selected comments from reviews of all books
The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“It is with the titular hunter and wild girl that Holdstock brings the fullness of her powers to bear. Shifting between points of view, she manages to not only create two fully rounded characters, but two entirely different worlds, unique perspectives superimposed on the physical setting. Each character sees the world differently, and Holdstock captures those visions with an ease that is staggering.. . The Hunter and the Wild Girl is powerful, almost elemental storytelling, an achievement not only of craft but of raw emotion. It pulses with vitality, building to a stunning, shattering conclusion. ” The Vancouver Sun
“Holdstock’s 19th-century story of connection between this odd pairing of psychological isolates hints at great depth beneath the surface. Resonant and troubling, like all good fairy tales.” The Globe and Mail
“the book is a thorough examination of what, exactly, it means to be a person — a question more daunting than any human antagonist, and one Holdstock raises gradually, with great skill and a light touch……once you’re in the book is an rich, immersive experience with little left to the imagination. That’s a good thing: hers is the kind of prose you get lost in.” The National Post
“This book is magical. It’s a fairy tale, it’s magic realism, it’s a beautiful story about grief and freedom. The Hunter and the Wild Girl can be read in so many ways. . .There is the mix of reality and fairy-tale, the magical realism and the climactic, wild, rushing ending here that is similar in small ways to Pan’s Labryinth – the violent, fast-paced, powerful summing up of both stories.. . .Pauline Holdstock’s language is so powerful, her writing so wrought with emotion and beauty, that you become fully lost in her world.. . .Holdstock’s prose evokes a lush natural world, every detail examined selectively. The reader’s senses are continually heightened. How the wind whistles through the brush, or how the dirt smells metallic or the feel of a prick from a thorn. Colours are vibrant and rich. Reading this novel is an evocative and sensual experience. The Winnipeg Review
“In Pauline Holdstock’s unwavering grip, The Hunter and the Wild Girl is extremely readable, thought provoking and engaging. It’s for each individual reader to decide why the story resonates as unforgettable fiction.” BC Booklook
“Possibly the most arresting aspect of the novel, apart from the exquisite sense of place, is Holdstock’s implied invitation to consider the essence of a human being. Freedom and connection are essential, the novel suggests, and the bonds that hold us together can also destroy us..” Quill & Quire
“The Hunter and The Wild Girl is a psychological drama disguised as a historical novel. I read it slowly page by page, revelling in Holdstock’s vivid prose.. . If you haven’t read any of Holdstock’s novels, begin here and work your way back. Some writers are indeed worth the effort.” Owen Sound Sun Times
Earlier this month, I finished reading Pauline Holdstock’s The Hunter and the Wild Girl, which is one of CBC’s 15 must-reads for this autumn. It is wondrous. Buried in Print
It begins with a mad break for freedom, a feral child running from the darkness, chased by men and their dogs through the rural paysage of 19th-century France. It begins, also, with a hunter who can no longer hunt, Peyre Rouff. As the title might suggest, The Hunter and the Wild Girl sets out to navigate the peculiar bond between them, and explores, with poignant, often poetic, and always vividly concise language, what it is to be human.. . .
Holdstock’s tale is far from ordinary, fathoms-deep, and moving. Although it plunges heavily into gloomy territory, it is worth noting that her troubled characters can often be found looking skyward, drawing not the ominous, but hope, life, and renewal from that “ecstasy of blue.” The Cascade
Praise For The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“A turbulent, headlong, exhilarating rush will sweep you into this fairy tale of a lost girl breaching the self-exile of a haunted man — a hunter who cannot hunt, who is both ogre and hero. In exquisitely beautiful prose, with echoes from both Charles Perrault and Gormenghast, Holdstock spins austere enchantment.” — Marina Endicott, author of Close to Hugh
“What a gorgeous, heart-breaking story! The Hunter and the Wild Girl is both courageous and risky, and it works so beautifully — there are breathtaking moments of grace — simple observations that turn suddenly and quietly exquisite. It takes Holdstock a few lines to draw readers in with her wild girl and just a few pages to make them love her.” — Thomas Trofimuk, author ofWaiting for Columbus
“The Hunter and the Wild Girl unfolds like a dark and wonderful fairy tale. A remarkable, engrossing story with not a word out of place.” — Charlotte Gill, author of Eating Dirt and Ladykiller
“The historical novel for me,” Umberto Eco once told The Paris Review, is no so much a fictionalized version of real events as a fiction that will actually enable us to better understand the real history.” This is undoubtedly Giller Prize-nominee Pauline Holdstock’s aim in Into the Heart of Country, and by and large she succeeds. . . .
Holdstock’s writing moves seamlessly between her research and her polished storytelling of people, landscape and grief. These are familiar preoccupations, but she continues to make them compelling and rich.
