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The Undertow [Hardcover]

Jo Baker
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 May 2012

The American debut of an enthralling new voice: a vivid, indelibly told work of fiction that follows four generations of a family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century—a novel about inheritance, about fate and passion, and about what it means to truly break free of the past.

This is the story of the Hastings family—their secrets, their loves and losses, dreams and heartbreaks—captured in a seamless series of individual moments that span the years between the First World War and the present. The novel opens in 1914 as William, a young factory worker, spends one last evening at home before his departure for the navy . . . His son, Billy, grows into a champion cyclist and will ride into the D-Day landings on a military bicycle . . . His son in turn, Will, struggles with a debilitating handicap to become an Oxford professor in the 1960s . . . And finally, young Billie Hastings makes a life for herself as an artist in contemporary London. Just as the names echo down through the family, so too does the legacy of choices made, chances lost, and truths long buried.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group (15 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307957092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307957092
  • ASIN: 0307957098
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,042,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'An agile, keenly observed novel. Jo Baker is a novelist with a gift for intimate and atmospheric storytelling' --Financial Times

'A deeply affecting novel. This is a sweeping drama with real emotional depth' --Daily Mail

`A poignant, emotionally intense read that illuminates the legacies of love and loss for ordinary people' --Marie Claire

'A rich feast of a modern historical read' --Red

`An emotionally involving story' --Observer

'A satisfying generational history, Baker's novel is reminiscent of Margaret Forster's best work' --Independent

`An utterly involving, beautifully crafted epic. This story will have you weeping and page turning well into the night' --Easy Living

`Spanning an entire century, Baker's fourth novel is a richly detailed account of four generations of one family' --Psychologies

'An impressive and heartfelt book'
--Star Magazine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

JO BAKER was born and grew up in Lancaster, and educated at Oxford and Belfast. She is the author of three previous novels, Offcomer, The Mermaid's Child and The Telling. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it in gulps 5 Sep 2011
Jo baker's novel, The Picture Book, is a wonderful and touching tale of the Twentieth Century through four generations of one family. It is also a keen look at incremental advances in social position and mobility over the course of a hundred years.
That's what it's about - beautifully written; but also, it's an affectionate account of various characters from an author who looks closely at them and feels along with them. Some moving moments are presented with assured understatement. Amelia, who has previously made us bristle by her quiet anti-Semitic thoughts, is transformed into an object of utter sadness when she realises she is no longer the centre of her son's life. Later, her middle-aged crush on her boss is left dangling, and we're invited back through the series of events to realise that she was widowed young and has foregone love and physical affection, and will continue to do so. Moments like this have a touching poignance because they're set alongside the William-Billy-Will-Billie stories and we can see threads of emotion that might elsewhere, with another writer, be ignored.
Baker as narrator shows lovely bits of sympathy and understanding - particularly for small boys: young Billy's fear for his new toy car (of course he'd take it to school; and realise, then, that it might be taken off him; and why would he not have realised that? Because small boys don't think that far ahead); Will's protective affection for his little sister. The narrator changes voice ever so slightly along with changing protagonists, so that we know Baker is still narrating, but point of view is always with the character: `Oh Lord' is Amelia's appropriately quaint and sweetly expressed reaction to her waters breaking, and `Oh goodness' (Okay - Amelia seems to stand out for me).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving Pictures 4 Sep 2011
By Susan B
What a book. Jo Baker's previous novel, "The Telling", is high in my all-time favourites, so I was eager to read this new one and I was not disappointed.

The epigraph quotation from Ecclesiastes: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh. All the rivers run on to the sea, and yet the sea is not full" flows through this story of a father, his son, his grandson and his great-grand-daughter (William, Billy, Will and Billie respectively - don't panic, it's not as confusing as you'd expect!)

