, Robert, who is Cassy’s age.
The problem I had with this novel is that nothing much happens until around page 100. That approach might sit comfortably in a typical mammoth Stephen King tome, but in a novel that’s a mere 140 pages, it just doesn’t work. I got bored. To be fair, the mystery deepens slightly with the discovery of a strange yellow substance at the bottom of the bag Cassy’s grandmother packed, but any sense of danger is held back until the story’s almost finished. Who’s the mysterious visitor? just isn’t a strong enough premise to carry a novel.
The whole way through, I kept wondering what wolves had to do with the plot, apart from Lyall being obsessed with them and causing Cassy to have nightmares. Very much incidental stuff, compared with the main thrust of the story – which was what, exactly? Hmm. The wolf theme does tie into something which happens at the end of the novel, but I’m sad to report that the constant emphasis on wolves throughout the novel seemed contrived to me.
I remember a sound piece of advice given to me about writing: Don’t go easy on your main character. There has to be conflict and danger and peril. Wolf has these … confined to the closing chapters. Oh, and did I mention that this novel won the Carnegie Medal? Go figure.