“Twenty-one of the 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.
As the action moves from past to present and back, we learn what took place and its shocking consequences for both 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, 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.”
Oh. My. Gosh. Oh. My. Flipping. Gosh! I recently read a book which totally blew me away and surpassed every other read to make it to the number one spot on my ‘books of the year’ list. Little did I expect at the time that a similar thing would happen, only a month or so later! The Wrong Child by Barry Gornell is a book I have seen mentioned on only a small number of blogs. This is a travesty. More people need to read this exceptional book. More people need to immerse themselves in the dark and destructive world of Dog Evans and the broken people left behind.
On a fateful snowy day, the roof of the local school collapses killing everyone inside. Everyone except Douglas ‘Dog’ Evans. So many young lives snuffed out in the blink of an eye, children ranging in age from 5 to 12. How would you expect a small town of close-knit neighbours and friends to react to such a disaster? Lots of support, revering the lone survivor? Certainly not, not when the survivor is Dog Evans. Dog Evans is The Wrong Child. Of all the children to survive, why did it have to be him? Dog becomes the emblem of everything the town has lost, everything that’s missing and the reason why every single day hurts.
The reader meets Dog Evans some seven years later. No longer is he an adolescent thirteen-year-old but a young man, approaching his twentieth birthday. Dog has been abandoned by his parents, as a child, left to fend in every which way for himself. The sheer guilt of being Dog’s parents has driven them away. The reader questions the morality of Dog’s parents, Shep and Rebecca as they apparently willingly walk away from their one child. It’s only as you progress through the story that the author begins to give you snippets of information, glances into the past and expertly begins to build this small town’s painful story.
Each chapter is either set in the present day, seven years after the incident, or the past. The chapters set in the past focus on each of the children killed that day and the lead up to the tragedy. What I found incredibly eerie and unsettling was that each chapter is headed by a partially burnt photo of the child the chapter is about. This is a devastating tale in itself but these photos added so much more emotion for me. My heart ached for these fictional children. I was mesmerised.
The town is one hundred percent guilty and to watch these characters deal with that guilt in their differing ways was a riveting experience for me. The priest, Father Wittin, was a particularly interesting case (I can’t say any more, buy the book to find out what I’m on about!). A glance into the dark side of human nature…
Would I recommend this book? Oh my goodness, I will go on about this book for YEARS to come. It’s hypnotic and so beautifully dark. I was enchanted and disgusted in equal measure, it’s absolutely everything I want in a book. I am traumatised but I LOVED it. I could not put this book down, nor did I want to. Easily one of my books of the year (one for the books of all time list..?). I was left heartbroken that it was over. Absolute literary perfection!
Five out of five stars.
I chose to read and review an ARC of The Wrong Child. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.
The Wrong Child by Barry Gornell was published in the UK by Orion Books on 2nd November 2017 and is available in paperback, eBook and audio formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads |
Barry Gornell was born in Liverpool and now lives on the West Coast of Scotland. He is a novelist/screenwriter, ex fire-fighter, truck driver and bookshop manager. His short films Sonny’s Pride and The Race were broadcast on STV. Graduating from the University of Glasgow Creative Writing Masters programme in 2008, he was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Bursary in 2009. His short fiction has been published in The Herald newspaper, Let’s Pretend, 37 stories about (in)fidelity, Gutter 03 and Gutter 04. The Healing of Luther Grove was his first novel followed by The Wrong Child, which was originally published by Scottish press Freight Books in 2016.