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The Wake Hardcover – 3 Apr 2014

3.4 out of 5 stars 225 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Unbound (3 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908717866
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908717863
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.7 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 281,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"Extraordinary" (Philip Pullman)

"A literary triumph" (Adam Thorpe Guardian)

"A resonant, eloquent ballad of English identity, pride and fierce independence. It is a thrilling story. Read it out loud. It is like nothing else" (Mark Rylance)

"As beautiful as it is riveting" (Eimear McBride New Statesman)

"An extraordinary, original and spellbinding book" (Jay Griffiths)

Book Description

A post-apocalyptic novel set in 1066 – unlike anything else you will read this year...

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a novel about how the events of 1066 affected one man living in the fen-lands of England, his reaction to these events and his own personal fight for England. The overwhelming characteristic of this novel is the style of language the author, Paul Kingsnorth, has used. This language in turn bemused, exhausted and enriched me. The main character is not Hereward the Wake but Buccmaster of Holland (Lincolnshire). He is a flawed man, not a hero. This is an interesting book and I would recommend it, but only if the reader can handle the language.

EXAMPLE: The following is taken from the near the start of the novel on page 9: "a great blaec fugol it was not of these lands it flown slow ofer the ham one daeg at the time of first ploughan. its necc was long its eages afyr and on the end of its fethra was a mans fingors all this I seen clere this was a fugol of doefuls. in stillness it cum and slow so none may miss it or what it had for us. This was eosturmonth in the year when all was broc" I presume that this means that a comet was seen in the sky. A great black bird (fugol) flew slowly over the village one day in the early morning at the time of the first ploughing. Its neck was long and its eyes afire and on the end of its feathers were a man's fingers. I saw all this clearly and this was the devil's bird. It came slowly so no one would miss it. This was in the Easter month (April).

This is not an exceptional quote; this is the style and language of the whole book. At first I found it incomprehensible. I missed much of the story because I was concentrating on the language. It did seem to be more understandable as I continued reading, but this was because I got used to the language, not because the language got any easier.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Wake tells the story of Buccmaster of Holland, a man living in a Lincolnshire village at the time of the Norman invasion. The coming of the Normans is catastrophic for Buccmaster, as for so many others. With his family and his house gone, he decides to lead a group of men who've also lost everything and fight the invaders.

Out of all the books on the Man Booker longlist, The Wake is probably the most unlikely one. Not only was it crowd-funded, it's written in what the author describes as a "shadow tongue", a language inspired in Old English, but updated in such a way as to actually make it understandable to modern readers. Basically, there are no words of Latin origin (since the English tongue hadn't yet began to mix with the French) and no letters that weren't used at the time (no k or v or a couple of others I now can't remember), and the spelling, punctuation and sentence structure are very much not modern. The Author's Note gives us a couple of pronunciation rules (e.g. "sc" is pronounced "sh", so "biscop" should be read as "bishop") and there is a short glossary for words that the reader would not be able to guess or deduce (e.g. "fugol" means "bird"), but that's all we get before we are on our way. By the way, these items are both at the end of the Kindle version, which seems counterproductive; you'd definitely want to read them first (I did).

Anyway, I was intrigued when I first read about the book, but I was also quite a bit wary. Was this really necessary, or was Kingsnorth just being willfully difficult and pretentious? Did I really want to struggle through the sort of thing you see if you click on "see inside" here on amazon?
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Format: Hardcover
What a book, what an experience! This is unlike anything I've ever read. The language creates itself in your brain as you read it, it unfolds and your understanding of it becomes organic. Quite what this did to the language part of my brain I can't say - i feel like I've learned a new tongue. I love this completely. This is such a fresh experience.

Yes, this book might seem intimidating, and it took me about half an hour to read the first five pages, but your brain eventually wraps itself around it and becomes much easier. If you aren't keen on that type of reading experience that this book is not for you - if the idea of re-learning to read does not thrill you a little bit, then I couldn't recommend this. If you do, then I could. I read large sections of it out loud to myself, and doing so was a strangely thrilling, exciting experience (sad, I know). To an extent, this novel is an academic exercise - whether it stands on its own in terms of the narrative I'm not sure, but I don't really care because the actual narrative and story isn't the point; though, I do think that the story itself is pretty powerful, but largely because it was told in this style. Its clever, frightening, atmospheric, dark, sad.

This is far too much of a left field choice to win the booker, but it may get to the shortlist. I would not be unhappy if it did win, though. Like giving your brain a cold shower. Wonderful.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the story of a small community in the Fens after the shock of 1066, and what some individuals do to survive. A man called Buccmaster who has lost everything as a result of the Norman conquest hides in the woods, gathers some followers, and we stay with them for the next two years through their meanderings on the fringes of society.

What makes it a bit tricky to read and tough to get into at first is the made-up version of Old English in which the book is written (made up so that it can be read by modern readers at all). There's a glossary, and it helps to read the first few pages out loud, then read loud in your head, as it were, until you get the hang of it. It transports the reader into a different time and place, a different mindset and a way of storytelling that is quite different from modern novels. It really works.

Nature, religion, myth and legend, historical fact, superstition and a larger than life central character all come together to make a gripping story.
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