Category Archives: Earlier 20th C

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 400
Year: 2014 (6 November)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Time and Time Again by Ben EltonReview
It is Christmas 2024 and Hugh ‘Guts’ Stanton is a man with nothing to lose. His wife and children are dead, killed in a road accident just a few months before. So when Sally McCluskey, his eccentric and difficult to dislike (or ignore) old Professor, summons him to Cambridge to spend the holidays with her, to talk about her latest project, he has little reason to say no. What if, she asks him, you could go back in time and change history, which piece of history would you put to rights? This is the question that has been handed down the line of Masters of Trinity College for the longest of times. McCluskey is now Master and it is at this time that the question can finally be answered.

A door to the past is about to open. Hugh Stanton, an adventurer and ex-military man with nothing to keep him in the present and nothing to look forward to in the future, is ideally placed and skilled to step through that door and to prevent one of the most catastrophic events of the 20th century – the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his Duchess in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.

This, then, is where Ben Elton takes us in his new thriller, Time and Time Again. I have also given you just the barest of bones because this book is packed to the rafters with surprises (some of them are belters) and much of its pleasure derives from its shocks. The premise might sound rather familiar – it did make me think of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life as well as Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, plus, in a commemorative year that resonates with the legacy of 1914, the premise of Time and Time Again might appear on the face of it too neat. But after the fewest of pages, it became entirely clear to me that Time and Time Again would defy all my expectations. Ben Elton has taken a popular premise and made it his own in the same way that he has done something wonderful with the tried and tested timeslip genre. Two Brothers was one of my very favourite reads of 2013 – Time and Time Again is every bit as striking and memorable.

Ben Elton has a strong sense of the burden of history and it is as apparent in Time and Time Again as it was in Two Brothers, albeit this time we are touching on a different war. With the benefit of hindsight, both ours and Hugh’s, the significance of the smallest detail in Hugh’s journey in the past is felt so strongly. The historical details and settings are meticulous and vivid. Moving through history, Hugh tries to stay aloof, to keep clear his mission, but the past slowly brings Hugh back to life, he starts to find its colour, reassured that his own past is now eradicated, the future unwritten.

There are so many conundrums in this clever novel that a reader needs some wits about them. Arguably, nothing is easier or harder than to change history and it’s not long before Hugh is tied up in his very own Gordion Knot. But while this is intellectually enjoyable and teasing, Time and Time Again also contains some simpler pleasures, not least in the character of Irish suffragette Bernaette ‘Bernie’ Burdette who is an absolute delight. Likewise, there is humour, especially in the shape of Professor McClusky who gets most of the good lines and enjoys telling them. Above all else, this novel sparkles with such a powerful, all pervasive love of the past and a deep sense of foreboding for what might happen if people should think themselves foolish enough to be able to play with it.

Without doubt, Ben Elton is one of the most exciting authors about. I was so excited when I learned about Time and Time Again and I am delighted, but not surprised, to have found it marvellous.

Other review
Two Brothers

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 278
Year: 2014 (23 October)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie TidharReview
Herr Wolf is an immigrant in 1939 London, one of many Germans driven out from the Fatherland after the fall of fascism in the 1933 German elections. Wolf was once the leader of German fascism but, with his own country caught in the vice of a communist revolution, Wolf, as he now calls himself, makes ends meet as a private detective, living in London’s underworld, amongst its gangsters, thugs and prostitutes. Wolf would never choose to work for Jews unless desperate but desperate he is when Isabella Rubinstein walks into his office. Her sister Judith is missing, one of many immigrants smuggled out of Germany and now lost. Isabella knows exactly which buttons to press. Wolf is soon entangled and descends even deeper into the rot in London’s poorest streets and its racket clubs, so many of which are run by the men who once, years before, clicked their heels at Wolf.

But none of this is real. Shomer lies dreaming in the hell that the Nazis have created. He is in Auschwitz, his family slashed in two, his wife and children gassed, his own survival unlikely. Before the Holocaust, Shomer was a writer of pulp fiction. Now he survives one day at a time by dreaming an alternate history, one in which Hitler never rose to power but instead has to hide himself in a foreign city under a different name, working for the very people he despises, pitied and repudiated by Britain’s own rising fascist faction, and reduced to something less than human by the the lust and hatred that has twisted his soul.

In A Man Lies Dreaming Lavie Tidhar has created an extraordinary vision of a shifted, dark and rotted world. At its heart Shomer lies dreaming and throughout we are given brief and painfully graphic glimpses into his night and day. In the centre of his dream is Wolf and for most of the novel we watch Wolf move through his London, chasing the missing Judith while also working on his other mission to keep Sir Oswald Mosley, a fascist with dreams of becoming Prime Minister, safe from assassination. While at times we see Wolf through the omnipresent eyes of our narrator, there are many other times when we descend into Wolf’s mind though his journal entries. This is a nasty place to be and no attempt is made to win over the reader. Instead, the clever shifting narration keeps us at a safe distance as we sit and observe Wolf.