What is most compelling about Into the Heart of the Country is its openness toward authenticity. . . Holdstock manages to recreate the real events so they may be better understood” The National Post
“Holdstock’s writing manages to be both heartbreakingly poetic and densely detailed.. . .
the greatest sympathy lies with the novel’s female characters – Molly Norton, Nêwositêkâpaw, Jane, Abigail – whose fate is both intertwined with and at the mercy of the men they keep alive. Pauline Holdstock has made an impressive and moving attempt to bring these women from the footnotes of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s records into the forefront of our imaginations.” The Globe and Mail
“[a] dark, brilliant exploration. . .
Through the eyes of characters over several generations, Holdstock reveals the tragic consequences of how— in an attempt to help the greedy fur-trading white colonialists—the lives of native women of northern Canada are destroyed.” More
“Plenty of books have examined the Canadian fur trade, but Pauline Holdstock offers a unique perspective on a definitive time in our nation’s past. Into the Heart of the Country, which made this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, looks at this period in history from the perspective of the Native women living at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Prince of Wales Fort.
The tale of Molly Norton, the daughter of Governor Moses and a Native woman, is a captivating one. Readers follow her as she grows up, becomes a servant to a British master, and then is abandoned and forced to wrest a living from the land her ancestors have worked on for generations. This rich, imaginative novel evokes a pivotal time in Canadian history, and its depiction of the clash of white and Native cultures has relevance for contemporary Canada — making it the perfect gift for history fans young and old.” CBC Books
“Holdstock has done a brilliant job of both physical and emotional verisimilitude. She helps readers understand how people survived in an extremely challenging landscape, and she shows the pain of loss felt by individuals in different cultures.”
Victoria Times Colonist
A Rare and Curious Gift (in Canada Beyond Measure)
“The book’s exploration of passion, jealousy and ambition is underlaid by riveting, macabre descriptions of human dissections witnessed by its artist protagonists. Holdstock’s vivid, unflinching tale doesn’t sugarcoat the casual brutality of the period, and is punctuated by startling moments of beauty.” Publishers’ Weekly
“Holdstock, with a few deft strokes, pulls the reader into the tumultuous life of an alluring rabble of characters: painters, sculptors, patrons, fools, and slaves . . . In Beyond Measure, she proves herself a master of pacing. Her lively, macabre plot trips lightly along spite of its dark elements. Holdstock’s evocation of the Italian landscape and her handling of the exquisite detail of the artists’ realm keep the reader snug in a layered, hideous and lushly beautiful mid-16th-century world…..Holdstock’s ability to paint strange and compelling characters and march them through wondrous and terrifying events leaves one not too concerned about tracing themes. As her title suggests, mysterious life spills beyond the boundaries of inquiry.”
The Globe and Mail
“Holdstock’s new novel, Beyond Measure, is a beautiful, unsettling tragedy about art, God, superstition, morality and, above all, vanity……..Painting her prologue in bold, elegant brushstrokes, Holdstock deftly introduces the central characters. The pace and mood of her writing are sombre but unrelenting. It’s like watching a runaway train round a bend toward imminent danger…A master of pace, she pulls the skin of this novel as tight as a drum so that you can feel chaos in the offing but don’t know what it is until it’s on top of you…The clockwork Holdstock has so meticulously wound up now comes undone with the suddenness of an alarm going off. Fortunately for us, the author maintains this pace until the final pages of the book, and beyond. These cruel, vainglorious and all too human characters will burrow into your psyche for a long while to come.
This well-executed novel can sit comfortably on any bookshelf alongside work by writers like A.S. Byatt and Jane Urquhart.”
The Vancouver Sun
“In Beyond Measure, Holdstock has created a fascinating portrayal of a society obsessed with surfaces, which sees the creation of beauty as ample justification for torture, mutilation, and murder.”
Books in Canada
“Propelled by Holdstock’s evident anger — and the parallels she draws with today’s bioengineers — Beyond Measure (that is, what should not be measured) is a powerful story.”
“The book’s exploration of passion, jealousy and ambition is underlaid by riveting, macabre descriptions of human dissections witnessed by its artist protagonists. Holdstock’s vivid, unflinching tale doesn’t sugarcoat the casual brutality of the period, and is punctuated by startling moments of beauty”
“What stays with the reader is the evocative beauty of Holdstock’s prose, her skill at detailing gesture, mood, and perception, her gift for creating characters whose relationships are dramatic rather than static.”
Books in Canada
“Pauline Holdstock’s first novel is a brilliant debut which examines questions of faith, meaning and power; her investigation of these issues is profound and beautifully paced, so that despite the intensity of the subject, the momentum of the narrative never falters, the evocation of place and time having an almost cinematic immediacy.”
