Wake

I heard some wonderful news today.

Whilst perusing twitter, I was delighted to hear that there is a new book by the fantastic Anna Hope in the pipeline for February (it’s in the diary!) and it reminded me of this review I wrote for her beautiful debut Wake last year, but didn’t have anywhere to publish. Fortuitously, Hayley suggested I join her over on Back to the Books, so here is my review!

Wake is set over five days, from the day the body of the Unknown Warrior is disinterred to its burial in Westminster Abbey. Told primarily from the point of view of three women, it is also interspersed with the stories of anonymous watchers who see the coffin pass.

Hettie, who lives in Hammersmith, is a dancer. She’s lost her father to Spanish Flu, and her brother is suffering from serious shell-shock. The youngest, she wants to forget the war. Evelyn works in the pensions office and is unable to recover from the death of her fiancé. Resigned to spinsterhood, she is stunned when a private comes in searching for her brother, and even more so when she finds out why. Ada is a woman in her forties who sees visions of her dead son Michael. She never received a letter telling her how he died, and has never really felt closure. The characters could be viewed as “stock” wartime female characters but are so much more than that. Their stories are sensitively and unflinchingly told, as they try to make sense of their own private losses, and of the preparations for the burial of the Unknown Soldier.  The stories of those watching the coffin pass, men and women who have lost loved ones, or who have survived the horror are equally touching.

Wake highlighted how overwhelming the grief following the war must have been – everyone lost somebody. As Ada watched the coffin pass, she momentarily feels certain that the battered tin hat adorning it is in fact Michael’s, before seeing another mother gasp, and realising that every mother, who were unable to bury their sons’ bodies, associates this unknown body with their own son.

Episodes like this, a small child convinced the body is that of the father she’s never known; a survivor of the war wondering at how he could have been so lucky to return, are so beautifully and movingly told and had me close to tears on more than one occasion.

Wake is a stunning debut, that I would recommend to everyone. A short book, it’s a quick, devastating and yet beautiful read, and I look forward to reading The Ballroom, published by Transworld and (I am informed by the Internet) is a story of love, obsession and eugenics.

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