Salvaging the Flotsam – Julie Hearn’s Wreckers

Cover image to Julie Hearn's Wreckers

Cover image to Julie Hearn's Wreckers

I’ve been reading a proof copy of the forthcoming Julie Hearn novel, Wreckers, which marks a slight change in direction for her. The last few novels (Ivy, Rowan the Strange) have, amongst other things, covered the idea of remaking identity and are excellent, if challenging, reads. In this novel, she appears to move into Susan Cooper territory through her focus on a group of children in Cornwall.

A box comes ashore when a ship is wrecked on the coast of Pat Zannon. Given the lord of the Manor, it’s contents wreak havoc and is locked away in the walls to be forgotten. As a dare, a group of teenagers decide to sleep in the Manor at Halloween. Drinking cider and exploring, they come across the strange box.  Their quiet, sheltered lives are changed when Connor Blue, the American heart-throb, comes to make a film about Cornish wreckers.

The creature, cared for by Gurnet, shows the post-Attack apathy. The world of Port Zannon gives way to Cornwall which is still sealed of from the rest of England. In her setting, Hearn comes back to the repetition of ancient within modern, reflecting on Pandora’s Box rather than the Arthurian mythos that Cooper used in the ‘Dark is Rising’ sequence.

Rather than dealing with the politics of the body and the individual (though identity and sanity), she is reflecting on a wider sense of hopelessness in these days of cuts. Rather than acting as individuals, the gang of friends need to come together to make any sense of what is happening to the world around them. I was strongly reminded of Elizabeth Hand‘s Glimmering, an apocalyptic novel in more ways than one (though not YA – it is great though) or perhaps Gwyneth Jones‘s Matter of Britain sf novels.

Hearn’s feminism is still a driving force in the book with her wry observations on Jenna, bent on making Connor Blue her beau, and a pink dress. (The outcome is very much worthy of a wry smile.) Dilly is the one person who keeps calm and carries on, discovering what is really happening and the underlying story. Hearn develops different readings of Pandora’s Box and perhaps also the character of Eve, subtly challenging the view that the world’s evils were brought about by women. She does not offer pat answers but encourages the reader to think the issues through and to realise, as perhaps Will Stanton does in the Dark is Rising, the older myths can only be changed for their times, they are not static.

That is not to say that there are no issees with the book. I felt that there were a couple of “get out of jail” free cards played with one of the back stories to link it together. In all though, this is a thought provoking read.

Julie Hearn

Wreckers (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011, £6.99 paperback, 9780192729293)

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