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The Wreaking of the title of James Scudamore's novel is a vast disused mental hospital on the south coast, close to a bleakly fading seaside town. After its closure, Wreaking is bought by Jasper Scriven, an unstable, grieving single father, who brings his troubled teenage daughter Cleo with him to live in the eerie isolation of empty hospital wards and endless echoing corridors. But what happened at Wreaking to estrange them, and what horrific accident resulted in the loss of Cleo's eye? Why, years later, is the adult Cleo being stalked by Roland, a petty criminal who works for a grotesquely seedy, sinister boss, living in a dankly threatening storage unit under a railway arch? And what of Wreaking's former inmates and staff? Mona and Carole both frequented Wreaking in the past, and are now living in a rundown guest house - but which was the nurse and which was the patient?

As you may have guessed, Wreaking is far from a barrel of laughs: it is, in fact, one of the bleakest novels I've read in a long time. Filled with a powerful, pervasive air of decay and degeneration - both physical and mental - it gave me a sense of profound unease. That isn't to say it isn't an exceptional novel - it is. It's a beautifully crafted book that is made all the more unsettling by the quality of Scudamore's prose, a well-proportioned mix of the poetic and the deliberately and depressingly mundane. The use of language, the awkwardly off-kilter characters and the ever-present air of dread that hangs over the entire novel reminded me of Nicola Barker's Darkmans, or Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, and those aren't comparisons I would make lightly.

Wreaking flits between each character's past and present, piecing together the connections between them. At one time or another, they all inhabited Wreaking - or perhaps it inhabited them. Each of them is an irreparably damaged individual, and Wreaking appears to be a remarkably damaging environment. For all its work to cure the insane when it was a functioning psychiatric hospital, once closed down Wreaking seems to breed madness, the crumbling building and its overgrown grounds feeding off the mental deterioration of everyone who comes into contact with it, from the deluded Jasper and the fearful, lonely Cleo to awkward, shambling Roland and his sadistic troublemaker of a friend, Oliver.

The story of Jasper, Cleo and Roland is gradually untangled through a non-linear plot structure that at times feels like a slowly developing nightmare in which unspeakable terrors are always around the corner, but nonetheless always unseen: everything Scudamore withholds is every bit as significant as what he reveals.

All this said, from an entirely subjective point of view, I would be hard-pushed to say I enjoyed reading Wreaking, and there were times when I almost decided not to finish it. I suspect, however, that this has a lot more to do with my personal state of mind than the novel itself; it deals with a number of topics I find difficult to read about. It's a remarkable book, however, and it's hard to find fault with its incredibly skilled construction.
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Unbalanced teacher Jasper Scriven buys Wreaking with his dead wife's money, intending opening a private school. Years later, Wreaking is a decrepit, Gothic decomposing skeleton of a building that became used as a mental institution 'a golden age of asylum architecture' with 3,000 potential inmates and facilities that would be ideal for mental disorders! A railway line, graveyard and surgical procedures lie there awaiting inmates. Frontal lobotomy a choice? Scriven now is totally unhinged, spending his days dragging his oxygen cylinder behind him with his chronic lung disorder like a golf caddy with decaying clubs as a reflection of yesteryears but no chance of recovery nor regaining glory. His estranged daughter Cleo is a successful news editor in London who filters the dirt from news to make it more commercially attractive to readers. Unbeknowns, she is being monitored by Roland, a hulking silent figure who lives in the shadows of wheel-chair bound Victor and his half-brother Oliver, running a criminal fraternity who operate within seedy railway arches near a nightclub. Victor is evil personified.

After laying graphic groundwork with prosaic descriptions of Wreaking, James Scudamore steps up another gear in the latter pages of the book as the relationships between the protagonists are taken back in time and the ponderings and uncertainties become clear and revealed. Oliver is the mystery man of the novel and heavily involved with activities. He attracts the most interest and realism. There is much to deliberate on in this book. The foundations that the author has layered will, I suspect, produce divided opinions and comments. This was memorable enough for me and I enjoyed the atmosphere the narrative generated and the unravelling of the mysteries behind Wreaking and the characters, yet the 'wham' factor only came later. There is obviously method in madness even if painfully drawn out.
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on 5 November 2013
I loved this book.

It takes place in the decommissioned ruins of a mental asylum (Wreaking), and the setting sets the tone of the whole book. Ex-teacher Jasper Scriven takes his daughter Cleo to live there, with high hopes of exorcising the residuum of madhouse by transforming it into a school. Expect Havoc.
If you're after brilliantly dark, disturbed backdrops then Wreaking is one for you.

You won't put it down. Not much happens though - there is a nasty accident that underpins a large part of the action - but it's the characters that will draw you in and keep you there. Cleo, in particular, is vividly evoked but you'll get uncomfortably close to all sorts of other unsavory characters who do bad things to her/themselves/each other.

The book is one slow drip of discomfort after another but it's written with heart. And it's addictive. You'll give it to everyone.
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Wreaking has some of the best scene setting I've ever encountered. I wasn't just reading the book I was there walking those long hospital corridors in the company of the 'ever so slightly insane' Jasper Scrivens. He staggers through the carnage of the hospital, it's a huge place, with only his regrets, an oxygen cylinder and dreams of people long departed. Nothing disturbs the old man as he wanders alone inside the wreckage of his dreams. He haunts the building, filling it's already fetid atmosphere with his own growing insanity.

At the core of Jasper's madness is an event from some years ago involving his daughter, Cleo, and it's something so powerful it reaches out from the past to infect the present for them both. Cleo seems, on the surface, happy, healthy, securing a life for herself with as little contact with Jasper as possible but; why is she being stalked by a real bad guy, Roland, part of a criminal fraternity?. What's the link?.

The author is so busy building the atmosphere, and he does it brilliantly, there's hardly any plot. Not much happens. That's the point. It's all about the power of the Wreaking and it's impact upon the characters. That dreadful, decommissioned asylum is the star of the show and it has a long memory and a long reach. There are some excellent Gothic twists and turns. The opening chapters are incredibly eerie and set the scene perfectly for what's to come.

The author opens up the plot towards the end of the novel and all is revealed. There are no loose ends and few surprises just a satisfactory conclusion that ambled towards what I'd already decided for myself.

Wreaking is extremely odd and very quirky. It's also addictive. Nothing here is straight forward and the road through the book is long and slow. I'm a fan of dark fiction and enjoy most things Gothic. It certainly hit the spot for me.
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on 23 August 2013
I will admit from the start, that I have only read half of this book, but in a way that is my point. The story lost my interest as I couldn't really see a story, and it wasn't for trying on my half. I wanted to like it, I really did. I liked the idea about a story based around an old mental asylum on the south coast. Yet it flittered and flew all over the place, like a pigeon that may have been trapped in the aforementioned asylum. My problem lies with the fact that I think I could see what the author is trying to do with it, but it could use some strand that keeps it all moving, as well as the readers interest.

For all I know it could improve in the second half, and start to make some sense, but at that halfway point I needed to read something with more substance, not a collection of chapters around the different characters, who are obviously all linked, but I felt was going nowhere. I became frustrated with having to hold on to snippets of information that the earlier chapters had given, in the hope that they would all start to piece together at some stage, which Im sure they will do somewhere in the book, but unfortunately for me, way too far ahead.

The books saving grace that kept me going as far as I did, is its use of some beautiful prose, such as "waves break beyond the beach-house clapboard of the banister slats" and "he can smell the river - mineral mud, saline and kelpy". So very descriptive and in its way, poetical. Maybe this is what the author is looking to evoke with this book, feelings, memories, sights and sounds that relate more than just an A to B story, and in its way it achieves this, so don't let me put you off, you may get further than I did, I hope you do, as the book has left me feeling like I did when I failed my O level English, disappointed in myself for not trying harder. I have a feeling that at some stage in the future, I may return to have a go at the second half, as I did with the O level.
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on 31 October 2013
Distinctions between human and object are masterfully unpicked and re-arranged in this book, as the author introduces individuals bound together by a complex weave of shared history and love. The omniscient presence that has an almost supernaturally patriarchal hold over these disparate characters is the labyrinthine ruin, Wreaking. As the book progresses the decaying building seems to leach its very materials into the flesh of its current and previous owners, with stunningly detailed descriptions of the entropic breakdown of bricks and mortar.
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on 22 January 2014
The overlying metaphor of the ruined asylum in a decayed seaside town looms over all the events in this book of severely troubled lives of a group of inter-relating characters. This novel draws the reader into a liminal world where assumptions are repeatedly overturned. Who is mad and who is sane? Who is threatening and who is protectively caring? Where is safety to be found? This is a disturbing novel with a vivid sense of place. Is the old asylum safer than the city streets? Havoc is everywhere, including within the reader's perceptions.
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on 2 December 2013
I loved this author's previous work, Heliopolis. But whereas Sao Paolo was all light and dust, this is a novel of dampness and darkness. Scudamore's style remains thrilling, his imagination terrifying - at times taking you to uncomfortable places. It is a piece about memory and the ghosts that haunt it, as a place is haunted by all who have passed through it. The titular asylum, Wreaking, is its inhabitants' Elsinore - a claustrophobic nutshell where disparate characters are bonded. Although on any level a 'serious' work it is also hugely enjoyable to get lost in. The gloom is dispersed by the author's prose, illuminating the corridors with flashes of wit. Very much recommended, all told.
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on 13 November 2013
I loved this book. I have read James Scudamore's other books with much enjoyment, but this one is his best. The highly atmospheric main setting is the crumbling asylum purchased as a potential school, and its quirky architecture and overgrown grounds are the perfect background for the curious and sometimes disturbing characters who move in and out of it: the owner, Jasper Scriven, his lightly-drawn but clearly realised pathetic girlfriend, his daughter Cleo, who has lost an eye in a mysterious accident which underpins the whole novel, and her delinquent friends and their families. It held my attention from the first page to the last.
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The opening to this novel immediately caught my attention with its sharp description, promisingly original setting and subject matter. Here, in these early pages, the writing is lucid and tightly controlled. At some point - it's hard to identify exactly where - I felt the focus became increasingly blurred. I associate this shift with the entrance of Roland, who is to play an increasingly major role in the proceedings.

For me, the book is most fully alive when directly concerned with Jasper Scriven and Cleo, and the gradual unravelling of the past through their experiences and memories. Roland, Victor and Oliver never come alive for me with the same vibrancy.

Most of the horrors of psychiatric hospitals not so very long ago, have been well documented in fact and fiction. I find it difficult to place this novel qualitatively beside "The Bell Jar", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or "Regeneration". There is an interesting comment on the back cover claiming that Dickens and "Breaking Bad", in spirit if not literally, are influences. Here, perhaps, is my problem. Whilst the former seems to me probably the greatest novelist who has written in the English language, the second seems unspeakably crass and banal.

Clearly, there are those who have found this novel deeply affecting, a major achievement. I suspect there are others like myself, who felt progressively alienated from what seemed to promise much.
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