London, November 1920. World War 1 is over, leaving a nation grieving for lost loved ones, many of whom have no known graves, and returning soldiers, physically and emotionally shattered, discovering that there is no work. We follow three women and the gradually emerging dark secret which links them all. Hettie, a dance instructor at the glamorous Hammersmith Palais, has to support her mother and shell-shocked brother on her meagre pay. Well-to-do Evelyn works in the Pensions Office, to the horror of her mother. Her fiancé was killed, and only grinding work can blot out her feelings of bitter emptiness. And East End housewife Ada, who keeps seeing her dead son in the streets, ignores her equally-grieving husband. The story covers the five days when the body of the Unknown Warrior, taken from the battlefields of Flanders, comes to London for a ceremony at the Cenotaph and burial in Westminster Abbey.
Wake is a debut novel of considerable talent. Anna Hope captures the emotional exhaustion of the period, the misery of the jobless, many of them amputees, and the despair of those who grieve. Britain is not the ‘land fit for heroes’ the politicians promised. The burial of the Unknown Warrior, initially viewed by many as a political gimmick, gradually emerges as an act of collective catharsis.
Stories of three brave women can be a cliché of the genre, with the women little more than 21st-century creations in period costume. But Anna Hope’s Hettie, Evelyn and Ada are perfectly in period; we believe in their fractured lives as they struggle to cope with their grief and find some hope for the future. The episode where the Unknown Warrior is buried had me in tears. My congratulations to Anna Hope; I look forward to her next novel with great interest. Recommended.