A Man Lies Dreaming is a most unusual book – our leading character is despicable and we are constantly reminded of this, by the condition of Shomer and by Wolf’s own condition. Wolf is a man immersed in sin and the evil he has created is his own reward as Shomer struggles to hold on to his own life and sanity. We watch Wolf unwind and the violence he suffers has the satisfaction of fate about it. A Man Lies Dreaming is about a man who cannot be saved; our empathy and feeling is reserved entirely for Shomer.

The other characters in the novel all have a purpose designed by the dreamer. Their function is to define, torment and disintegrate Wolf. The characters from Wolf’s past are there to remind him of what he’s lost while Mosley and the Mitford sisters taunt him with what could have been. Isabella Rubinstein and her father exert a justice that is painfully precise and justified. Other characters live in in the memories that Wolf recalls in his diary, so many of them now destroyed. Familiar names are thrown at us throughout and there is no little satisfaction in fitting them back into history as it actually happened. The London that it depicts is also well done. Both familiar and different, this is a London where fascism is on the rise but where the downtrodden, the beaten and the victimised are beginning to fight back.

A Man Lies Dreaming might be dark and powerful and at times painfully graphic (sex and violence – especially the sex) but I found the novel fascinating and extremely difficult to put down, reading it in a couple of sittings. It’s hugely clever, aimed at (and hitting) both the reader’s heart and mind, witty and completely absorbing. Lavie Tidhar is a writer with extraordinary flair and wit – as I already knew from his previous novel The Violent Century – but in A Man Lies Dreaming Tidhar takes extra steps and the result is an incredibly brave and imaginative novel, evoking in a such an unusual and effective way the trauma of the Holocaust, and without doubt it will feature in my top ten books of 2014. And what a fantastic cover.

Other review
The Violent Century

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Publisher: Macmillan
Pages: 1003
Year: 2014 (16 September)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Bought copy

Edge of Eternity by Ken FollettEdge of Eternity concludes Ken Follett’s epic Century trilogy, which begins with Fall of Giants and continues with Winter of the World – I would most definitely advise that you read and savour the three novels in sequence.

After four years, three books and nearly 3,000 pages, Ken Follett’s engrossing and epic journey through the key events and social upheavals of the 20th century comes to a close with Edge of Eternity, an enormous novel that covers the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Follett takes us back into the lives of these American, Russian, German and English families, each interconnected, and it feels as if we’ve never been away. Having survived (or not), the First World War and revolution in Fall of Giants and the rise of the Nazis and World War Two in Winter of the World, it is now time for the sons and daughters and grandchildren to endure and overcome the Cold War, the struggle for racial equality, Vietnam, the social transformation of the 1960s and the oppression of the Iron Curtain. Beginning with the erection of the Berlin Wall in the dead of night in 1961, Edge of Eternity vividly depicts the devastating effect this physical and cultural barrier had on families while, in the US, black men and women risked their lives to bring equality to the free world.

A trilogy that covers a century moves through the generations but if, like me, you had fears that too long has passed to remember all the back histories of these familes, then you needn’t worry. We are aided by family trees and dramatis personae but mostly by the clues that litter the text. The previous two novels, especially Fall of Giants, are so memorable, it all comes flooding back. Now, though, we are largely concerned with the original characters’ grandchildren, those who grow to young adulthood in one of the liveliest decades of the century, the Sixties.

Key among them is George Jakes, a black lawyer who knows exactly what he wants to do with his life after he is attacked on one of the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom buses in Alabama. Through George and his colleagues we enter the White House and Justice Department of the Kennedy brothers. In Russia, we have a set of twins, a brother and sister, one trying to salvage the Communism his grandfather fought for while the other seeks to subvert it, piece by piece. In the UK, two young siblings whose grandmother helped to change the social order of WW1 Britain make waves in their own way, though music and acting. Finally, in what is arguably the most powerful of the novel’s threads, we have the Berlin family that, having survived and fought the Nazis, is now split in two by a Wall and an ideology that has vengeance on its mind.

Edge of Eternity is an extraordinary novel, truly an epic and engrossing from its very beginning, its appeal intensified because we now know these families so well and Follett has placed them at the very heart of world affairs. I could not put the book down, despite the damage caused by carrying around a hardback with this many pages in it (this is a very heavy book!). But, despite this, reading Edge of Eternity was not all plain sailing. I had issues with it and at times it made me frustrated and cross. But before I get to that, here are some reasons why I am so glad I read it.

Ken Follett makes us a witness to events, whether it’s the assassination of a president, an escape over the Berlin Wall, or a visit to a rigidly hostile Siberia. The prose races along, we’re caught up in the adventure, and the pace is relentless. Whether the event is something on the magnitude of the Cuban missile crisis or something like a pop concert held against the Wall so that those on the unfree side can listen in, or Watergate or the rise of Solidarity in Poland or a raid in Vietnam or a much respected old lady taking her seat in the House of Lords, it’s impossible not to care and not to be swept along by history. The chapters flit between the key characters, accelerating the pace even further. Follett does a great job of reproducing the staging and dialogue of landmark moments in the century, mixing so well fictional characters with historic figures.

