Book Review: Wake by Anna Hope
Once in a while I read a book that is hard to wrap my head around. Books like these ones, like Wake by Anna Hope, beg not to be analyzed or deconstructed. Books like these ones are meant to be read, savoured, and hugged to you like a warm blanket. They make you feel, think, wonder, or maybe just say ‘hunh‘. But they aren’t necessarily meant to be reviewed.
Let me explain.
When I was applying to university (aeons ago), everyone was surprised that I didn’t do an English degree. I have been an incorrigible reader since I figured out that c+a +t = a pet that goes meow. There probably wasn’t a book, classic or piece of popular fiction, that I didn’t get my hands on and devour. Yet I didn’t want to study literature. I wanted to inhabit it, not write papers about my the author’s purpose or imagery or thematic motivation. Ironically, I now write book reviews, but more to share my love of the written word than to dive deep.
That’s why I struggle with this review of Wake, which I’m writing at the 11th hour before it’s due to be published. That’s why it’s so hard to write it even though I met Anna Hope (beautiful, talented and soft-spoken) and learned all about her inspiration, research and process and how much she herself worked to get Wake just right. Because just like it’s name, the novel has multiple meanings, layers, and emotions, all of which are dependent on the reader’s own life experiences.
Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.
Hettie, a dance instructress at the Hammersmith Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, withdrawn and lost after his return from the trenches. One night, 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 wounded and shellshocked come, seeking their country’s support. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her well-to-do 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 Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her.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 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.
Wake takes place in the aftermath of The Great War, a time of devastation and the unknown. So many young men died; some say an entire generation. Life was uncertain – financially and emotionally. Anna Hope evokes the time period by interweaving the lives of three women whose experiences are bound by ties of war, grief, and coincidence.
The story is sad and often times bleak – especially from the perspective of the male supporting characters. And yet, somehow, there are glimmers of hope and optimism, particularly in the characters of Hettie and Robin.
Anna Hope has taken a tender yet somehow firm pen to paper with this story. It’s told with true affection and passion for her women, Hettie, Ada, and Evelyn. She takes them in hand and loves them, even with their flaws, bitterness, and grief. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why it all works, why it’s so readable even though the characters are obviously so unhappy and struggling so much. We should be depressed but instead are uplifted.
Wake is a small book, but a precious one. If you loved The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society or either of Rachel Joyce’s novels, then Wake is for you.
Unputdownable Factor: 9/10
Recommend Factor: 10/10
Do you think you’ll read it?