My attention was caught, first by a beautiful cover, and then by a title that appeared simple, but was actually full of meaning. ‘Wake’ is a word that speaks of both beginnings and endings; of the very first moment of a new day, and of the final ritual at the end of a life. It suits Anna Hope’s first novel, a compelling account of lives that had been changed by the Great War, so very well.
‘Wake’ tells the story of three women’s lives over the course of five days in November 1920. And it sets their stories against the story of the journey of the body of the Unknown Soldier, brought from the battlefield to his final resting place over the same five days.
- Hettie was young. She lived at home, with her mother and her shell-shocked brother, and she worked as a dancer, at the new Hammersmith Palais.
- Evelyn was a little older. She lost her love to the war, and so she lived quietly with a friend and worked hard, dealing with claims in a pensions office.
- Ada was older again, and she was a wife and mother, but she lost her son to the war and she struggled to accept that he was gone.
They had little in common, save that their lives had been knocked off course by the Great War. But a chance meeting changed things, and over the course of five days more about those three women, their lives, and the events during the war that changed their menfolk gradually became clear. It also became clear that there would be no easy answers, there was no black and white, that there were only shades of grey.
The writing was simple, clear, and profound. The characters were perfectly drawn, their worlds were perfectly realised, telling details are illuminated, and three women became utterly real to me. I cared for them and I was deeply affected by what happened, and what had happened to them and to the people they loved.
The story moved between them so smoothly that I sometimes I lost track of where I was, but that didn’t matter, because it made me realise that so much was the same for these three women. Some of the truths that emerged had echoes of other stories set in the same era, but that didn’t matter either, because it made me realise that there were so many men and women with similar tales.
And that, for me, was what gave this story power and depth. Hettie, Evelyn and Ada were three ordinary women who stood for a whole generation of women who had to live through the war and had to deal with its consequence. Anna Hope spoke for them, quietly and clearly, with understanding and with love, and her words stirred so many emotions.
And she made me wonder, is there any memorial to these women, beyond books that speak for them as ‘Wake’ does ….. ?