Gatekeeper by Kay Sexton

Gatekeeper is the story of how one woman, Clare, becomes involved in a project to reintroduce wolves into the wilds of the Scottish Highlands.

Clare was forced to delay her entry to University because of family circumstances. Once the member of a tightly knit pack she becomes the lone wolf, confused and hurt by what family circumstances reveal of her parents, and finds her only solace in her role as volunteer at a local animal shelter.

When she eventually gets to university, she continues to take an interest in animal welfare and joins a group of animal activists. Not every mission goes well though and after one routine animal release goes sour, Clare is unfairly dismissed from the group. Her talents are, however, recognised elsewhere and she is recruited into the highly covert and international group working for the wolves.

The mission has already taken years to plan and takes some more years of Clare’s life as the group finds her jobs and sources her training across the world all to prepare for her role as gatekeeper to the newly reintroduced wolf pack. It will be her job to protect the pack from negative local and international interest. She must do all she can to persuade people that wolves pose no threat to humans and farm animals.

Of course the journey that Clare takes is as significant as that of her wolf pack. She learns to shake off her solitude and find her own place among humankind.

Dominance and submission are important aspects of life in a wolf pack. They are also important aspects of Clare’s life and by implication of all of our lives. It should be noted that position in the pack is always shifting, challenges are made and made again and particular individuals can forge exceptions to the rule. The threat and thrill of the challenge has a visceral and compelling presence in Clare’s story that serves to remind us of the nature and instinct inside our nurture and culture. Clare reminds us how important it is for us to live in body and mind, as beings who share the world with other humans, plants and animals.

Through this journey where violence is always present, if only in threat, there is a thread of narrative which questions the difference between an activist and a terrorist. You’ll have to read Gatekeeper to find Clare’s answer but I can say that this is relevant, elegant writing where the natural landscape in all its beauty and savagery is set against human nature.

Next week I’m reading American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman.