…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.
I’m about halfway through my BEA stack. Many of these books will be in the spotlight this Fall. Let’s see what lives up to the hype, shall we? Full reviews to come on some of these.
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth: Don’t let the whole “Anglo-Saxon shadow tongue” thing scare you. I had to read aloud for the first quarter or so to get the language, but after that it was a snap. You should let Buccmaster scare you though. I was shaking by the end.
When you think of colonizers, you think of the British, right? It was weird and jarring to watch them get colonized a thousand years ago. I blame the Canadian education system for the fact that I didn’t know one thing about the Norman invasion except the year 1066 (and I’m pretty sure I learned that in Billy Madison.) Now I know better. By the end of this book, you’ll question what you know about everything.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh: I almost didn’t grab this. I was almost an idiot. This story was totally unexpected and everything I love – weird, dark, seedy, with a main character I want to know and save and shake violently. Reviews are starting to trickle in around the blogosphere; check out blogger Ryan Reads for excellent GIFs and Booktuber Just a Dust Jacket for the short and sweet of it.
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: This could be a genre thing; my mother in law is a voracious reader of mysteries and she liked it. I didn’t care enough about the outcome, which I saw coming a mile away. I did love the settings; the woods were creepy and the glass house was probably symbolic of many things but still felt real.
Home is Burning by Dan Marshall: Why people in their twenties shouldn’t write memoirs exhibit #172. Yes, Marshall is in his thirties now, but this memoir only goes up till his mid-twenties. It’s supposed to be funny but I found it to be trying way too hard. I should have known when I saw the Jenny Lawson blurb on the cover; I also found Let’s Pretend This Never Happened deeply unfunny.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor: There were some good one-liners, making fun of literary conventions, but it didn’t add up to much for me.
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: I’m gonna read this 900 pager before the end of the year. Promise.
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks: Almost picked this up several times. I’m resisting because it feels so serious. But, um, so was her novel Year of Wonders (about the black plague) and I love that, so, I need to get over myself!
Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey: I could pair this with a Peter Pan movie night with the kids.
The Scamp by Jennifer Pashley: Started, didn’t grab me, will try again.
Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford: I read Crazy Rich Asians recently and have had my fill of social climbers. Will revisit later.