Release Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads
Summary (from Goodreads)
1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep
2) Ritual for the dead
3) Consequence or aftermath
Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the way. One night, at work, she meets a wealth, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach... Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front... Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed - she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock" - and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...
The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.
Thoughts on Wake
I first discovered Wake when browsing Goodreads one day, and I fell in love with the cover and description. Although I love historical fiction, it's only recently that I've read a number of books set during World War I.
Wake is unique because it is set in 1919, one year after the war ended, but the aftermath of the war is very present in the lives of the characters. It focuses on three different women during a five-day span of time leading up to the very first Armistice Day, which is commemorated on November 11. While it coincides with Veterans Day in the U.S., Armistice Day is meant to honor those who were killed during WWI and is celebrated by many of the allied nations that fought in it.
The book focuses on three women - Hettie, Evelyn and Ada - and their relationships with the men in their lives over a five-day period of time. For Hettie, it's a mysterious and attractive man she meets a club and her brother, mute and withdrawn ever since returning from war. For Evelyn, it's the man she loved and lost, the brother who isn't the same, and the solider who comes into her office and may hold the key to one buried secret. And for Ada, it's the son that died and the husband that she cannot see through her grief. Wake highlights a short period in their lives and reveals how the are bound together in unexpected ways. Their stories are also interspersed with portions from the Unknown Solider - the one that was to be buried and commemorated on November 11 (the final day in the book).
I had so much hope for Wake, but it ended up being a bit flat for me overall. It's a book where the characters define the story more than the action. There really isn't very much that happens, which gives the book a really slow, meandering pace. That doesn't usually bother me since slow books can sometimes pack a big emotional punch, but I never really connected with this one. The story feels a bit lethargic and listless, which did reflect the feelings of the women in the book. They're all a bit stuck in a rut - left behind to carry on and now unsure of where they fit in this new and unfamiliar world now that men have returned from war. While I can appreciate the way the tone reflected the inner lives of the women, it didn't really make for an enjoyable read. There are three definitions given for the word "wake" in the summary, and I think the tone very much matches the one that defines it as: "emerge or cause to emerge from sleep." They are three women who have been (in some form or fashion) sleepwalking through their lives lately, and they are finally waking up to the reality around them.
For a book where characters are supposed to be the focal point, I had a very hard time keeping the three women straight at first. I kept flipping to the back cover because I couldn't remember the difference between Hettie and Evelyn in particular. Ada was the most memorable, but I think that's because her story was a bit different. In addition, the portion with the Unknown Solider felt a bit out-of-place and jarring. I liked that perspective, but it just didn't fit with the rest of the story being told. I'm always a bit wary of multiple narrators, and this was an example of the way it can be problematic for me as a reader.
Portions of the book were touching, but it was never as moving or memorable as I'd hoped. The ending could have tied the threads together in a way that elevated the story, but instead it ended abruptly and in a way that was mostly frustrating. Wake never really captured my attention or my emotion. Ultimately, it was just an okay read for me. I certainly didn't hate it, but it felt lackluster overall. I likely won't find myself returning to it again or recommending it first if someone asks for fiction related to WWI.
"And whatever anyone thinks or says, England didn't win this war. And Germany wouldn't have won it, either."
"What do you mean?"
"War wins." He says. "And it keeps winning, over and over again."
*I received a copy of this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.