The Tenderness of Wolves
[Posted on Thursday 8 February 2007]
I've been checking the list of Whitbread Award-winning books. There are none on our shelves, although I have borrowed several from my summer-time public library and always been disappointed.
However the first novel to win the Costa Award, Stef Penney's The Tenderness of Wolves, sounds more promising as far as the middle-brow reader is concerned, as opposed to the "literati" who, we are told, were at last night's presentation.
To be honest, I have never heard of Costa Coffee, the Award's new sponsor. For many people, including me, the word "costa" evokes a vision of Benidorm, Lloret de Mar, Marbella and other over-crowded resorts on the coasts of Spain.
An interesting piece about Ms Penney is The Scotsman interview with her by Jackie McGlone.
Excerpt: "There is something Garbo-esque about Stef Penney. Maybe it is because she has unusually vivid blue eyes, long, slender bones and enviable cheekbones set in a luminous face that is all intriguing planes and angles. Mainly, though, it's her spiky persona, which she wears like so much metaphorical barbed wire.
The air of mystery she exudes only adds to her resemblance to the Hollywood star who so famously wanted to be left alone. "
"Does she live alone in her Hackney flat? "No." With her partner? "No, I don't have a partner." Does she share with friends or family? "No." But she does not live alone? "No, I don't live alone." Aha, so she lives with her fictitious characters then? "Whatever. You can say anything you want. I've vowed never to read anything anyone ever writes about me anyway," she says, fiercely balling up the remains of her pain au chocolat in a napkin.
Only minutes into meeting her and I feel as if I am sitting opposite a passive-aggressive clam. However, I will forgive Penney for all her obfuscation and prickly unwillingness to divulge anything about herself because she has made a remarkable literary debut. Her brilliantly assured, subtly written novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, set in the atmospheric icy wastes of 19th-century Canada and published to admiring reviews last autumn, is surely a dead cert to win the First Novel category in the Costa Coffee chain's sponsorship of the awards formerly known as the Whitbreads."
Just picked up this review of the hardback [the pb comes on March 1st] from Amazon UK.
"Another great, door-stopping book. With dire memories of 'Labyrinth' I very nearly didn't buy it, but I couldn't resist the cover design. And the first page captured me. At last, a new writer who can really write. Momentum was lost, however, when I found I couldn't keep a hold on all the characters trecking about the wilderness. The cast seemed to have grown bigger than that of War and Peace and I truly only cared about one of them - the fascinating trapper who is dead by page 16.
The unhappy ending didn't actually make me suffer as I hadn't invested that much interest in the characters.
Don't publishers employ editors any more? This spirited writer needed a bit of control and... well - editing. The book could have, with advantage, lost a hundred pages.
If the reports are true that the writer has never visited the Canadian outback, the result is all the more astonishing in its vividness. Anyone inspired to read something by a French Canadian novelist who lived in this place at this time will enjoy 'Maria Chapdelaine' by Louis Hemon."