Book Review: WAKE

I am becoming pagan, Fraser wrote, that first winter. Here, in this muddy brown monotony, where blood’s the only colored thing. There is no God here, only the moon and the sky. 

And so I have made a pact with the moon. On clear nights she will bring me to you.” Anna Hope, WAKE

Publisher Synopsis:

Anna Hope’s brilliant debut unfolds over the course of five days, as three women must deal with the aftershocks of World War I and its impact on the men in their lives.

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

My Recommendation:

It is a rare thing when I read a three hundred page novel in two sittings, but I did so for WAKE.

The story is a bit difficult to grasp at first; it introduces three women who are strangers, each living in the wake of WWI, bearing their losses, their shell shock, their injuries to body and soul as the thousands of others in London do. But as the novel progresses, the circles of the women begin to overlap and to intersect in startling ways, drawing ever closer to a dramatic and perfect conclusion.

WAKE is rendered on a faraway, dream-like setting at times, and so specific at others, it almost makes one want to hold the book away, and then bring it back in close, like the dance in which its characters move. It is a novel that makes the reader laugh and cry, sentences apart, and inspires those moments where one must look up to process the truths contained in its pages.

WAKE is a novel that begs to be discussed, and I wish I could form a little book club with Janet Somerville, the writer who gave this book to me as a gift, and the author, Anna Hope, who possesses a wisdom beyond her years. At the very least, I will recommend it to all of the book clubs I visit.

Fans of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan and Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE will love WAKE, perhaps even more than those two books because of the superb, utterly perfect ending that leaves the reader in that strange in-between place of complete satisfaction and yearning for more. WAKE is one of the finest books I’ve read in 2014, and I give it my highest recommendation.



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