The Times Literary Supplement
“The Blackbird’s Song presents real violence in its barest form. …. The bleakness of the author’s prose and the compressed power of her observation make this an extraordinary first novel on the interplay of anger, love, and duty.”
“It is a brilliant rendering of the collapse and regeneration of faith, of physical horrors of drought and political helplessness, and of a country in xenophobic upheaval. As a historical novel it belongs in the company of works by Oldenbourg, Graves, Caute, and Wiebe…”
The University of Toronto Quarterly
“Delicate, chilling … packed with enormous tension”
The Globe & Mail
“Each of the seven voices is handled with grace and percipience, and so when the inevitable tensions between priest and tribe occur, they are thankfully complex and ambiguous. … The reader is left with a sense of contentious intuitions, a sense of spirits bleaching dreams out of darkness.”
Quill & Quire
“a delightfully funny look at our eternal search for belonging….Holdstock is a captivating and wryly humorous writer….[she] has created a complex world in House. her characters are vivid and engaging, their relationships intriguing and humorous. This is a highly entertaining novel, whose richness of theme and language make it worth a second read.”
The Malahat Review
“black humour, sparse but striking metaphors, and dead-on characterization….The cumulative effect is similar to that of a poem sequence; images recur, scenes echo one another and coalesce into psychological truth.”
Books In Canada
“As an allegory of the present, as a bitter satire of the extended family under triumphant capitalism, House is graphically intense and too disturbingly familiar… It is not a book that a reader will easily forget.”
University of Toronto Quarterly
“Such is the new order of the universe in the house of the future, where nothing is ever the same except for the familiar and inescapable resonances of history. A complicated and unique novel, pulled off brilliantly…”
The Glebe Report
“Every word is carefully chosen, each sentence is gracefully structured, each story offered to intrigue, delight, confound or startle.
Though Holdstock’s subject matter is often stark and brutal, her elegant, ethereal prose turns raw reality into art.”
The Vancouver Sun
“tackles the big issues, particularly life and death , and tackles them from a variety of angles…. remarkably dense in imagery and ideas and incredibly varied in tone and style. Many strategies are offered as ways to swim from the flames or to transcend a fear of death to an acceptance of it as an essential part of living. Most solutions are profoundly simple…We simply have to read this collection of stories.”
“Pauline Holdstock moves the focus relentlessly in on the solitary soul. . . the midnight questions are asked bravely. . .[She] takes the raw protean matter of myth and guides it sensuously into new forms.” NeWest Review
“Everything is handsomely pieced together, moving inexorably toward the end, without being contrived…. it assumes the same kind of beauty as whitecaps on the sea.”
“…could make a tremendously moving film.”
The Georgia Straight
“The Turning is perhaps most compelling because, throughout the book, Holdstock is a master of understatement. Guiding the reader through shipwreck and revolution, she holds back details that could otherwise make this story too much like a made-for-TV movie with tragedy at each turn.
… The effect is powerful, and leaves the reader with much to chew on.”
“The Turning is Pauline Holdstock’s fifth book of fiction, her fourth novel. With it, she proves herself to be an expert in the form….[She] has been very successful at creating a novel that interweaves character and historical setting… such a novel of vivid characters, passionate action and dramatic setting really begs to be made into a sweeping period film, one in which Demi Moore must not be allowed to star.”
“The Turning is written lace, each line carefully hooked into place. Pauline Holdstock’s style is disciplined and refined, yielding a painterly novel of emotions and vividly drawn characters, yet firmly controlling even the most passionate scenes….
History provides the denouement of the story and the unravelling of all their lives. Destinies unfold in deft plot turns, as Paris rolls and sways in a storm of class warfare. And the writing retains its strength of style, gaining pace and tension in the dangerous web of the ungoverned city…. Delicately written, skillfully constructed, The Turning is elliptical when needed, passionate when the story requires it. Pauline Holdstock is a writer we should be hearing more about.”
“The communard rebellion in Paris and its brutal repression by government forces changes the lives of Janik and her mother Elisa forever. Excluded from a convent by nuns jealous of her intense visions, excluded from humanitarian service because of her impractical lack of hypocrisy, Janik takes up with the communards. Her father, who attempted to profit from the rebellion is killed senseless. her husband, who Janik does not love, becomes a scapegoat for fools. Elisa survives by embracing duty over love. There are no easy choices. The clear prose is punctuated by moments of intense visions. Instead of freeing its characters, the book’s great passion destroys them, leaving them in an exact mirror of 1870s France, only th shelter of the roes of the roles given by tradition and duty. Lyrical. Brutal. Life affirming.”
Hundred Mile Review