The Seer’s Wolf by Barbara Petrie – 2015

seer's wolf

Well I was baffled by this book.  The idea of a werewolf tale set in rural Canterbury in the 1950s is very very promising.  But despite the cover telling us this is the story of a werewolf in rural New Zealand we are told up front in a disclaimer that it isn’t a story about werewolves, but that two principal characters have porphyria – a disease thought to produce werewolf-suggestive symptoms.  The seer of the title is young Clover Fairnie, but her ‘see-ing’ peters out as the book progresses and never really figures in her quest to find the werewolf her father jokingly mentions as they puzzle over the disappearance of a neighbour’s pet possum.  This possum disappearance pre-dates the arrival of new neighbours, the Randal family from England, and it is the father and eldest daughter Randal who have the unfortunate disease – and seemingly that’s not all they share.  The mother, Irena Randal is a herbalist – and it becomes very confusing whether she is using her craft to kill or to seduce her husband.  Clover observes all the odd goings on and after a strange dream starts to equate some of the local characters with animals – which could have been interesting but these associations go nowhere – in fact the one quite powerful resonance between a human character and an animal occurs near the end of the book where the writing gets uncharacteristically poetic and the human/animal association is out of the blue, so the section reads like the culmination of quite a different story.  I think the animal associations are supposed to be significant – the sections of the book have animal names – but I couldn’t glean any real significance from these section headings.  There is a great array of characters and a suggestion at the end that this might be a bildungsroman for Clover – and there are odd references to her starting her periods and feeling odd when around certain of the male characters.  But even this doesn’t really work, despite the possum disappearance being explained (rather unconvincingly) it could be that Clover’s imagination could have been excited by the odd behaviour of the neighbours and the mention of werewolves – but as the reader knows the neighbours’ behaviour is due to their ailment from the foreword not from within the novel there is no moment of awakening for Clover.  And her character is a bit uneven anyway – she might think werewolves are a possibility but a young farm girl on the outskirts of Christchurch in the 1950s would surely know there are no actual wolves in New Zealand.  I think there are some great elements in this book, the use of sex as entrapment, the way a young open mind can put elements together to make a convincing reality, the allure of the blurring of boundaries between human and non-human animals – but I found the book itself just weird, and weird in the wrong way.


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