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.

4 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.

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