Wreaking by James Scudamore

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Wreaking by James Scudamore

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Patricia Duffaud
Reviewed by Patricia Duffaud
Summary: An elegant, hypnotic novel about three characters who struggle to communicate and to understand their shared past, which centres around a traumatic event in an abandoned mental hospital.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 389 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Vintage Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099523857

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A derelict mental hospital, gloomy railway arches, the bleak countryside of the English coast. It all comes at us in grey flashes. If Wreaking was a film, it would saturated with cool tones. It’s an easy novel to visualise: Scudamore’s spare, elegant style creates an almost palpable atmosphere.

The main characters, Jasper Scriven and his daughter Cleo, are estranged. Their difficult relationship is based on painful past events, which for most of the book we can only guess at. Their attempts at communication have us holding our breaths. Indeed, the intricacies of the father-daughter relation are the most gripping elements of this novel. Each tentative telephone conversation is like a battle between them. There are no screaming rows but silence proves to be as important as words and is certainly more threatening. It is easy to relate to both characters. Both are loners; they have a self-sufficiency which is close to harshness yet is laced with vulnerability. But it’s Cleo who we fear for during the phone conversations and during the flashbacks to the past.

The flashbacks take us to Wreaking, the derelict psychiatric hospital which Scriven bought when Cleo was a child and where he continues his reclusive existence. Roland and Oliver, who were teenage friends of Cleo’s when she lived at Wreaking, were also affected by events there.

In particular, Roland, a hulking man who works for seedy characters in a labyrinth of railways arches, is still haunted by what happened. We follow him around the rainy London streets, tortured by his thoughts and uncomfortable in his large body. In fact the other characters are constantly aware of their bodies too - Scriven needs an oxygen mask to breathe and Cleo often fiddles with her glass eye.

If the bodies cause discomfort, mental health looms large over the characters, which is unsurprising in a novel featuring an old psychiatric hospital. As the story unveils in complex layers, we realise that nothing is definite. Sanity, memory and identity prove unstable. The structure of the novel, told in a mix of flashbacks and of present and past tenses, mirrors this.

Wreaking is a rewarding book. It may not be an easy read for some but it explores vital themes and the mystery surrounding the life-changing event which happened at Wreaking will keep readers engaged. The cool beauty of the writing lingered with me long after I had finished the book.

For more by this author, try Heliopolis, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009.

Buy Wreaking by James Scudamore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wreaking by James Scudamore at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Wreaking by James Scudamore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wreaking by James Scudamore at Amazon.com.


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