Barry Gornell – The Wrong Child (4 stars)

Barry Gornell – The Wrong Child (Orion)

Vivid portrayal of small-town life where retribution is the only adequate means of catharsis

At its core, Barry Gornell's The Wrong Child is a novel that centres on a horrific tragedy in which a school building collapses, leading to the death of 21 children. But under the surface lies a deeply unsettling tale of loss, abandonment and revenge, where the situation is impossibly complex, and the dichotomy between good and evil, blurred.

As the only surviving child of the tragedy, Dog Evans is universally shunned; a problematic burden to his parents and a reminder to the villagers of their suffering and loss. With seven years having passed, the novel flits backwards and forwards in time, with the present being occupied by bereaved parents and the past moving towards the events of the disaster itself, gradually unravelling pieces of information about each child and their broken community.

The climax of the novel is gripping and carefully built up by Gornell, whose vivid portrayal of small-town life presents an interesting study on the ramifications of grief. He ultimately succeeds in depicting a pressure cooker environment in which retribution is the only adequate means of catharsis for a community consumed by their darkness.

Out now.

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