BOOK CLUB: The Wreck

This is the second solo book by Meg Keneally and the first of her works that I have read.  Her first solo novel was Fled, and she has also co-authored two books with her father Tom Keneally (with a rumoured ten more to come!).

I loved the cover chosen for this work, the threatening seas, waves crashing on the huge cliffs, the windswept girl and the, by comparison, small boat battling to stay on course.  Even the title is wreathed in splashes of water and the writing looks like it has survived a storm.  Look even closer and you can see parts of what may be a letter, or writing in a journal, hiding within the stormy skies.  So evocative.

The tale itself, a skilful piece of historical fiction, introduces us to Sarah McCaffrey, daughter of skilled cloth artisans whose livelihoods have been jeopardized by the industrial revolution and the introduction of the cotton mills.  Forced into working at the mills in order to survive, struggling to put food on the table, and with a government that seemed to care little for the common person, the story opens on 16 August 1819 in Manchester England.  Today the people of the town are marching, laughing and singing to the open fields where they will be addressed by the great orator, Harold Hartford, supported by Delia Burns, founder of the local Female Reform Society, a group to which Sarah and her mother Emily belong.

On arrival at the designated place, Hartford and Burns ascend the makeshift stage and Hartford begins to speak.  He is only a few words in when the unthinkable happens, the Magistrates, having deemed the gathering to be illegal, and afraid of what the gathering foretells, sends armed Yeomanry and Hussars into a peaceful unarmed crowd.  When the carnage is over, and dead and dying litter the field, Sarah finds her brother alive Sam, but her parents senselessly killed.

A chance meeting sees Sarah and Sam moving to London and embroiled in a plot to kill members of the government.  When things go wrong Sam is arrested, tried for treason and condemned to death.  Sarah manages to avoid detection, but now there is a price on her head.

She manages to obtain passage on a ship bound for Australia but a series of events including wild weather, a misunderstanding of the position of the lighthouse, and a ship held together with second-hand parts see it floundering on the rocks at the Heads.

When Sarah awakes in an infirmary she is stunned to discover that she is the sole survivor of the ship.  Alone, penniless, in a foreign country, but still with fire in her heart for the revolution to oust the English government, Sarah must now work out how to survive.

But the English arm of the law is long, and Sarah is still wanted for high treason. The arrival of one of the other participants in the failed coup in a convict chain gang confirms this.

Can Sarah escape the fate that awaits her if she is discovered and instead make a new life for herself as she finds there is more than one way to change the world?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; whilst we know that the industrial revolution changed most peoples’ lives for the better in the long term, it was very interesting to read a book from the perspective of a family that had lost their livelihood as a result of the mills and the impact it had on them.  I also enjoyed reading a book that addressed early settler life in Australia from neither the convict nor the free settler perspective.  Keneally describes an entirely different perspective on early settler life with strong believable characters from differing backgrounds trying to make a go in an often hostile new land.

Many thanks to Beauty and Lace book club and Echo publishing for the opportunity to read and review this book.  If you love historical fiction you are sure to love this book, highly recommended.

ISBN: 978-1-76068-620-8 / Copy courtesy of Echo Publishing

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Wreck by Meg Keneally. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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