So I spent most of my weekend lying on the couch feeling sick, and when I woke up Monday morning feeling the same, I stayed home from work. I curled up in blankets on my beautiful Papasan chair, letting my aching body soak in the sunlight, drinking lots of water, and cracking open “Wake” by Anna Hope. It was the day of rest and reading that my body and soul needed. And Anna Hope’s book was just the one to make me feel like I was coming back to life. This book was excellent! I opened it expecting to read for an hour or so and then settle in front of the TV like I usually do when I sick. But every time I put down the book, I found myself coming back to it a few minutes later and reading it for another couple of hours. It was like an open box of Cheerios: if I don’t put it in a bowl, my hand keeps dipping inside for more goodness until I realize I have eaten the entire box! And somehow, I ended up reading the entire “Wake” novel on Monday!
The book documents the lives of three women in London in 1920 and the effect the war has had on their lives. Hettie is a dance instructor at the Palais, too young to have really experienced the war but still feeling the after-war itch for something exciting, something life-changing to start. Evelyn struggles through the bitter sadness of life after her man is killed and she tries to find her place in this post-war world. It has been three years since Ada received notice of her son’s death on the front, yet a visit from a soldier shows her that she has not really let her son go. And weaved through all of this, in italics, every few pages is the story of the Burial of the Unknown Warrior for the Remembrance Day ceremony in London.
This italicized burial story is one of the brilliant facets of this novel. Through this narrative, Hope shows that it is not just these three women but an entire nation that is struggling with the effects of war and finding ways to move forward. I think it would have been helpful to have something as identifiable as a change in font to indicate the change in protagonist for the women’s stories as well. I found myself a little unsure for the first couple sentences of a new section which woman’s story was featured. Perhaps the woman’s name just above the section would have helped. Even with this small confusion, I still became quickly engrossed in this novel. Hope writes descriptively of the surroundings so I could really imagine the landscape, the cultural vibe, and the pulse of the people around each character. She explores each woman’s thoughts so thoroughly not shying away from their places of confusion and grief. Yet she displays they are women of survival and under the routine, all of them are longing for something more, something better in their post-war lives.
This novel is a beautiful and unflinching portrayal of the effects of war and the truths from WWI remain relevant even now. Evelyn’s brother Ed comments near the end of the novel: ” ‘And whatever anyone thinks or says, England didn’t win this war. And Germany wouldn’t have won it, either…War wins,’ he says, ‘And it keeps winning, over and over again.’ ” What a poignant reminder for us today to keep our eyes open to the great cost of battle, and to give respect to those who serve and those who are left behind in loss.
4.5/5 bacon strips