Wrecker by Noel O’Reilly – REVIEW
Shipwrecks are part of life in the remote village of Porthmorvoren, Cornwall. And as the sea washes the bodies of the drowned onto the beach, it also brings treasures: barrels of liquor, exotic fruit, the chance to lift a fine pair of boots from a corpse, maybe even a jewel or two.
When, after a fierce storm, Mary Blight rescues a man half-dead from the sea, she ignores the whispers of her neighbours and carries him home to nurse better. Gideon Stone is a Methodist minister from Newlyn, a married man. Touched by Mary’s sacrifice and horrified by the superstitions and pagan beliefs the villagers cling to, Gideon sets out to bring light and salvation to Porthmorvoren by building a chapel on the hill.
But the village has many secrets and not everyone wants to be saved. As Mary and Gideon find themselves increasingly drawn together, jealousy, rumour and suspicion is rife. Gideon has demons of his own to face, and soon Mary’s enemies are plotting against her.
“A wreck is a queer purging, when compass reckonings go awry and Nature shakes the world out of order and time out of joint.”
Thank you to Joe at HQ Stories for sending me a stunning finished copy of Wrecker to review and also for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. If you’re interested in following the blog tour, tomorrow’s post will be over at Fantastic Book Dragon. I first became interested in this book when I saw the cover on Goldsboro Books. I will read anything to do with smuggling and wrecking in Cornwall so, combined with the comparison to Daphne du Maurier, Wrecker became one of my most anticipated releases of the summer. I’m thrilled to say it didn’t disappoint my high expectations.
“Why must we cage our feelings and not let them out? This land lives in me, is in my soul.”
The first chapter throws the reader into the horror of a shipwreck and the local wreckers who strip the ship and the corpses of their valuables. Where there is sometimes an air of romance about smuggling and wrecking, here the author doesn’t make it more palatable for the reader, and it felt all the more authentic for that. The wider moral outrage that stems from the community’s wrecking leads to Methodist Minister Gideon Stone arriving in the village to ‘save’ it. The insulated community of Porthmorvoren is driven by a pervasive poverty and sense of injustice at the recently imposed duties and it’s easy to sympathise with them. The clash between the community and wider society explores the hypocrisy of religion and the divide between the rich and poor in the nineteenth century.
“Once I was higher up on the moor, I could see halfway round the world. It made me wish I was a man so I could sail the seven seas and be out of sight of all those prying eyes.”
The main character of Mary Blight was wonderfully complex and at times morally ambiguous. Her desperation for something more combined with her refusal to conform to what the village expects from women creates the building tension of the story. The engaging writing style meant I read this book in one sitting as each time I finished a chapter I ended up reading another. Incorporating Cornish dialect into the dialogue added a layer of vivid richness to the story, highlighting the harsh yet beautiful setting. If you’re looking for an evocative and fascinating historical fiction book then I highly recommend this one.