I’m very happy to report that I hunted down this book through the Calgary Public Library system after reading and enjoying a review of it from Marcie at Buried in Print, perhaps one of the best-read people in the world (those of you who follow her blog know I’m not exaggerating, she reads hundreds of books a year). From the Wreck by Jane Rawson is an award-winning work of science fiction and historical fiction, a unique blend of two genres we don’t often see, but came together quite well in this novel. The fantastic cover offers a hint of the wonder you’ll experience once you dive into the pages, otherworldly creatures being just one of the entertaining pieces of this story.
In 1859, George Hills finds himself on a sinking ship smashed to pieces by a rogue wave. He clings to the wreckage for eight days, miraculously surviving along with just a handful of people. He credits his survival to a creature that transformed itself into a woman, wrapping her body over his and keeping it warm for that hellish week, but he doesn’t tell anyone about this, sure that he would be committed for insanity if he told the truth. Instead he moves on with his life, marrying his sweetheart and having three kids. Things move along fairly normally for awhile, but his oldest boy Henry has a strange birthmark on his back that he treats like another person, pretending to feed it, and have conversations with it. Through the chapters told in his perspective, we learn that this birthmark does indeed speak to Henry, although it’s a telepathic kind of communication. There is a small group of characters external to this family that we also meet, each circling around George’s internal struggles and Henry’s odd behaviour, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering. There are even a few chapters told from the perspective of the creature that found George on the shipwreck, continuing to haunt him years after the seaside tragedy that leads to even further tragedy for this unfortunate family.
There is a fine line between science fiction and horror in this book. George is literally horrified by what he did in those 8 days awaiting rescue. Although the book doesn’t dwell upon it, or even describe it in great detail, he did resort to cannibalism to survive, and it’s something that lurks just beneath the surface of his psyche. He is convinced that this creature (taking female form most often) was the downfall to him losing his soul in that wreck, which prompted him to eat another person’s flesh, therefore condemning him to a life lived in guilt and shame. If we didn’t get these chapters written from Henry’s perspective and the creature’s perspective, it would be easy to view George’s actions and symptoms of that of PTSD only, which although he is clearly suffering from as well, he is also overtaken with the idea of trying to hunt down this creature again, if only to beg her to leave him alone.
It is suggested that she could be many things; an alien from space, a sea siren that lives underwater, even a centuries-old octopus that’s supremely intelligent, squeezing into tiny crevasses to hide itself for decades at a time. His search for redemption is a storyline that sits entirely on its own, not requiring any science fiction to make it believable, but Rawson has expertly woven in this creature’s perspective, which adds another dimension to an already engaging storyline.