Wake by Anna Hope
Published by Doubleday
16th January 2014
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
Wake is the debut novel by Anna Hope, and I do hope that it's not her last. This is a beautiful novel, and all the more poignant by being published this year, the centenary of the First World War breaking out. The war to end all wars, the war that was to be 'over by Christmas', the war that saw millions of people killed and injured, the war that changed the way many lived their lives forevermore.
The three main characters are all women, all from different walks of life, destined, one would imagine, never to meet. Hettie is young and is a dancer - for sixpence, you can pluck her out of her cage, where she sits with other dancers, and spin her around the hall of the Hammersmith Palais. Evelyn is in an office job - she deals with injured soldiers in the pensions office, daily she hears of their struggles and turmoil. Then there is Ada, her son went to war, and never returned. She sees him everywhere she goes, and yet it is not him.
The book follows each of the characters on their daily path, trying to live as normal a life as possible now the war has ended. There is a real sense of setting in this book, you can see the Palais as Hettie is whirled around the floor by a strange man, hear the emotion and desparation as yet another solider approaches Evelyn asking why his pension has been stopped, and feel Ada's pain as she realises that yet another man she is following is not her son.
As a former History teacher, I think I should have known about how the tomb of the Unknown Solider came about. Can I admit, I did not. Beginning on my birthday, Wake is the tale of five days in November, and their lasting effects. I think everyone should read it.