et in a world where last year's Scottish referendum resulted in a victory for the "yes" side, The Wolf Border is also speculative fiction of a sort. The political and ecological differences between this world and our own are not particularly big ones; if Annerdale isn't quite where the book says it is this is a divergence from reality no greater than most realist fiction, and if the Scottish referendum didn't go as the book says it did, for (presumably) most of the book's genesis it was still possible. Yet there's something else The Wolf Border is doing, something that to me feels inherently speculative.
At one point in the book, Rachel invokes the Chernobyl disaster, which had occurred when she was ten years old.
"They told us not to go outside if it was raining. Where I come from, it's always raining. We had exercises in school for nuclear disasters afterwards. This bell would ring and you'd have to duck under the desk and count to one hundred. (...) They've only just stopped testing the lambs before sending them to the market."
Her companion recalls being in school when Mount St Helens erupted and he and his brother "(stayed) under the bed for three days (...) There was black s**t on everything." Whether it's the ravages that humans have wrought on the world, or nature itself, the "dark old republic" whose past and future Rachel imagines, we have never truly been safe.
So much of The Wolf Border is about discomfort, about plunging into discomfort even when one doesn't have to. An example of this is Rachel's pregnancy, about which she is ambivalent but which she chooses not to terminate. Landscape and bodies and borders are mutable; and the sheer physicality of Hall's prose insists that we engage with them as such.
And if I, however unfairly, blame the domestication of the British landscape on Kenneth Grahame's anthropomorphic animals, part of the work of rewilding it must also belong to literature. It is becoming harder to pretend that we're safe in the world, that hiding under desks or beds will shield us. We must live unsafe in the world and one of literature's tasks for the near future must be the speculative work of imagining ourselves no longer at ease.