BOOK CLUB: The Wreck

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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.

8 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Wreck

  1. The wreck is a story of people pushed to their limit by poverty and hunger. Set during a time when even a peaceful protest has deadly repercussions when the Crown’s yeomen intervene.
    Sarah McCaffrey is a strong female lead. She is not afraid to risk her life to fight for what she believes in.

    The story quickly moves from London to Sydney, New South Wales and we see that conditions are much the same as back in England. The rich are protected and prosper whilst the poor suffer and go hungry. We follow Sarah as she tries to fight for equality but not really knowing who to turn to or where to start. All avenues seem to lead to violence and bloodshed being the only answer.
    Set in the early 1800’s, Keneally paints a vivid picture of a growing Sydney with boarding houses, taverns, the busy harbour and the shanties and muddy streets of The Rocks.

    Through a mix of characters Meg Keneally shows the constant danger and degradation some women endured, selling their bodies on the street, to earn money to live a meagre life. In The Wreck strong women come in many forms and even when they are fighting the same fight as the men they are sneered at and looked down upon.

    Sarah is helped and taken under the wing of some kind people. Firstly the captain of the ship she escaped London on and then arriving in Sydney alone and penniless she is helped by business woman and philanthropist Mrs Thistle.
    Mrs Thistle is a remarkably drawn character and a key player in changing the lives of women through benevolence rather than violence.

    These strong women paved the way for more strong women to keep fighting to be heard, It, as we know, is a long fight through generations and I enjoyed reading Meg Keneally’s take on where it all started. 4.5 stars.

  2. A great read for lovers of Australian history. The book perfectly captured how dangerous a sea voyage to Australia would have been and beautifully recreated life in the fledging harsh new colony of New South Wales. Through out the book we get to see how hard life was for the new arrivals and the grit and determination required to forge a new life in distant shores. I loved the main character Sarah as she was so believable so down to earth and resourceful. As harsh as life is for her she does get to experience a greater degree of freedom and a better lifestyle upon arrival from London. All the women characters truly shine in the book and their stories make us appreciate the freedoms we now enjoy due to their hard work. An excellent book that kept me gripped from start to finish.

  3. A story that mixes love loss and politics. A way a young lady tries to run from her past after losing her brother makes her way onto a ship.
    I loved everything this book stands for it was very well written kept me enthralled the whole way through! Thankyou for the opportunity to read it.

  4. Meg Keneally’s book The Wreck has a stunning cover, rugged cliffs with a boat wallowing while a young lady is standing watching from a distance. The cover caught my eye and I hoped the book was as good as the cover.
    It was, it did not disappoint.
    Set in London in 1820, the story of a group plotting a rebellion goes wrong. Sarah found herself on the run from the Police and gets herself passage on a ship leaving the UK. It is bound for the colony of New South Wales.
    As the ship arrives in New South Wales, tragedy strikes and the ship sinks. Sarah is the only survivor. She takes the risk of assuming a new identity in her new homeland.
    Sarah begins a new life , but her past rears it’s head.
    There is heat break, a hard life to live but with the chance to begin anew, Sarah takes the risks.
    A wonderful book full of Australian history in the 1820’s and the lengths someone will go to to protect themselves.

  5. The Wreck, set in the early 1800’s, follows the life of Sarah McCaffrey who is left orphaned during a clash between armed forces and peaceful protestors, her parents objecting to the introduction of cotton mills which are putting their livelihoods at risk. Along with her brother Sam, Sarah continues quietly in the fight against the industrial revolution, however finds herself caught up in a plot to kill local government members. When the plot fails her brother is arrested, and Sarah flees London on a ship set for Australia.
    After the long passage, the ship finds itself floundering on the rocks at The Heads as it enters Sydney and Sarah awakes to find herself the sole survivor of the wreck and now has to figure out how to survive in a new world.

    An interesting historical fiction, it was interesting to read about the struggles of those affected by the industrial revolution, as well as painting a picture of life in the early days of Australian settlement. I did find some of the opinions expressed by certain characters a little difficult to reconcile against what would have been the pervailing beliefs of the day, particularly around race relations. While I beleive they are right, I felt like these thoughts were more those of the author than would have actually been felt by people living in those times. This made it a little hard to suspend belief and truly immerse myself in the story at times.

    Overall, if you enjoy reading tales of Australian history, you will really enjoy this book.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wreck. It was quite different to what I expected, but I loved the paths the story took and to learn that many of the aspects of the book were based on actual events.
    I truly felt for Sarah, that she was doing what she felt or was lead to believe was right, only to have to question herself and all that she had known and rethink things in this foreign land called Australia. We got only a smidge of what life may have been like in the early 1800s in the new colony, and I truly enjoyed the book.

  7. A high seas adventure, a renegade with the will to survive, grit, determination and overcoming adversity leads the charge in The Wreck. The second independent novel from Australian author Meg Keneally successfully recreates times gone by, when the world was adjusting to the changes brought by industrialisation and every day proved to be a fight to survive. Rich in historical fact, detail and inspired by true events, The Wreck is remarkable slice of fiction from Meg Keneally.

    The Wreck is a rich historical fiction composition, pulled from research and fact by author Meg Keneally. A smorgasbord of historical detail, compelling characters, enthralling settings and problems to overcome defines The Wreck. This is my second experience of Meg Kennelly’s work and I enjoyed it very much.

    Divided into two parts, which are both preceded by a series of notable quotes, The Wreck crosses from northern England, to London, with a stopover in Cape Town, while finally resting in New South Wales. Each location is vividly brought to life through the expert penmanship of Meg Keneally. We get a strong feel for the sights, sounds, smells, social practices, moral expectations and more from each destination. I appreciated my visit to all of the locations featured in The Wreck. However, what I valued the most from this novel was the opportunity to glean more from the history books, particularly the impact of industrialisation on the ordinary men, women and families of this time. It was incredibly detrimental, with poverty, homelessness and the sheer will to survive ruling all else. Keneally does a good job of illuminating this aspect of her tale for the reader.

    Strong characters populate The Wreck. This full bodied characterisation spreads right across the novel from the principal character of Sarah, right through to the various supporting cast. We often feel like a bystander during the events of The Wreck, standing alongside Sarah, Molly and the periphery characters of this novel. It feels as if Meg Keneally has taken her figures straight from the pages of history and injected life into these protagonists so we can connect, sympathise and revel in their escapades.

    In terms of the plot, readers will be satisfied with rich content and the fast moving pace of this novel. There was never a dull moment to be had and each new chapter brought about a change, problem, or advancement in the narrative. Keneally provides a good blend of adventure, action, danger, peril, friendship, love and satisfaction to her tale. I came away enjoying my sojourn into the past, thanks to the brilliant historical world building provided by Meg Kennelly. The Wreck is highly recommended, especially for keen eyed readers of historical fiction.

    *Thanks extended to Beauty and Lace Book Club/Echo Publishing for providing a copy of this book for review purposes.

  8. I dont always read a lot of historical fiction but this book reminded me why I should. I loved the differing stories and events taking place throughout Brtitian, and then the harrowing journey Sarah takes to get to Australia,,resulting in her being the only survivor of the ship wreck, and the opportunity this gives her to change herself and her life. It was a book full of adventure, action, love and friendship. The characters were developed well, I loved the relationship that developed between Sara/Molly and Mrs Thistle. The writing was fabulous!

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