User reviews for The Wake

This book has 15 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars.

This book is immersive - against expectations, given the difficult language, and the grumpy, self-important protagonist. Paul Kingsnorth has managed to capture the essence of life at the juncture of the Norman invasion, and the beauty and isolation of the fenny countryside; and sympathy grows with old Buckmaster. The language seems to illuminate the story, rather than obscure it, and I spent much time reading passages aloud, for the beauty of the rhythms. Definitely a book I shall return to; much to be discovered in it still.
I love this book. Obviously, I was slightly apprehensive about the challenge of reading "shadow tongue" having never read a work like this. I was drawn in by Paul's other works, the history and Paul's character and his stance on politics and the environment. If any of these points aren't enough to capture a reader--and all of them are addressed in the work--the writing will without question. I often feel like I am reading a historical manuscript and it is the first book I have ever read where I have felt part of the words I am reading and involved in the history. Some work is required to begin reading, but as Paul says in his note on the language, familiarity with the way 'shadow tongue' works becomes second nature. I haven't finished reading yet, but already I am recommending it with gusto. The story is engaging and develops at a perfect pace. It makes me very proud to have my name attached to this book and I can't wait for the next one.
I loved this book and have been recommending it far and wide! I loved the whole concept and was delighted (and surprised) to find that it was not that many pages in before I was really reading at a good pace. So clever! Please write more!
I have been reading The Wake quietly aloud to myself on my porch near a wood half the world away from it's origin, and strangely, I hear the birds more as I make sense of this new language, the winds more, the trees bending - and I wonder if they are all leaning in, as I am, to enjoy the immense thrill that is this book. I hesitate to finish it, but somehow I doubt this book will end. I think it is alive, which is much too rare a quality.
Reproduced from with the author's blesssing, again. May contain spoilers, Kingsnorth, the bearer of many descriptive epithets including poet and director of the Dark Mountain Project, has produced a novel on which many other notable people, including Adam Thorpe, Philip Pullman and Lucy Mangan, have commented widely; about the language, grammar, syntax and how it is to read, because of its use of a ‘shadow tongue’*, and of the verisimilitude of the portrayal of 11th century England; all very uplifting and head-swelling stuff for Mr Kingsnorth, no doubt. It’s also garnered three – yes three – reader reviews on the Unbound site, something I’ve not witnessed previously. It all goes to prove that this may be the best book (of original material, to avoid a disservice to the collative and editorial efforts of Shaun “Letters of Note” Usher**) to have been published by this house. From my perspective, having studied Old and Middle English to an extent at my alma mater, the language was intriguing; it wasn’t too much of a stretch, was quickly processed by the brain and read almost as fast as normal, the occasional oddity of vocabulary notwithstanding. What was more exciting was that I’d completely misunderstood the premise of the novel, having paid only cursory attention to the plot synopsis, caught up as I was in the general mood of novelty when the book was first mooted. I had believed we would be treated to the life of Hereward, from his overseas war-mongering, to his return to England and the loss of his lands and titles to the Normans, gently fictionalised to preserve the modesty of grasping Lincolnshire land-owners keen for a genealogic link to the last great English resistance fighter. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, Buccmaster is a complete arsehole, pompous and self-important, and entirely deluded about his connection to the land and the old gods of ‘England’ (despite having it gently pointed out that they were really imported with the Danish ingengas many years before). The imagined conversations with the mythical Wayland the Smith (written as Weland by Kingsnorth) start rather supernaturally but quickly deteriorate into internal arguments over Buccmaster’s own sense of self-worth, betraying a burgeoning madness which culminates in a near atrocity. There’s so much going on that the language is only a novelty, despite it being such an important part of the context of the novel. The protagonist is such a complex creation, an untrustworthy narrator whose own declarations of “triewth” are given the lie by later contradictions and embellishments, that he is instantly dislikeable in the most engaging way. Even when I thought he would turn out to be the legendary Hereward I thought that Kingsnorth was deliberately making him a repulsive character to challenge an accepted viewpoint, á la his Dark Mountain Project. There is much to admire: poetry in the simple vocabulary, oft repeated; a remarkable evocation of time and place; a brilliant character full of dark and complicated emotions. I was moved to read it and am delighted it exists, and to not mention the binding, which is reminiscent of medieval folio manuscripts, the pages tied between two stiff (and bearing delightful embossing) cardboard covers, would be a crime against the art of book binding. Once again, a truly remarkable product has been made possible by a few lovely people. *A gently cleaned up version of Old / Middle English as used by such luminaries as Aelfric of Eynsham and… those other fellows. **Goddammnit. I logged in to double check I had Shaun Usher’s name right and accidentally let myself pledge support for another book… Those devious swine.
This book wrapped itself around me. Like others, I found after a few pages that the language demanded to be read aloud. In fact, reading it aloud seemed to increase the sense of immediacy - I could almost smell the fens! And it was only possible to read fairly short passages before pausing, as the dramatic power built up. The insight into what it means to be violently invaded and to lose your culture has been very timely. An amazing achievement! Thank you, Paul. On a practical note, I don't feel the 'open' spine is a good idea, it feels insubstantial.
I have very much enjoyed reading The Wake. The taste of its language still lingers, like strong mead. It paints a powerful picture of "Angland" at the time of the Norman invasion. I do have some historical reservations - how likely is it that the old pagan gods would still have such a follower as Buccmaster, by then? What to make of the ecological message, maybe more at home in our own time than the eleventh century? But on the whole, I recommend the book as an engagingly-told tale and a brave effort at entering the different and difficult country of the past and seeing it with fresh eyes. I have to agree that the "open spine" is not at all a good idea. It looks unfinished, and what's worse, the book is now falling apart - the back cover split off when I was only half-way through reading. This detracts from what is otherwise a very well-presented volume.
