“We were wolves”, the last sharp novel by Sandrine Collette on the birth of a father in a hostile environment

"We were wolves", the last sharp novel by Sandrine Collette on the birth of a father in a hostile environment

Author of thrillers and winner in 2020 of several awards for her post-apocalyptic novel And always the forests (JC Lattès), Sandrine Collette publishes this fall We were wolvesa novel about a man on the margins of society, living in a remote mountain region, forced to take care of his five-year-old little boy alone after the tragic death of his partner.

The novelist explores in this novel the place of man in nature, and what can, despite the violence and the vagaries of existence, make a road fork to lead man towards his humanity. We were wolvespublished on August 24 by JC Lattès, is in the list of ten novels distinguished by independent bookstores for the first edition of Les Défricheurs.

The story : For nearly twenty years, Liam has chosen to live in the mountains, away from the world. He lives from hunting, and for several years has shared his refuge with Ava, who gave him a child. One day, on returning from hunting, he finds his wife dead, killed by a bear. Hidden under his body covered in blood, Aru, his five-year-old son, is alive.

Beyond the horror and his anger, Liam wonders. How to take care of this little boy he barely knows, in a house nestled hours away from the first house? Who will take care of the little boy when he goes hunting? How to make a child grow up in this wild nature that he chose, a long time ago, to live?

“Because being a child is a huge task, it means taking care of someone other than yourself and I’m not sure we’re all capable of that. It’s strange that I don’t have never been afraid of anything, the night, the future fights or wild animals, whereas a kid does not pass. I do not know how to talk to him, how to feed him, where to put my hands to carry him.

“We were wolves”

page 123

Liam begins a journey on horseback to entrust his son to relatives. But things don’t turn out the way he had planned, and he struggles to contain the anger rising inside him: “I’m mad at life the world, the world I swear I’ll kill it”. How far will his hatred go? Will he be able to take another road than the one traced by the violence of his past?

Sandrine Collette continues with this new novel to question the violence of men, and their place in a nature full of beauty and overpowering, exploring the border that separates man from animal. In a wild context, reduced to its simplest expression (survival in an overwhelming nature), she addresses here the question of parenthood, more precisely that of paternity, with a character full of handicaps to ensure this function.

Liam has nothing to start with to make a good father. A childhood under the yoke of violent parents taught her nothing about how to take care of a child. He doesn’t even understand what this fragile little being is, who worries him. And he doesn’t want to leave his life in the mountains, a life he chose for himself seventeen years earlier.

In a story unfolding in the first person and without many commas, like a flow of thought from which one never leaves, one accompanies Liam in the darkest recesses of his soul, sometimes to the unimaginable.

The novelist, mistress of the thriller, builds her novel like a steep mountain path, with a slow ascent where the tension rises inexorably, up to a scene of paroxysmal violence, a scene of tipping which takes the novel down a gentler slope, and Liam on the way to a humanity that may allow him to “gently inscribe Aru in his life”what “is not so easy when you yourself have not had a childhood”to protect his son, and to find his place as father and man on this earth.

“Yesterday we went along a river and even if we were still in the north it made lights that I had never seen. It’s not that they didn’t exist before but I didn’t look at them.”

“We were wolves”

page 140

The novelist questions nature, and the invasive omnipresence of man, “as if he couldn’t help putting his ass all over the place, a real pissing dog has to show that he’s there”. But a nature that knows how to defend itself and regain its rights. “It’s as if she hated us, nature, and as soon as we do something she tends to destroy it to take back all the space. You would think there is no place for her and us, there’s one too many in there”.

Sandrine Collette signs a novel as sharp as a blade, succeeding in a collected text to install a palpable tension, in the manner of the American novelist Laura Kasischke, while exploring the world, and the human soul to its depths, without concession. We were wolves is one of the novels not to be missed of this literary season.

Cover of the novel "We were wolves"by Sandrine Collette, August 2022 (JC Lattès)

We were wolvesby Sandrine Collette (JC Lattes, 200 pages, €19.90)

Extract : “It’s always there that it takes me back, when it’s just the two of us it looks like a punch that hits you in the face except that it’s in the stomach and in the heart and suddenly I think of the kid , I think of myself and I say to myself but what are we doing here. We go to see the lake and then we go home as if nothing had happened. As if it was enough to recover in a line and walking having forgotten the days that preceded and at that moment what I don’t forget is existence as it will be afterwards, the impossible existence the kid and me and I don’t want that. Besides, the real question isn’t what are we doing here, the real question is what am I going to do now, except that it’s stuck in my head “. (We were wolvespage 106)

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