Published by Random House on Feb. 11, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Set in London in 1920, during the weeks leading up the the second anniversary of Armistice Day and the burial of the unknown soldier, Wake tells the stories of three women whose lives are touched by WWI. Although these women’s lives seem separate from one another at first, connections between them are slowly revealed throughout the novel.
Hettie is a dance instructress who lives with her mother and brother, who has been badly mentally damaged by the war. One night, she dances with a handsome veteran and is immediately smitten. However, the war has altered him in ways she doesn’t understand.
Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, where she helps men who were wounded or distressed by battle claim their benefits. She is grieving the loss of her lover in the war, and although her brother has returned from the front in one piece, he’s not quite the same as he was before.
Ada is struggling with the death of her son and the growing distance between herself and her husband. What’s most difficult about her son’s death is how little she knows about it; unlike other mothers she knows, she was told nothing about how her son was killed.
I really loved Hope’s choice to center the novel around the anniversary of the end of the war and the burial of the unknown soldier. It gives the story momentum, driving it toward a definite climax. It also adds a lot of emotional weight — not that a novel about the aftermath of WWI really needs it. I think what I mean to say is that it provides a great emotional focus to the story; although the women react to the ceremonial burial of the unknown soldier in different ways, it serves as a uniting factor between them.
I thought this novel was really well done. The writing is beautiful, and the historical details were well researched. Hope (the author, not the emotion) creates a great sense of what it was like to be in London in 1920: the dance halls, the wounded soldiers, the changing lives of women, and the surge of emotion surrounding the Armistice Day anniversary.
I do, however, have two complaints about this novel. The first is that the three stories felt a bit uneven; Hettie was my favorite character, but I thought she got short shrift. Her story felt less developed than Evelyn and Ada’s, which I found disappointing. My second issue is the ending. The book ends really abruptly (mid-sentence), and I even wondered if my galley was defective until I confirmed with a few other bloggers that their copies ended the same way. It bothered me, but another blogger I spoke to didn’t mind the somewhat ambiguous ending. [Edit: It ends with a complete thought, but no period. I’ve been informed that it was supposed to have an ellipses, which I assume has been corrected in final copies.]
Overall, I very much enjoyed this historical novel. I liked that Hope wrote about three women in very different life stages, portraying a 20-ish dancer interested in jazz and looking for love, a 30-ish woman unable to move on from a love cut short, and 40-50-ish woman grieving a grown son. Wake is a beautiful, sad, and hopeful novel about women in the wake of war.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.