Wake is Anna Hope’s debut novel. Set in 1920 in London, three women with very different lives grapple with the legacy of the First World War and its influence on their lives. Hettie is a dance instructor longing for excitement and freedom. Evelyn’s fiancé was killed in the War and now she works processing veteran’s complaints, a dreary and depressing job. Ada has never learned what happened to her son during the war, other than that he has never come home. The setting is believable and interesting – 1920 London seems on the verge of big change but not sure how to move on, and the dance hall setting and details in Hettie’s story feel unique and captivating.
Wake is successful historical fiction. People who enjoyed Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Painted Girls will enjoy Wake as well. There are shades of Downton Abbey in some of the storylines, particularly as we learn more about members of Evelyn’s family, who are quite wealthy at a time when the class structure of the day is starting to come apart. It’s an appealing time period in which to set the narrative, and the story itself is well written and skilfully told. It’s an admirable goal to explore the lives of women in the wake of war, and how drastically they have changed – both personally and culturally, as their role has been altered.
Even though Wake is supposed to be about the women, for me, the most interested character by far is the mysterious Ed, who frequents the dance hall but carries a traumatic past filled with the terrors and realities of war. We uncover several different sides to him through the perspectives of other characters, which together paint an intriguing, realistic, sad, rich portrait of who he has become.
At the same time, I had some challenges with Wake. When we finally learn the truth about Ed’s actions in the war (and how they pertain to another character, as the disparate storylines come together), though, it is narrated to us directly by another character. We don’t get to see it happen ourselves and make our own judgements, rather we are strictly told what happened, and to me that narrative technique falls a bit flat. We are also fleetingly introduced to other viewpoints throughout the book and in relatively short sections that have been set apart in italics – e.g. of soldiers digging up the body of the unknown solider, of people watching trains and reminiscing about the war. While I understood what the author was trying to accomplish, for me these sections acted as an unnecessary distraction.
Nonetheless, I think this book has wide appeal and that many readers, particularly readers of historical fiction, will find this a satisfying read.
Reviewed by Kelsey Attard