“One to look forward to” is now becoming an occasional series, largely because of my absence of self control – I have hundreds of books on my shelf and Kindle, but just can’t resist the lure of the new and exciting. When Alison Barrow at Transworld offered an advance reading copy of (and I quote) “the debut I am most excited about for 2014”, I got all excited too – how could I resist?
I devoured Wake – by former actress Anna Hope – in one glorious sitting. I loved the strapline on the cover of my version – “a novel of loss and longing and learning to dance again” (who wouldn’t be drawn in by that?). I’m delighted to tell you that I absolutely loved it. The writing is effortless, and the reading equally so: this is a book to immerse yourself in, and let it carry you through as it reveals its secrets.
Taking place over five days in November 1920, the counterpoint to the story is the progress of the body of the Unknown Soldier making its way from Northern France to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey. This is a story of the war’s aftermath, all about understanding and coming to terms with the horror, and rebuilding lives and relationships. It concentrates on three women, all equally engrossing. Hettie dances for sixpence a waltz at the Hammersmith Palais; Evelyn, from a wealthy background, works in the pensions office where she’s been forced to harden her heart; Ada sees her dead son in the street and struggles with the impact of her loss on her marriage.
It’s inevitable, I guess, that there will be a flood of First World War themed books next year given the centenary, but this one is something both very special and very different. I’ve seen it compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – I’ll leave it up to you whether to embrace or ignore, depending on what you thought of it (that book isn’t one of my personal favourites). In tone, it reminded me more of John Boyne’s The Absolutist, Mari Strachan’s Blow On A Dead Man’s Embers or even the inevitable Birdsong. But comparisons do this book no favours – it isn’t derivative in any way, it’s wholly original and absolutely mesmerising.
Due for publication by Doubleday in hardback and ebook in January 2014, this is one you really mustn’t miss. I’ll return to review it more fully nearer the publication date.
Anna Hope was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, RADA, and Birkbeck College, London. She lives in East London and Wake is her first novel. I know (from Wikipedia) that she’s best known for her Doctor Who role of Novice Hame, but I’m rather hoping she’ll rejoin me in January to tell me more…