‘Remembrance Day 1920: A wartime secret connects three women’s lives: Hettie whose wounded brother won’t speak; Evelyn who still grieves for her lost lover; and Ada, who has never received an official letter about her son’s death, and is still waiting for him to come home. As the mystery that binds them begins to unravel, far away, in the fields of France, the Unknown Soldier embarks on his journey home. The mood of the nation is turning towards the future – but can these three women ever let go of the past?’
I had heard only good things about Wake, and some of my very favourite book bloggers have absolutely loved it, which was reason enough for me to pick up the relatively hefty hardback when I spotted it in the library. I love historical fiction, but do not feel as though I’ve read much of it at late. It perhaps goes without saying that had high hopes for the novel.
Wake is set across five days in November 1920, beginning in Arras in northern France (a city which I’m very familiar with) and then following several characters in London (ditto). Its short span does not stop the novel from containing an awful lot. Hope’s prose is so well structured, and I very much liked the way in which she drew protagonists from different places and walks of life. We follow a single woman, a dancer working in a Hammersmith hall, a mother whose son is dead but who does not quite believe it, and an ex-Army Captain. Each character has been broken in some way by the First World War, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. Every single one changes, or is changed, over the course of the five day period; Hope has clearly put a lot of thought into the realistic emotional changes which could occur, given the situations which each has been put into, or scenes which they encounter during this time. Not quite knowing for the most part what would transpire for each protagonist, it made for a very rich, textured reading experience.
Wake is compelling. The way in which Hope approached the novel was both sympathetic and well researched; I found myself interested in every character, and every scene. As a debut novel, it is incredibly accomplished, and I come away feeling no surprise whatsoever that so many readers have raved about it. It did not quite reach the heady heights of a novel which I adored, but I very much admired Hope’s effort, and will not hesitate to pick up another of her books in the near future.