Doubleday £12.99. Order for £10.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Wake by Anna Hope - book review: 'Picture of Londoners in war's aftermath'

 

Anna Hope's novel is set over the five days in November 1920 when the body of the Unknown Warrior was transported from its first grave, somewhere in France, to be reinterred in Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day. While this solemn journey forms the backdrop to the story, its real focus is on three Londoners who, between them, show some of the different responses to the aftermath of the Great War.

Ada is a mother who lost her only son in the conflict; Evelyn is a younger woman, nearing 40, who lost a partner, and now works in a clerical job, almost as if to spite her upper-class family; while 19-year-old Hettie, who has never had anyone to lose, works as a dancing instructor at the Hammersmith Palais, earning sixpence a dance and shivering in her thin dress between engagements.

Hope weaves her three characters' workaday narratives together, building scenes that wear their research lightly: the shabby glitter of the dance hall, with its thrilling, practically taboo American jazz, the dull routine of the pensions office where Evelyn works, the surprise of her colleague when she buys him a drink at the pub.

"'This is interesting. I've never had a woman buy me a drink before.'

She raises an eyebrow as she lights her cigarette. 'I'm sure it tastes the same.'"

A cool customer, Evelyn, and an easy character to warm to, for all her spikiness.

The women's lives come at us in a present -tense narration that keeps the book easy to read, letting the characters' thoughts bob to the surface of the text in italics, as if in a nod towards the modernism that was brewing in that very period. That said, the shift to remembrance and backstory sometimes comes as more of a lurch than a drift, and the plot twists that link the three women together seem unnecessary. I was interested enough without them.

The least happy aspect of the novel are the sections, fully italicised, that narrate the passage of the Unknown Warrior back "home'", in which various walk-on characters – French and English, woman and man, army and civilian – stand and watch him pass, before turning back to their own preoccupations. While the stories of Evelyn, Ada and Hettie give a real sense of life in this eerie period, when a country began to rouse itself from sleep, these more portentous passages do nothing to illuminate what one would have felt, standing there, watching that coffin pass: the symbolism, that the novel would seem to want to catch and honour, escapes.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen