The Wilding by Maria McCann is a novel (originally published in 2010) set during the early 1670s (with some events having previously occurred during the English Civil Wars). Jonathan Dymond, the twenty-six-year-old protagonist of the novel, is a cider maker who makes his living by travelling from place to place turning people’s apple harvests into cider (the popular alcoholic drink).
His uncle Robin has recently died and Jon soon finds himself visiting his proud and stern Aunt Harriet, who lives in the large house she shared with her husband. Aunt Harriet is quite a scary character (I came away with a new word added to my vocabulary – “virago” – a perfect word for Aunt Harriet) and she presides over a house in which she employs more servants than is truly necessary. One of these is a young woman named Tamar, to whom Jon finds himself strangely gravitating towards – despite the fact that she has a bad reputation and is quite wild. Uncle Robin died with a very heavy conscience and what follows is a mystery that has significant consequences for Jon and those he loves.
This was the first novel by Maria McCann that I have read, and this book has been on my “To Be Read” list for some years (I distinctly remember a very large poster for it at Victoria Station in London when I did my regular commute from Balham to Kensington Palace), and it has been on my shelf for at least three years. I hope to read McCann’s debut novel, As Meat Loves Salt, about which I have heard very good things.
Several reviews of The Wilding state that the beginning is “slow”, but I disagree – McCann set the scene very well and to do this takes time. I found the prose simple but nevertheless powerful, and the plot itself grew progressively darker until it went into full-on taboo territory. Some bits were disturbing, but that I believe was the point, which culminated in a bittersweet ending and Jon’s transformation from naive young man into a man. I found Jon a very likeable character, and the secondary characters were all well-drawn and convincing.
I didn’t want to put this book down. Beautiful, moving, thought-provoking.
TSCL rating: 4.5/5