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'
Jonathan Gibbs reviews books for The Independent and elsewhere. His novel Randall, about the contemporary art world and the fate of the YBAs, is published by Galley Beggar Press. He blogs on this aspect of his writing at tinycamels.wordpress.com
Wednesday 19 March 2014
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.
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Windows 10: man updates PC, wakes up to find porn slideshow on repeat
- 2 The 'world's most beautiful vagina' has been debunked by science
- 3 John Green schools morning show hosts after awkward interview with Cara Delevingne
- 4 Bulletproof armadillo puts Texas man in hospital after shot bounces off hard shell
- 5 Doctors declare war on Jeremy Hunt over weekend working 'myths' amid plan for seven day NHS
Why Harry Potter's aged 35, not 26
Frank Ocean, where's that new album at?
Jon Snow: Kit Harington spotted in Belfast where Game of Thrones season 6 is filming
Drake responds to Meek Mill's 'diss' track 'Wanna Know' by laughing at the rapper on Instagram
Game of Thrones to run for at least eight seasons, according to HBO showrunners
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality