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01 February 2014

Anna Hope: Wake

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Aftermath of a brutal war
Although it is now nearly 100 years from WWI many authors are still exploring this brutal and cataclysmic war. Anna Hope's splendid debut novel looks at the aftermath of war with compassion and emotion through the eyes of three women and the impact of the war on them and the men in their lives. It is set against a backdrop of the burial of an unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey exactly 2 years from the 1918 Armistice - a "Wake" that the nation hopes will help everyone to lead a normal life in the future.

Anna Hope introduces us to 3 women whose lives have been altered by the war. Hettie is a dance "instructress", charging sixpence a dance at the local ballroom dancing up to 10 hours a day to support her mother and her brother, who is basically mute after his return from the war. She cannot connect with her clients but is attracted a a handsome educated man she meets at a nightclub, even though there is something very strange about him.

Evelyn comes from a wealthy family and, after her boyfriend is killed, volunteered to work in the most dangerous part of an explosives factory. She now encounters wounded and shocked men every day as she works at the Pension Office. She seeks solace from her beloved brother but finds he cannot help her as he has changed since he returned from the front.

Ada's only son, Michael, died of his wounds but there is no known grave. She is beset with visions that he is still alive, which drives her husband away from her. One day a returned soldier calls at her house to peddle dishcloths and jolts here to the core when he utters the name of her son.

After 2 years of peace all of the victims are trying to come to grips with their loss or experiences. The burial of the unknown soldier gives them a chance to come together and grieve during the burial ceremony and hopefully emerge to live a new life in the aftermath of their tragedy.

Anna Hope builds her  story to an emotional conclusion but the message I really remember was that "War wins .... and it keeps on winning, over and over again." WWII was less than 20 year away.

In the last year I have read several excellent novels based on different aspects of WWI, the fighting, the nursing and coping with normal life after the guns have stopped. Anna Hope's analysis of the painful aftermath of war is up there with the best of them, with a natural prose and very real and moving characters. This is a very good debut novel by a writer of great promise which I recommend to anyone who wants an intelligent and different focus on the aftermath of this cataclysmic event.

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