My review of The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

thewake…and my very first professional book review! After five years of writing about books here at Reading in Bed, I’m so proud to review The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, my favourite book of 2015, in The Rusty Toque.

I’ve hinted about my super-duper, super-long review of The Wake for months. And it did take months to write. It also took some particular experiences, pieces of advice, and pep talks. I want to give a few shout outs, and a little preview, as it’s definitely in TL;DR territory. I’m proud, but also nervous. I wrote about The Wake, a novel about the Norman Invasion in 11th century England, in the context of Reconciliation in Canada.

It is controversial to suggest we need yet another account of colonization from the English point of view, but The Wake is an important novel in much the same way as Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda. The Orenda is one of Canadian literature’s first balanced accounts of first contact between Indigenous peoples and Europeans, including French and Indigenous points of view, and importantly, multiple Indigenous points of view (it is quite common that Indigenous peoples and their perspectives are presented as a monolith, despite the plural “peoples.”) The Orenda won the 2014 Canada Reads competition, and has been recommended as required reading for all Canadians.

The Wake should also be required reading for Canadians, not for its balanced perspective, and only partially for the old “those who don’t know, doomed to repeat” reasons, but mostly because learning that the Norman invasion was itself a colonization and that English people are no more a monolith than Indigenous peoples are and that the way we label people “Anglo-Saxon” is almost as misguided as the way we used to label Indigenous peoples “Indians” is very much in the spirit of reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate states that “The truth of our common experiences will help set our spirits free and pave the way to reconciliation.” The Wake addresses the themes of common experience, colonization, violence, and even cultural genocide.

Thanks to the people who helped me write this:

  • Jennifer Quist for encouragement and suggesting I get in touch with The Rusty Toque
  • Jane and Miranda for organizing a “Read the TRC” group, which I wrote about here
  • Wab Kinew and Ray Saddleback Jr., who spoke at a City of Edmonton employee event last year, where I first heard the phrase “renegade tribe” which made me think of England’s “greenmen” and  inspired the direction this review took
  • Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses for her review, which informed mine
  • My sister Cait for proofreading and advice

If you make it through this monster review, please let me know what you think.

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9 comments

  1. Naomi

    Awesome review, Laura! I enjoyed every long word of it.
    My favourite line: “Despair because resistance to colonization has historically been futile; reason to hope because surely, one of these times, we’re going to learn something.”
    And, since you mention it, I can’t help but put in my two cents worth about voting off books because of the “accessibility” of them. Come on and give us some credit, give us a challenge, don’t assume we can’t or won’t do it. Sigh.

    • lauratfrey

      Yes, it comes up every year, doesn’t it? I really need to catch up on episode 3 (I stopped watching when I heard Birdie was kicked off) because I think they talked about accessibility with respect to Birdie. But on the other hand, we (book bloggers) are not the norm, and maybe it’s not fair to assume most people will/can read something that challenging. I don’t know. Not like “all” “most” or even “many” Canadians will read the Canada Reads books anyways.

  2. Naomi

    Oh, and congratulations on your first professional book review!! I can’t believe I forgot to say that. I think you should quit your day job. 🙂

  3. Rebecca Foster

    Congratulations on your first professional review, Laura — I can hardly believe that’s the case! I reviewed The Wake for The Bookbag back in 2014 when it was on the Booker Prize longlist and I must admit I struggled hugely with it. I only just about got the gist of the plot. For me the invented language got in the way and made me feel like it was just a linguistic experiment. My husband appreciated it much more. I wonder if it’s a question of brain wiring!

    • lauratfrey

      I felt that way right up to page 40 or so, and if it hadn’t clicked, I wouldn’t have been able to slog through. I had to read it out loud for those 40 pages, by the way.

  4. Carolyn O

    I LOVED your review. Nice call on linking it to The Orenda (man, that book doesn’t let you go, does it? I wrote a review last week (posting tomorrow) that mentions it). Thanks for the nod, too! And huge congrats on your first professional review!

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