A powerful debut novel full of sadness, charm

Published: February 16 2014 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:43 am in

I love finding new authors, and Anna Hope’s debut novel is one that will keep her readers wanting more. This novel was recommended by the publisher and now I am highly recommending it to you. “Wake” takes you through just five days in 1920. World War I is over and we are introduced to three women living in London who are all dealing with the trauma the war has left behind.

In the novel, each section is focused on one day, ending on the fifth day, which is Armistice Day and the ceremonial burial of the unknown soldier. We begin by reading about this unknown soldier being dug up from his grave in the middle of France and follow his trip back to London each day. During these five days, we also follow along with the lives of three separate women whose connection isn’t immediately clear until later in the novel.

Evelyn, whose boyfriend was killed in the war, works in the benefits office for wounded soldiers. Her brother whom she has long admired has become an alcoholic after his time in the war. The stories and struggles she hears daily from soldiers as well as the pain of no longer being close with her brother has left her bitter and angry.

Hettie lives with her mother and brother who is no longer able to communicate or work after his time serving in the war. Hettie works as a dance instructor and must turn over half her wages to her family, which makes her angry and jealous of her fellow dancers clothing and freedom. One night Hettie meets a man and becomes quite smitten, but his secrets and his past could change everything.

Ada’s son Michael was killed in the war. Ada and her husband, Jack, live separate lives in the same house as a result of Ada’s grief. Jack has moved on and Ada still insists that she sees Michael everywhere she goes. One day a salesman stops by and utters Michael’s name and Ada is even more consumed with finding the truth about his death. Her overwhelming desire to find him could be the last straw for Jack and their marriage.

Since the novel tells the story of the women and the unknown soldier during each day, the story is at times a little choppy. We are told each of their stories in pieces both from the past and the present. We learn the horrors of the war and how each of them and their loved ones were affected by the devastation.

It is a heavy novel with much sadness and pain. All of the women are hurting, bitter and mostly miserable. But you become quickly wrapped up in their lives and each time you are given a glimmer of hope, you push through another day in the story. What binds them together is the war, but their other connections will surprise you.

One of my favorite lines from the story that really shares the feeling of many during this time and, honestly, many of us in the present:

“War wins,” he says. “And it keeps on winning, over and over again. War wins,” he says bitterly, “and anyone who thinks any differently is a fool.”

The years after the war were a sad and desperate time for many and even though not everything in this story is neatly tied up, it definitely ends with a faith that there will be better times ahead for each of these women.

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