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
My Retro Review (from Feb 2014)
The book opens with three definitions of the word “Wake” namely
1. Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep
2. Ritual for the dead
3. Consequence or Aftermath
For me these definitions broadly equate to the individual stories of Hettie, Ada and Evelyn respectively, but also it reflects the general mood/state of the country at the time. Set against the backdrop of the arrival of the Unknown Soldier from France, the stories are all ones of love and loss as a consequence of war. Unbeknownst to them, their stories prove to be intertwined as all is revealed over the course of five days in November 1920.
In this year, when we are commemorating the start of the Great War, this book tells the heart breaking stories of those at the front and those left behind. The human consequences of war are revealed to be far reaching as we see how it truly did effect a generation. The characters are not always likeable, but that serves to makes them more human, especially when we can see how their experiences have helped to create the images we are presented with.
The book is beautifully and intelligently written and certainly made an emotional impact on me, (I will admit to being moved to tears when I read what happened to Ada’s son Michael). What this book brings home, in its quiet way, is the brutal reality of war and the suffering and injustice suffered by many. Despite the subject matter, it did offer hope. As the Unknown Soldier is brought home and laid to rest, each of the women, in their own way, have reached a turning point and can start to look forward instead of being rooted in the past. In the same way the Nation acknowledges its debt to those they’ve lost and pays its respects in order to start to look forward.
I read a lot of books, many of those I would describe as being very good, but occasionally one comes along that stands out above the others and stays in the memory. This, for me, is one such book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Having read other reviews this book was on my “to read” list. I was fortunate to receive a free copy to review, it will be a book that I’ll be keeping.