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Wake by Anna Hope - Review

Friday, October 4, 2019

I absolutely loved this book and rushed through it, reading it all in one weekend. It was a quiet weekend - I sat outside on our grass on Saturday morning while my partner painted the fence, basking in the sunshine while reading a hundred pages of this book. But I still read it fast because it was such a compelling story and I really wanted to know what happened.

I read The Ballroom by Anna Hope a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it was before I reviewed all my books on this blog, though. That book is set in 1911 and I felt the threat of World War One all through it and wondered what would happen to each character when it happened. I kept meaning to look for Anna's other books and when I remembered this time, I also remembered to check on my library catalogue. I've been trying to use the library more, and reserving books to come
to one of my local libraries is perfect for me as I go there every week for my craft club anyway. I reserved this book and another one and picked them up just three days later - can't complain!

This book is set in 1920, two years after the end of World War One. It follows three points of view, all women. I do think Anna Hope is excellent at writing the intricate lives of women. The book takes place over the five days leading up to the 11th of November 1920, when the body of the Unknown Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey. We see the body of an unknown soldier dug up from a field in Arras, and throughout the book see it move to London. These parts are always really small, because the main focus of the book is three women, all affected by war and who all come together by the end of the book in ways they can't imagine. The book is told from three points of view.

The first point of view of Evelyn. She works in a war pensions office, dealing with veterans day after day. She's quite a hard woman, for reasons that become clear throughout the book. She works with a man called Robin, but she's sure he won't last long in the pensions office. She is from a posh family but has somewhat broken away from them. The only person she seems to care about is her brother, Ed, who served as an officer in France.

The second point of view is Hattie. She is just nineteen and lost her dad during the war (although not due to it). Her brother, Fred, has come home, but has shellshock, and wakes up screaming at night. Hettie works as a dancer at Hammersmith Palais de Danse, available for hire at sixpence a dance. She wishes she could live in a flat with her friend, the glamorous Di, but her mum insists that she doesn't, and that Hettie pays towards the upkeep of the house. One night, she meets Ed, Evelyn's brother, and becomes a little obsessed with him.

Thirdly, there's Ada. She is forty three and lost her son Michael in the war. She sees him on every street corner, and is driving herself quite mad by not knowing what happened to him. She and her husband Jack barely speak to each other, each dealing with their grief in very different ways. One day she gets a visit from a salesman who is trying to tell her something, but he leaves before he can.

I thought the 1920 setting was really interesting, and in that way the book reminded me of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. From a modern perspective, it's all too easy to only look at the years from 1918 to 1939 as interwar years - the League of Nations, the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, the rise of anti-Semitism, the annexation of Poland and the outbreak of the second war. But if you were alive in 1920, you wouldn't be thinking about what might happen in two decades. You'd be too busy dealing with the aftermath of the first war, especially when so many men didn't return or were left traumatised. So I found it really interesting to look in depth at women's lives at this time.

I'm giving this five out of five, it is really good. Anna Hope is an excellent storyteller.

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