Published: February 11, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Highly Recommended for readers who can handle more emotionally-charged fiction
Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.
Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still 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, more and more estranged from her posh parents, 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 Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she 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.
Let's start this off with the obvious point of this book. This is not an "upper" book. I've been reading quite a few Jazz Age books and, chronologically, this falls at the beginning of that time period. However, I can't put this book in the same group. For one thing, most of the other books were set in the United States, which had a much different World War I experience than England, where Wake is set. Also, unlike those other Jazz Age books, Wake is a novel that looks to the past instead of to the future.
I write that all not as a complaint, but as an explanation. You see, this book is about loss and lack of closure. The women here--Hettie, Evelyn, and Ada--have all found themselves in a sort of limbo. Each had a man or boy close to them in the War and they are not dealing with the of the conflict. Hope does an exquisite job of conveying the anguish these women experience, even though each expresses it in a different way.
I do wish that Hope had started to tie the three storylines together sooner in the book. I spent much of the first third a bit detatched from the book because I couldn't find anything to anchor the different narratives together. That being said, I was blown away by the prose in this book. As this is Hope's first book, I am anxiously waiting to read more from her. I don't normally do this in a review, but I wanted to include a short excerpt. I found this passage not only moving, but a perfect picture of what this book is all about:
"This might make people feel better, and it might help them to mourn. It may even help me. But it won't put an end to war. And whatever anyone thinks or says, England didn't win this war. And Germany wouldn't have won it, either."
"What do you mean?"
"War wins." He says. "And it keeps on winning, over and over again."
He draws a circle in the air with his cigarette, and it's as if he is drawing all of the wars, however many thousands of them, all of the wars past and all of them to come.
"War wins," he says bitterly, "an anyone who thinks any differently is a fool."
This is a moving and impressive debut novel and one that I would recommend to anyone who can handle more emotionally heavy fiction.
I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program. I was encouraged, but not required, to write an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.