Wrecker by Noel O'Reilly
I can't resist a trip into the dark and murky past of our forbears and Wrecker plunged me into the world of bygone coastal Corwall.
(I must admit the beautiful cover drew me in like a moth to a flame)
This is a take of poverty stricken fishing folk who often struggle to put another pilchard on the table and whom desperation makes reckless. These villagers live in crude hovels with naught to their names but the hand me down pagan beliefs they have inherited. They eke out the meagre living they try to sustain with fishing and farming, by scavenging goods which have been washed up from the many shipwrecks which occur in the area.
In this twisty tale of times gone by we meet Mary Blight, a feisty feckless heroine, who lives with her ailing Mam and her beloved sister. Mary wants to better herself and is about to seize any opportunity that comes her way, but she is apt to make a bad decision or two:
like the time she goes to the beach to see what pickings she can find following a shipwreck and impulsively pulls a pair of expensive boots from the body of a dead woman whose body has already been mutilated by a previous wrecker, an act she is to come to regret.
Like the time she gets very drunk at a village gathering and lifts her skirts to try and ensnare a man who is promised to someone else, alienating herself from her peers.
Like rescuing a man from drowning and the attachment she makes to this man she rescues from the sea. Gideon Stone, a married Methodist minister who, after his salvation at Mary's hands finds in himself a burning ambition to save the villagers of Porthmorven from their pagan superstitions and returns to build them a chapel where he can preach and save their souls.
Mary is a character I rooted for, yet didn't wholly like, she is cunning with a mercenary streak but seems to lack the sharpness of wit required to fully make the most of her opportunities. She treats people badly and her motives are sometimes unclear but mostly driven by greed and understandable dissatisfaction with her lot.
The book is a gripping historical story, with love at its core and secrets and superstition at its heart, yet it's as far removed from a regency romance as the characters are from the drawing rooms of polite society.
Atmospheric and rather dark its a great read for the lover of gritty historical fiction.
A powerful debut exploring the dark side of Cornwall – the wrecking and the drowned sailors – where poverty drove villagers to dark deeds…
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…
Gripping, beautifully written and utterly beguiling, Noel O’Reilly’s debut WRECKER is a story of love, injustice, superstition and salvation, set against Cornwall’s dark past.
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