Title: The Wrong Child
Author: Barry Gornell
21 of 22 children in a rural village die in a disaster. By chance, the ‘wrong’ child, Dog Evans, lives. Crippled with survivor’s guilt, his parents abandon Evans to a feral life at the margins. He is shunned by those left behind, for whom his presence is a daily insult, a reminder of unbearable loss.
We learn what took place and its shocking consequences, both for Dog Evans and the wider community. Gornell’s forensic gaze dissects the lives of the bereaved, fractured relationships and existences frozen the day their children died… Deborah Cutter, separated from her husband John, numbs her pain with alcohol and sex. Local postman Nugget holds tight to the hope that the Evans house contains valuable secrets. Parish priest Father Wittin is an embarrassing irrelevance… As grief turns to rage, the villagers’ insatiable desire for catharsis in the form of one final blood sacrifice becomes unstoppable.
The master of ‘rural noir’, Barry Gornell has created a mesmerising, heartbreaking examination of rural life with a remarkable note of hope within the darkness.
The Wrong Child is a dark and at times uncomfortable novel which I finished not knowing quite how to feel about it!
The story itself is pretty harrowing – a young boy, Douglas (unaffectionately known as ‘Dog’) Evans, is left as the only survivor after a horrible incident kills all the other children in his class. You might think he’d be cherished even more, as the one survivor, but his unpopularity prior to the event means that the rest of the village do NOT take this well.
The Wrong Child a story of conflicting emotions, or at least for me – at times I felt desperately sorry for Dog, whilst at others I myself felt frustrated by, or disgusted in, his behavior. Nothing can justify the way the villagers behaved though – truly shocking.
The narrative also moves back and forwards in time, showing the reader more and more about what really happened, and I always find myself really drawn to novels like t his. There’s plenty of suspense, and I don’t really want to give anything crucial away so I’ll just say that Barry Gornell manages to create a tense, heavy atmosphere which intrigued me. It’s not an easy or ‘enjoyable’ read as such – and I imagine this would only be amplified more if you had kids yourself (I do not) – but it will stick with you long after you finish it, which is the mark of a great writer!
Many thanks to Orion for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.