Reviews, Vol I, Issue II
Everyone knows the date of the Battle of Hastings. Far fewer people know what happened next...
Set in the three years after the Norman invasion, ‘The Wake’ tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world. Written in what the author describes as 'a shadow tongue' - a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable for the modern reader - The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster's world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past.
The worldwide readership was immediately drawn towards Paul Kingnorth’s The Wake after the announcement of Man Booker 2014 longlist.
A novel needs to be unique enough to enter the race of Man-Booker, undoubtedly. Hence, the distinctiveness of The Wake doesn’t need a claim. The first and most unique element of this novel is embedded in its language. Written in a version of Old English cleverly created by the author for layman readers, it gives a first-hand surprise. Although, one thing is clear that Paul Kingsnorth didn't write this novel intending it to be a chore for the reader. He has written it this way to reflect the world it takes place in, and he has done so beautifully. The story is fascinatingly alien, and utterly relevant to a time we can only try and imagine. Kingsnorth in the note on his language fascinatingly says:
"The way we speak is specific to our time and place. Our assumptions, our politics, our worldview, our attitudes - all are implicit in our words, and what we do with them. To put 21st-century sentences into the mouths of eleventh century characters would be the equivalent of giving them iPads and cappuccinos: just wrong."
He is correct. Reading modern morals in a character of historical fiction seems out of context and annoying as well. Same is with Kingsnorth too, but by taking the brilliant extra steps with language he has created something magical. Once you pick up on the "rules" of the language, reading it becomes second nature. It nourishes the story, never detracting from the tale. There is a partial glossary in the back, for the ease of readers. Kingsnorth has done all the hard work for his readers, and one may find joy in understanding his new words through context.
Set during the Norman invasion of England, the story follows Buccmaster, and his somewhat misguided attempt to bring England back to what it used to be. Buccmaster is cocky, outspoken, and probably schizophrenic, but oddly riveting in an endearing sort of way; except for the homicidal tendencies, of course. But it's 1066, and his entire world is in turmoil. The voyage is gloomy, but dreamy, and it is sad to see it end. Not that the readers start expecting otherwise, but this one catches off guard. One of the best historical fictions yet, it brings exciting new breath to the genre and a new hope to literature.
Reviewed by Varsha Singh
Managing Editor, Reviews