Book Review: "Wake" by Anna Hope

Monday, February 10, 2014

Title: Wake: A Novel
Author: Anna Hope
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Random House
Source: NetGalley eARC

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 Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her.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.

Three female characters, each touched by World War I. They all have their own stories to tell about this devastating time in world history, which was especially devastating to the England. There is Evelyn, a pensions clerk, is almost 30 and lives with another "spinster" roommate. Hettie lives with her mother and shell-shocked brother Fred, while working as a dancer. Ada is 45, with a son who never returned from the war and a marriage that's falling apart.

Each of these women are described in an outstanding manner - their thoughts and personalities are distinct. While at first they aren't linked, as the story goes on you begin to understand how they connect, and what the war has done to connect women all over England. Each woman is unhappy and longing for something they cannot find. For Evelyn, she is dealing with the loss of the love of her life. Hettie has lost her brother, and a chance at marriage and happiness. Ada's loss seeps into every aspect of her life, and she longs to know what really happened to her son at the Front.

These stories tie together with that of the Unknown Soldier. I loved that their stories were revealed throughout the novel. I hate the kind of book where it's assumed that the reader is really stupid, and needs every bit explained to them so that they understand. This is a real literary achievement from a debut author, and she adeptly manages the revelatory aspects of the plot with a real understanding of what readers want and need to read.
“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 winning, over and over again.” 


Man, what a tearjerker this was for me. An exquisitely moving novel, it also manages to keep the historical details authentic and it really adds to the story. I would absolutely read another novel from Anna Hope, and I hope she writes another one soon.

If you liked the emotional drama of Atonement, or historical novels like A.S. Byatt's Possession, you will love this book. I highly, highly recommend.

Five stars.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for providing me a complimentary copy of this book for review. As always, I did not receive compensation, and all opinions are my own.