Wake by Anna Hope
Just finished reading Wake by Anna Hope. This novel totally swept me off my feet. I’ve read it in the past two days staying up late at night even though I had work in the morning. Much badness!!
What a great book. Set a couple of years after WWI the entire story takes place over a five day period in November 1920 where we take an intense look into three women’s lives. All deeply affected by the war themselves it shows the impact of war on all concerned – not just the men – but the women they left at home and how they also survived both during and after.
The three women in question are Ada, who lost her son in the war and can’t get over the loss, Evelyn, who lost her lover in the war and now seems almost resentful of the returned men (including even her brother) and Hettie whose life has been affected by the return of her brother who seems to be suffering deep trauma and is incapable of working or doing anything at all short of sitting in the same place from morning to night.
Let’s look at Ada first. Always lived in the same house since getting married 25 years ago. The two of them seem to have come to a situation where they no longer communicate. Ada is consumed with guilt over the death of her son, thinking that she should have protected him more. She’s obsessed with him, still imagining him to be alive and almost living with the expectation that she’ll see him walking up the street one day. She fancies she sees him and seems to chase ghosts. Of course this has had an impact on her marriage. The ghost of one’s son, it seems, can definitely drive a wedge between two people, particularly when the two seem no longer to communicate.
Evelyn. Comes from a well-to-do family and seems to be forever disappointing her mother. If only she could marry a man with a title! But, no, off she goes, to live in a flat in London with a girlfriend and work (of all the notions) in the war pensions office. Evelyn does make it quite difficult for you to like her as a character at the start of the novel but don’t be distracted by what at first appears to be bitterness – rather than bitterness I would say that she’s frozen. The real Evelyn is trapped inside and it seems like a remote possibility that she’ll ever break out. She acts awfully at times and you could almost cringe with embarrassment on her behalf.
Finally, Hettie. Hettie encompasses all that I would expect of a young girl from this era. She wants to have her hair cut short and wear daring clothes, go dancing in a club and maybe even have a bit of an adventure and take a few risks. Since her brother returned traumatised Hettie spends most of her time working and paying half her takings to her mother to help the family stay afloat. She doesn’t have time for pretty clothes and niceties. I suppose she feels a little bit resentful, she wants to be carefree like her best friend Di. The two work at the Palais – they are dancers and people basically pay sixpence to have a dance with them. Of course Hettie’s mother is absolutely outraged that she gave up her respectable job for this. I did like Hettie. She wants something. She doesn’t even know what that something might even be and for me she seems to completely embody the spirit of a young person from this era when things were changing so rapidly.
Now the setting. The country, although the war has ended, seem to all be in the throes of mourning. So many men killed in this first war and so many families barely surviving. Not to mention the returned soldiers who there seems to be little or no work at all for in the country’s current time. This could of course all come across as very maudlin but in reality this story is anything but and, to be honest, I can’t quite put my finger on the ‘why’ exactly but this book just grabbed my attention from start to finish.
At the same time as the three stories above we have a further story which we read snippets from concerning the return of a dead hero’s body from France to London for a remembrance ceremony – the whole country seem to be holding their breath for this event. It’s as though everybody needs this ceremony in order to finally snap out of their stupor and move on.
So, I hope I haven’t made this sound dull as the truth is it’s far from it. Even though I read far less historical novels these days I enjoyed this time period and this book had me completely hooked. I was racing along to find out what could possibly tie the lives of these three women together. If you’re like me, you might try to second guess this but also, if you’re like me, you’ll probably be completely wrong!
I thought this was a really impressive debut novel, in fact I’m surprised this is the first by this author. She manages to write about this era with such a convincing voice. All three of the women were different, although all sharing loss she managed to portray them all in a convincing manner. I wound up really liking all three characters and feeling quite anxious for some sort of happy ending for them! On top of this, there’s a little bit of a mystery running through most of the tale – concerning a young soldier – looking for his former company – or at least one man in particular. There’s allusions to ghosts and psychic readings – but to be clear, this is in no way a ghost story or paranormal tale. It just makes allusions is all although it gave me goosebumps at one point!
On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I went into this reading experience fully expecting it to be terribly sad and maybe a little depressing, and yes, the subject in hand isn’t a laughing matter. Instead though I found myself captivated. Anna Hope wove her spell and managed to conjure up an intriguing tale, quite rich with emotion that held me entranced until the last page.
I can’t wait to see what she does next.
I received a copy of this via Net Galley and the above is a reflection of my own thoughts and opinion.