Wrecked is the fourth title by the highly skilful writer Louisa Reid.
‘It’s true what Miss said at school
when we did Macbeth –
about the guilt,
There are some lines that blow a book wide open and, for Reid’s raw verse-novel Wrecked, this is the one. Just as all Neptune’s oceans could not wash Duncan’s blood clean from Macbeth’s hands, so too are Wrecked’s characters stained irrevocably crimson. But not just this, Imogen, the book’s dominant – if not main – character, is a fascinating type of Lady Macbeth. She is at the same time, the saddest victim and the most spiteful architect of the book’s deep tragedy.
The text tells the story – or perhaps stories (split across timelines and perspectives) – of Imogen and Joe, two love-struck teenagers who sink desperate claws into each other. Then, perhaps as only love-struck teenagers can, they drag each other down until (at someone else’s) death do they part. A fatal car crash involving the pair is the fulcrum of the book, with the story jumping between the build-up to it and its ensuing court case.
The central characters are what stay with the reader after the final pages of Wrecked. Joe undercuts and punctures the image of toxic masculinity that is both perceived by the jury he sits before and could so easily sit upon his six-foot-plus, football-captain shoulders. Instead, he remains a small child inside, wallowing, wondering, hoping that the world will be kinder to him. Imogen, on the other hand, is a force of nature, a monsoon that batters and tears apart all in its wake, but also which reduces itself with every gust. For all her needling and manipulation of Joe – and as he remarks at the end – her actions can all be seen as a desperately sad cry for help, one that is never heeded. Joe and Imogen shine so brightly that the supporting cast can often disappear in their glare. The dwarfing of other characters, particularly crash victim Stephanie, can sometimes feel problematic but it could be an intentional choice by Reid to show how Joe’s world constricts to include just Imogen and himself.
The choice of poetry as the medium through which to tell this story is an interesting one. Verse distils emotion, by capturing a moment or thought or feeling, it presents it at its rawest and most direct. Fascinating then, that the lyrical narrator is Joe. Like the archetypal teenage boy, he feels crashing thunderstorms but is pathologically incapable of expressing them. The poems mirror this, often seeming muted on the surface but with sharp spikes where lightning feelings rupture through.
The book has incredible confidence in the language it employs. It enjoys flitting around devices ranging from homophones (‘In the court room, the caught room’) and figurative comparisons (‘There’s no way out because these seconds are small and this car is so huge’), to switching word classes and sprinkling rhymes throughout the mostly blank verse. Even the variations in form are engaging; I was particularly taken by an early offering ‘Things That Have Been Broken’, which reads:
It is certainly a book for KS4 and above, with references to drinking, drugs and sex. Its pace makes it a book that teenagers will hurtle through, giving it real urgency, while the all-consuming emotions of first love make it relatable for the age group – either in reality or aspiration – and its edginess gives it the allure of contraband. It’s the perfect recipe for a book to take a class by storm.
In the end, it’s a story of redemption through finding, or rather reclaiming, yourself. While the consequences of choices can sometimes leave Shakespearean blood on your hands, as Joe says, ‘I know I can cry myself clean for a while,’ which, in the face of guilt, is perhaps the best that can be done.
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