Noel O’Reilly’s debut novel, “Wrecker”, is a fusion of superstition, religious fervour and fractious love.
Set at the turn of the 19th century in Cornwall, the story follows Porthmorvoren resident Mary Blight.
Village life is harsh, with locals working together from dawn to dusk. But treasures wash ashore when ships strike the hazardous coastal rocks nearby. The village is a community of “wreckers”, and there is plenty ripe for plunder.
The book opens with a recent shipwreck, and Mary scanning the shore for what the tide has washed up. A ship doesn’t only carry goods, it carries people, and bodies and their material possessions are included in a wrecker’s remit. However, there are lessons to be learned when stealing from the dead . . .
The sea can also offer second chances.
One day when Mary is on the beach, she rescues a drowning man — Methodist minister Gideon Stone — who brings his own teachings to the villagers. But as Mary soon finds out, you can’t choose whom you fall in love with.
“Wrecker” hauntingly captures Gothic life in Penwith. “Time had stopped and God had turned his back on the world” in Mary’s world.
The characters are what makes the book stand out
The characters are what makes the book stand out for me. Mary and the other villagers are a close-knit bunch, and the reader quickly builds up an affinity with them, through the good and — often — unforgiving times.
Everyone knows everyone else’s business in Porthmorvoren, loyalty shifting at the turn of the tide. The superstitions the villagers hold close to them contrast well with their religious teachings; fear and forgiveness are never far apart.
“Wrecker” is a love story, and like all such stories, the book highlights the frailty of the human heart.
Yet what better location to fall in love than immersive, magical Cornwall?
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