I heard about this book (as no doubt did many others) in Lucy Mangan's Guardian column. I was instantly intrigued, found Unbound and happily paid my twenty quid. Having no idea what Coptic binding was, on arrival it did look as if the book wasn't quite finished, but that's a minor quibble and I can understand the economic reasons for doing it. I loved the idea of the "shadow tongue" and found it surprisingly easy to get into: it's interesting that other reviewers have mentioned reading the book aloud. I think this is definitely another dimension to the enjoyment of the story (audio-book next please?) and it changed the dynamic of reading. I stood up in my kitchen (good acoustics) to speak the words and it was a very different reading experience: I felt I was inhabiting the story, moving through the landscape, engaging with the characters in a deeper and more absorbing way. The self-imposed limitations that Kingsnorth placed upon the vocabulary he used makes the language more blunt and immediate, with little artifice: plain words, plainly spoken and yet still infused with poetry. Buccmaster is not at all a likeable chap, being pompous, arrogant, shallow and childish. An excellent character! I had to be careful not to compare him to Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred as I had just finished reading one of that series. The imagining of Buccmaster's world is done convincingly and his dialogue with the Old Gods is by turns prosaic and poetic. There is a myth that England was totally Christianised by this time, but evidence shows that old and new beliefs coexisted for centuries, even up to modern times, as Christianity absorbed many of the previous beliefs and traditions. The radical concept of writing a book in a made-up language was for me totally successful, refreshing and enjoyable. My only question: is there another one coming along anytime soon?
Great book, best read aloud... Brings the times alive.
Astounding - I haven't enjoyed experiencing being in someone else's imagination for a very long time. Has inspired me to read up on the period, thank you.
I wonder how native speakers experience The Wake (I'm Dutch myself). I felt that I was taken along by a bard who kept me spellbound; having to read the novel aloud probably added to this experience. I realized that it was the best way to understand what Kingsnorth had written in his version of old-english. At first I feared I would never be able to finish The Wake, then I got into a rhythm and I just kept on reading to myself. It became clear very soon that Buccmaster, the main character, is rather a coward. Whereas he proclaims to fight the French who have just invaded his country he usually runs away from them. His faith in the old region and old gods also surprises: in 1066 Christianity must have been the leading religion for a long time, Wodan and his companions long forgotten. Kingsnorth combines life in rural England in 1066, descriptions of the fens, invasion and budding madness in a brilliant manner. The invasion by William the Conqueror must have been brutish and must have affected many lives. Buccmaster will not have been the only ‘anglisc’ person on the run. He is however not haunted by the French only, it becomes more and more clear that he is rather full of himself and mad as a hatter. I kept on reading because Kingsnorth gave his sentences a rhythm which made it almost like reading poetry. I suppose this is how in the days before books people listened to the bards. I do not know whether Kingsnorth was aware of this effect, for me it definitely added to the experience of The Wake. I read and listened at the same time. I enjoyed the experience. I would have liked to have seen The Wake go on to the Booker Short List, it might me slightly too much for the majority of readers.
The book makes one feel that this Englishman lives, in animals and nature, both of which we, as a nation, still love.
I bought this book because I know Will Ross and I know he knows Paul Kingsnorth. Only because of that. I'm utterly transfixed by it. I feel as though I'm swimming through it rather than reading it and it has all the delicious feeling of a nippy outdoor swim on an autumn day. It feels fenny, boggy, daerc, and very very beautiful and sends me both to old history and to a rediscovery of language and its possibilities. By chance I'm reading it after having just finished The Circle by David Eggars, a painfully funny dystopia about living out loud in real time. Their oppositeness makes a huge and interesting space in between 1066 and 2014 between the way we lived then and the way we live now.
I was sent a copy of The Wake for my birthday by my brother in law and started reading it knowing absolutely nothing about it. I opened it, read the first couple of pages and thought- no it can't possibly be written entirely in this prose- its unreadable! I didn't know there was a glossary so i ploughed on, I even ventured to read a bit of the blurb on the back (i generally avoid this as publishers have an annoying tendency to reveal most of the first half of a book before you have read it) The book I see is written in a form of old English which became surprisingly easy to understand after 30 odd pages. It really gets into your head and the thoughts of the flawed main protagonist. The Wake reminded me of "Things fall apart" by China Achebe, Buccmaster and Okonkwo like literary twins literally wrestling with a world view at odds with a violently unsettled world. Anachronistic in one way but completely understandable. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone but the development on Buccmaster really takes you on a journey, leaving you with many questions. What is the value of rebellion? Why was i taught at school that the Norman conquest was progress? How do we truly define an ingenga in a country where everyone was an ingenga at some point? What the author does so brilliantly is leave you with some serious questions about identity and its value, be that cultural or individual- is the two are separable. He brings to life the era is a way that no other author has as far as I know (Although Brian Bates "Way of wyrd"is powerful- i need to re-read that) The Wake is so good i was sad that it ended, its a bloody serious book showing importantly that we are continually misled in history by overbearing and dominant established narratives. It creates its own narrative, which is all we can do to challenge received historical ideas. Its also a bloody funny book, especially in the main characters tendency to contradict himself...and the ending is brilliant. Five stars all the way!
I is Luc of isles hill. Thys is full marveilous tale telled of the ganne spirit of tru enghaland. I cept asking myself wot would I have dun followed buccmaster or the wake. What is treachery and wot the trewth of the eald gods. The derk neb of the mere tween oerth and lac finds eco in my seoul wot shuld men do in these last derk daes.
Publication date: April 2015
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