In an arc from 1914 to 2005 and beyond, the chronological order appears deceptively simple. But threads are subtly woven back, forth, and crosswise, and we frequently grasp the truth of people and events in an intriguingly non-linear way. The four main characters and those they live amongst (to call them lesser characters would be a misnomer as they too are drawn with deftness and compassion) are seen at depth, through their own inner thoughts, and through short scenes, often achingly beautifully observed, of their lives. Jo Baker's vision is unsentimental, affectionate and humane. There is no idealisation: we catch the darkness and light within each character. The sense of menace around one character, the aptly-named Sully, is all the more acute for being understated. Introducing three of the main protagonists from their childhoods, gives extra clout to our involvement with them - the author "does" children in a way which tugs at the gut without ever lapsing into over-kill. A particularly painful family pattern is played out one day when Billy (the married son) and his young family go on a sea-side trip - it had me wincing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quietly Compelling 16 Oct 2011
By Sally Zigmond VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I so enjoyed this novel. For one thing, I could relate closely to the Hastings family and the social progress throughout the twentieth century, even though the locations and family experienced were different in the detail. Both my grandfathers fought in World War One and my father saw action in the second. I was also the first in my family to go to university. Everything, the history, and daily life chimed in with mine. I understood the atmosphere in the second war of 'that this might all end in a moment' because of the stories my mum used to tell me; I experienced the snobbish gulf between jazz and pop in the early sixties and 'grew up' with the Beatles. I also experienced that inadequacy at university when I compared myself with my self-confident upper-class, privately educated fellow students.

But what I enjoyed the most about this novel were those subtle shifting connections between the generations, the development from something that was intensely of the moment to it becoming a piece of the past or something never spoken about. Each person knows something that no-one else ever knows.

Sully's character has been criticised by some reviewers here because he 'fizzles out.' But that's the point, surely? He begins as a threat that could wreck a marriage or even change the whole family dynamic had Amelia married him. But it is Billy who sees him for what he is and sees him off which is probably what sends an already sad individual off the rails. His mental state deteriorates; he becomes obsessed with the Hastings; he tries to attack Ruby but by the time he molests Will, he is pathetic old tramp. Will doesn't even notice his ears. In fact, the bitten ear lobe is a physical symbol of that shift of power, memory and meaning down the generations.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars the picture book
A good read covering four generations. I would recommend it as a holiday read as not too taxing. Read and enjoy
Published 1 month ago by Ms. Moyra M. Mcglynn
3.0 out of 5 stars ...he is just body and machine and it is good...
This book sets out to capture an entire century of history through the story of one family. It is emotionally centred on family life and the events that distinguish each member. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Eileen Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
A beautifully constructed narrative, telling a story through a series of snapshots; the picture book of the title. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Book crazy lady
4.0 out of 5 stars Twentieth Century Cox
Baker steers the reader through the momentous public events of the Twentieth Century with the calm assuredness of a writer at ease with her material. Read more
Published 6 months ago by AJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Really Enjoyed this
Beautifully written story of a family over four generations. Deals with love, loss and betrayal with the common thread being a book of postcards handed down over the generations
Published 22 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
3.0 out of 5 stars re-issued under a new name
I have just read the synopsis for this book and it appears that it's now been re-published under the title The Picture Book
Published on 28 July 2012 by Bookworm
3.0 out of 5 stars Snapshots of history
"The Picture Book" by Jo Baker is a charming novel mapping one family through the decades, charting the first and second world wars almost right up to the present day. Read more
Published on 24 Jun 2012 by C. Moorby
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea, but difficult to engage with the characters
This is the story of four generations of one family: William who dies at Gallipoli in WWI, Billy who fights in WWII, Oxford academic Will, and his daughter, artist Billie. Read more
Published on 12 May 2012 by Nicola
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Big Family Story
A wonderful, far-reaching and exquisitely written story following a London family over four generations. Read more
Published on 2 April 2012 by Kate Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Snapshots of a Century
The title and cover art of this touching book are a good description of what it's like. Spanning the 20th Century, major events and social change are seen through close-up... Read more
Published on 24 Jan 2012 by Pippin
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