By Anna Hope
Random House, 2014
Set in 1920, Wake tells the story of three women during one week in London, culminating on Armistice Day, when an “unknown British solider” is buried at Westminster Abbey. Hettie is a 19-year old who lives with her mother and brother, and works as a dancer at the Palais in Hammersmith. She gets paid six pence to waltz with single men who come to the popular dance hall. Evelyn is a single woman in her late 20s who works at the Pensions office in Camden Town and has never gotten over a lost love. And Ada is a mother mourning the loss of her son who died during the war. Each chapter of the book recounts one day in this week and as the novel progresses the three women’s stories become increasingly woven together. Additionally, the story of the exhuming of the unknown soldier and his journey to Westminster Abbey for the public burial is peppered between the women’s narratives.
It took me a little while to settle in to this book as I was not sure at first which characters to focus on as the multiple stories were introduced. But once I figured out that Hettie, Ada and Evelyn were the main characters, I settled in and enjoyed their stories and I thought the book came to a satisfying end. I read Wake after I finished the latest season of Downton Abbey, and I enjoyed being further immersed in post-WWI London life. I also liked how Hope explored three distinct female experiences with the war and how all of their lives were changed by it.
Hope lives in England and is also an actress.
I received an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.
The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award announced their shortlist this week. Dublin City Public Libraries manage this award and public libraries from all around the world nominate the books. “Titles are nominated on the basis of ‘high literary merit’ as determined by the nominating library.” This year’s list has a great collection of international writers to explore.
One of my favorite debuts that I read (and reviewed) last year was on the list, Absolution, by Patrick Flanery.
Also on the list is The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan, which is about life in rural Ireland after the recent financial collapse. The book is told from a collection of voices and looks like a moving portrait of life in Ireland. He also made it on the Booker longlist.
The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction also announced their shortlist and three of the books are debuts. I’ve mentioned two before: A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride and Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent.
The third debut is The Undertaking, which was written by another Irish author, Audrey Magee. This book just published in February 2014 and is about a German solider who during WWII agrees to a marry a woman he has never met, so that he can get a “honeymoon” leave from the warfront. Their marriage and bond end up being more than either expected. It sounds like an intriguing look at love and war.
I will also note, although it is not a debut novel, that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is also on this shortlist. I recently read that book and was blown away by the richness of her characters and her ability to write about race and ethnic identity in such a clear and moving way. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
The Partner Track
By Helen Wan
St. Martin’s Press, 2013
Ingrid Yung has done her time at Parsons Valentine & Hunt LLP, a corporate law firm. She has worked up the ranks and as a Chinese American woman is poised to become the first minority female partner. She works in the mergers-and-acquisitions division and has just been given an important case. As long as it goes well, partnership should be hers. The novel unfolds over the course of a few months during which Ingrid balances work on the acquisition, a relationship with a colleague and a request that she join the firm’s Diversity Initiative.
Despite her successes, Ingrid struggles to be seen and to be treated as an equal by the white male lawyers who are oblivious to how much race and gender influence their perspectives on the world. Wan deftly sets the context of the firm, including banter in the staff dining room (aka the Jury Box), the politics of the annual summer picnic, and the day-to-day drudgery of the work, then she homes in on the places and situations where Ingrid is overlooked or misperceived. I felt very close to Ingrid, who is a funny, insightful and self-deprecating narrator. This book is well-paced and written in clear and insightful prose. I much enjoyed the story and Wan vividly brings to life the experiences of a minority female lawyer in a corporate law firm.
Wan is a lawyer and has worked at corporate firms in New York and as Associate General Counsel at Time Inc. I discovered this book when I heard her read at the Lit at Lark series. She was profiled in The Washington Post earlier this year.