Reviewed by Danielle Pullen
Five Days in November, 1920:
As the body of the Unknown Soldier makes its way home from the fields of Northern France, three women are dealing with loss in their own way: Hettie, who dances for sixpence a waltz at the Hammersmith Palais; Evelyn, who toils at a job in the pensions office, and Ada, a housewife who is beset by visions of her dead son. One day a young man comes to her door. He carries with him a wartime mystery that will bind these women together and will both mend and tear their hearts.
A portrait of three intertwining lives caught at the faultline between empire and modernity, Wake captures the beginnings of a new era, and the day the mood of the nation changed for ever.
Do you every feel literature déjà vu? I’m certainly feeling that way at the moment. I’ve recently read several novels all concerned with wartime Britain. Indeed, Wake is the second novel I’ve read in as many months dealing in particular with the effects of war on women.
In her debut novel, Anna Hope tells the story of the Unknown Soldier arriving in London in November 1920. Interwoven with the historical detail is the story of three women whose lives have all been affected by the war in some way. Hettie, Evelyn and Ada are all subject to loss and make the sacrifices that we have heard so often from other texts. Husbands who may be physically alive but emotionally vacant. Sons lost in battle with only vague details of the circumstances. Women taking on ‘man’s work’ and the blurring of the gender lines.
I very much enjoyed the historical elements of this novel, I knew little of the background to the Unknown Soldier and Hope is adept at portraying the importance of this event and how it affected the lives of everyday people. However, I felt that the three women’s characters were not distinct enough to carry the narrative. Even in the closing stages of this novel I found myself having to think about which woman was concerned with which dilemma.
Perhaps, to some extent, the reason that this novel disappointed me slightly was due to having recently read the overwhelmingly successful Spare Brides by Adele Parks which took a slightly less traditional take on this subject and was clearly the work of a much more experienced novelist.
So, overall, a good read. Will I read another of Hope’s novels? Yes, but not about war, please!
I'd like to thank Alison at Doubleday for sending me a copy of this book and Danielle for reviewing it for me.