This is quite simply one of the best and most extraordinary books I have ever read. As the other reviews have mentioned, the language is what sets this apart from other works, and what undoubtedly causes such strong divisions regarding the book. Either you will get it, or you won't. For my part, I was able to eventually adapt to the language, and once I did so, it became an absolute delight. I ended up reading it quite slowly, and out loud, for this isn't a book to rush through, but to pace yourself, and savor the richness of the words. It was a great deal of fun to stumble across the same word several times before I figured out what it was actually saying, and it gave me a sense of some accomplishment to do so. That said, this just isn't for everyone, and I could see how people would struggle with it. The protagonist is either a delusional jackhole or mentally ill, or maybe a wee bit of both. And the work is quite dark, as is fitting to the time it describes. But if you have a love of the medieval period, and are a bit of a language geek, I think you will be enthralled by this unique work. I know I was.
Upon reading the 2014 Man Booker longlist announcement, I was immediately drawn to The Wake because of it's unique premise and because I believe it's the prize's first crowdsourced nomination. Sourced by readers? I had to give it a try.
What is perhaps the most unique about this novel, and needs to be mentioned, is the language. Written in a version of Old English created by the author for layman readers, I didn't know what to expect. But what I think should be made clear is that Paul Kingsnorth didn't write this novel intending it to be a chore for the reader. He wrote it this way to reflect the world it takes place in, and he did so beautifully. The story is fascinatingly alien, and utterly relevant to a time we can only try and imagine. I appreciate Kingsnorth's reasoning in the note on the language:
"The way we speak is specific to our time and place. Our assumptions, our politics, our worldview, our attitudes - all are implicit in our words, and what we with them. To put 21st-century sentences into the mouths of eleventh century characters would be the equivalent of giving them iPads and cappuccinos: Just wrong."
And he's right. Ever get annoyed reading modern morals in a character of historical fiction? I bet Kingsnorth would too, but by taking the brilliant extra steps with language he's created something magical. Once you pick up on the "rules" of the language, reading it becomes second nature. It nourishes the story, never detracting from the tale. There is a partial glossary in the back, but I didn't use it once. Kingsnorth did all the hard work for us, and I found joy in understanding his new words through context.
Set during the Norman invasion of England, the story follows Buccmaster, and his somewhat misguided attempt to bring England back to what it used to be. Buccmaster is cocky, outspoken, and probably schizophrenic, but oddly riveting in an endearing sort of way. Except for the homicidal tendencies of course. But it's 1066, and his entire world is in turmoil. The journey is dark, but dreamy, and I was sad to see it end. Not that I was expecting otherwise, but I'll be honest, this one caught me off guard. One of the best historical fictions I've read yet, it brings exciting new breath to the genre.
I look forward to reading more of Paul Kingsnorth's work in the future. Highly recommended.
Brilliant! What can I say? I know some Old English and some German, though, and I'm not sure what I'd be able to read without those bits of background. But who knows--maybe a lot. The O.E. Lite "shadow language" is the kicker here, as all the review testify. It gets incantatory very easily and naturally, also brutal, also witty. One of the best perks of the language is that you don't get any of the French borrowings, and you realize over & over what it means to have your language debased to the point where it's the vulgar or funny version of something that would be more refined using the French-origin near-synonym. I was won over when I figured out "haeric star," especially as "hairy" in modern English means something rather coarse, hairy all over, not like this comet with its hair streaming behind it. The language in many respects creates its characters and makes their horrors real.
This is an amazing book. The author has recreated Old English in a fairly accessible format for modern readers, though this takes some getting used to. Why Old English? The story is told from the point of view of an 11th century Englishman after the Norman conquest, and the protagonist, Buccmaster, is a holdover to the time of the old gods and the old religion before Christianity. His home and farm are destroyed by the French and he takes up a guerilla-style revolt against the Normans. He is guided by an Old English sensibility for the land and the old gods, so greenmen come alive, spirits inhabit the forests, and signs and omens inform him of everything. The author, Paul Kingsnorth, wanted to recreate the world view of someone from the 11th century, using the same language and mythopoetic understanding he would have had of the world. After a few pages the language becomes second nature and it becomes a page turner, even though we know, from our point in history, all will not end well.