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 1,000 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 a modern audience - The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction.
©2013 Paul Kingsnorth (P)2016 Tantor
"[R]ich in ghosts and the old gods, is daring.…" (Kirkus)
I teach. I Listen. I trust your judgment as a fellow listener.
Simon Vance does a superb job (as usual) narrating this microscopic examination of British history. The timeframe, 1066-1068, captures all the pain and suffering of a people vanquished by an invading army.
However, we see most of this turmoil through the eyes, and in the mind of, Buccmaster, a farmer who has gone insane after experiencing the tragic loss of his land, wife and sons. For awhile this is an acceptable strategy to convey the story to listeners, but it eventually unravels when we figure out that there will be no redemption for Buccmaster or his scorched landscape. He merely mutters inconsistent babbling towards the end, thinking himself some kind of resurrected ancient god.
The "Wake" is meant to represent the aftermath of the Norman Invasion, but it is also a metaphor for the death of rationality in Buccmaster's mind. At some points this was grating. I considered returning the book, then thought better of it, reminding myself that history (fictional or otherwise) is good for the soul.
I give this novel one scythe up and one down.
Well written, intriguing story with an interesting mix 11th century Anglo-Saxon and Middle English with enough modern phrasing and words to render it understandable to a 21st century listener/reader.
Speaking of listener/reader, Simon Vance's narration of this book was absolutely remarkable. He took a very difficult text, and transported me back nearly a thousand years. Very good indeed.
The Wake takes place in and around 1066. The grammar can throw you off initially, but is still great, makes it better to hear Buckmaster of Holland. Simon Vance's work as narrator is what makes Buckmaster. Paul Kingsnorth work naturally comes to Simon Vance. If medieval history from a different perspective is what you're looking for, The Wake is amazing, if you'd like to hear it, this is the version to play.
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