Summary and book reviews of The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

The Wake

A Novel

by Paul Kingsnorth

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

"A work that is as disturbing as it is empathetic, as beautiful as it is riveting." - Eimear McBride, New Statesman

In the aftermath of the Norman Invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror was uncompromising and brutal. English society was broken apart, its systems turned on their head. What is little known is that a fractured network of guerrilla fighters took up arms against the French occupiers.

In The Wake, a postapocalyptic novel set a thousand years in the past, Paul Kingsnorth brings this dire scenario back to us through the eyes of the unforgettable Buccmaster, a proud landowner bearing witness to the end of his world. Accompanied by a band of like-minded men, Buccmaster is determined to seek revenge on the invaders. But as the men travel across the scorched English landscape, Buccmaster becomes increasingly unhinged by the immensity of his loss, and their path forward becomes increasingly unclear.

Written in what the author describes as "a shadow tongue"--a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable to 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. A tale of lost gods and haunted visions, The Wake is both a sensational, gripping story and a major literary achievement.

Excerpt
The Wake

the night was clere though i slept i seen it. though i slept i seen the calm hierde naht only the still. when i gan down to sleep all was clere in the land and my dreams was full of stillness but my dreams did not cepe me still

when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time. a great wind had cum in the night and all was blown then and broc. none had thought a wind lic this colde cum for all was blithe lifan as they always had and who will hiere the gleoman when the tales he tells is blaec who locs at the heofon if it brings him regn who locs in the mere when there seems no end to its deopness

none will loc but the wind will cum. the wind cares not for the hopes of men

the times after will be for them who seen the cuman

the times after will be for the waecend

who is thu
who is thu i can not cnaw
what is angland to thu what is left of angland
i specs i specs
but no man lystens

songs
the ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Wake's patter brings us closer to the world of buccmaster and his contemporaries as they try to get their minds around the cataclysm of violent social upheaval and foreign domination. The odd spelling, the homophonic inversions, and the archaic vocabulary do take a wee bit of getting used to, but once the reader's eye and ear are acclimated to the language, one's mind is free to engage with the story, which is beautiful and dark.

The Wake is a splendid book, a sort of mash-up between Grimm's fairy tales and James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (which it self-consciously calls to mind through its fractured phoneticism). History may be written by the winners, but this book makes a hero of history's grim casualties, celebrating the valor of the long-vanquished in a language that has morphed from extinct to distinct.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

Full Review (1040 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Media Reviews

The Globe and Mail

Earthy, rude, rough-hewn lyricism. . . . A war epic, psychological thriller, and brooding meditation on the past’s foreignness all in one.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Kingsnorth does not simply tell history: He invites the reader to inhabit it. . . . At once invigorating and terrifying. History almost a thousand years old feels intense and immediate, as close as the blood in one’s veins and the memories one can’t escape.

Kirkus Reviews

One can't fault Kingsnorth for lack of ambition, though his story stumbles under its own linguistic weight. The reader will judge whether it's worth the heafodpanneteung.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Kingsnorth’s debut novel re-creates the mysterious joy that accompanies first learning how to read. Composed in a seductive Anglo-Saxon dialect, the narrative is disorienting yet familiar and brilliantly unreliable. Buccmaster’s astonishing voice will haunt readers long after they finish this bold book.

The Guardian (UK)

"Reading [The Wake] is to be immersed in the past and in a story in a way that I haven't really felt since childhood ... The most glorious experience I've had with a book in years.

The New Statesman (UK)

In bringing together these disparate and even occasionally opposing elements – with an excellent denouement to boot – Kings­north has created a work that is as disturbing as it is empathetic, as beautiful as it is riveting and, ultimately, sophisticated enough not to sentimentalise the lost over the found.

Author Blurb Eleanor Catton, Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize
The Wake is a masterpiece. My top book of the year.

Author Blurb Geoff Dyer
The Wake is an astonishing accomplishment. The events in it are chronicled by Buccmaster, a brutally unreliable narrator, in an adapted version of old English. At first the prospect seems unreadably off-putting; within twenty pages you get the hang of it; by thirty the suddenly fluent reader is immersed entirely in the mental and geographical contours of the era. But it works the other way too: we are seeing--and feeling and hearing--the living roots of Englishness.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Old English

The phrase "Old English" might seem like a quaint way to refer to any works in English that we now consider "old" – Milton, Shakespeare, Chaucer, et al. But in fact Old English – the language whose rhythms and vocabulary inspired Paul Kingsnorth's novel The Wake – would be unrecognizable by readers and speakers of the contemporary language.

Broadly speaking, Old English is the term used to describe the language and dialects of England in the period after the fall of the Roman Empire and before the Norman Conquest. Around the fifth century A.D., after the Roman Empire had collapsed, people from other parts of Europe migrated to Britain. According to early records, they were predominantly Germanic tribes from the Saxony ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Wake, try these:

  • Feast of Sorrow jacket

    Feast of Sorrow

    by Crystal King

    Published 2017

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King's seminal debut features the man who inspired the world's oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

  • Fair Helen jacket

    Fair Helen

    by Andrew Greig

    Published 2016

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Elderly narrator Harry Langton looks back on the adventures and friends of his youth, transporting the reader to the Scottish Borderlands at the end of the 16th century...

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Rules of Magic
    The Rules of Magic
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic is the long-awaited prequel to one of her most cherished novels,...
  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Seven Days of Us
    by Francesca Hornak

    A warm, wry debut novel about a family forced to spend a week together over the holidays.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.