It’s difficult not to be moved by watching familiar events unfold. I shed tears on more than one occasion. But just as much poignancy comes from watching the fictional lives develop and run their course. I cared deeply for some of these characters, most especially those in Germany, while others, such as George in Washington DC, fascinated me. Throughout this long novel, it is always a pleasure to return to each of the characters. I had such a hunger to know how everything would turn out and, as it happened, I was content.

Now to the downside.

During my review of Winter of the World, I noted that I wasn’t happy with the way that the novel’s female characters were sexualised to what I thought was an excessive degree. I was disappointed to discover that in Edge of Eternity, this is taken to an more obsessive level. There are a number of women with key roles in the novel but their value is repeatedly degraded – there isn’t a male character in the novel who doesn’t look at women with a predatory eye. First and foremost, women are depicted as sexual objects. In the midst of the most traumatic or significant event, a male character will still take time to assess the breasts of the woman next to him. Women without children at 40 are looking for substitutes for their maternal love and mature powerful women in Washington government and intelligence strip off in a changing room together to compare their breasts while still discussing the illegal actions of the President in Beirut. When one of the women meets another who is heroically helping to change the shape of Polish politics, she takes a moment to reflect that if she were a lesbian she would fancy her. I lost count of the number of times a character came home only to surprise his or her partner in bed with someone else. There is not a single female figure in Edge of Eternity with emotional authenticity, which is quite unlike their depiction in Fall of Giants. In Winter of the Worlds this obsession with sex and women as sex objects was an irritation but in Edge of Eternity it presented a real hindrance to my appreciation of both its male and female characters and to my enjoyment of the novel as a whole.

Despite my frustration with Follett’s depiction of women, I was still glued to Edge of Eternity. In a way, the fact that it made me feel so strongly shows me how close to the story I have become. I had been worried that this final book could not live up to the drama of the previous novels’ World Wars but, aside from the rather tedious story strand of a 1960s’ Beatle-esque band, it delivered. I was fascinated by the insight given into the workings of the Politburo and the Oval Office and the struggles of families to survive in the American South, in Siberia and in East Berlin. Being able to remember so well some of the events, notably the fall of the Iron Curtain, certainly added to the novel’s emotional impact. Conflicts rise but in Edge of Eternity, there is a driving movement towards peace, justice and equality, giving its families, who have survived and done so much, cause to hope. When I finished it, I wanted to go straight back to the beginning and read the trilogy all over again.

Other review
Winter of the World

The Storms of War by Kate Williams

Publisher: Orion
Pages: 514
Year: 2014
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Storms of War by Kate WilliamsReview
It is 1 August 1914 and war is just days away. For German immigrant and meat merchant Rudolf de Witt, his English wife Verena and their four children, tensions are greater than for most. A village party hosted by the de Witts ends in humiliation, snubbed by the villagers, a trivial event in itself but a sign of how lines have been drawn between the British and those who are now regarded as the enemy. For youngest daughter, 15-year-old Celia, this is a time to cast off her childhood clothes and to raise up a notch her flirtation with servant and groom Tom. Her sister Emmeline is about to marry Sir Hugh, sealing the respectability of this half-British family, while no one would seem to hate the Germans more than brother Michael. Of Arthur, the eldest brother and away in Paris, there is not a word.

But when war breaks out on 4 August everything changes for the de Witt family and their servants, leaving only Verena safe in her grand home of Stoneythorpe, bewildered and abandoned. Celia, Michael, Tom and Rudolf undergo years of horror, each leaving mental and physical scars, and it is their stories that come alive in this fine family saga.

The Storms of War is essentially a novel in two parts, the first preparing us – and the characters – for what is to come in the second. The point of view shifts through the novel, spending time in turns with Michael and Celia in particular. Celia’s story is initially a domestic one, continuing her lessons, dealing with her sister and mother, and coming to terms with the absence of Michael, Tom and her father. Michael’s perspective is unbearably different, surrounded as he is by the fear, dread and danger of trench warfare. Kate Williams, a historian whose love of the past shines through these pages, brings the horror to the fore through descriptions of dealing with the lice, the rats and the dirt. It’s a riveting read.

Once Celia embarks on her adulthood, her story rivals – and exceeds – that of Michael in its depiction of war. Celia’s experiences as an ambulance driver in France are enormously powerful and horrifying. The camaraderie between the girls, brought together from a range of backgrounds and motives, mirrors that between the men in the trenches, the men that these girls collect in pieces.

The descriptions of war are outstanding, all the more so because Kate Williams has made us care so much for the characters – whether major or minor. The contrast between the chapters set in London and Stoneythorpe and those set in France or in hospitals at home is dramatic and poignant. The trivial versus the fundamental. As a result, I had very little time for Emmeline and only slightly more for Verena. My feelings for Rudolf were also mixed, as they are supposed to be. But I had all the time in the world for Celia, Michael and Tom – especially poor, young Celia, brave beyond her years, with demands made on her that should never have been made and so much heart despite the efforts of some to tear it apart.

There is so much going on in The Storms of War, its pace is furious and never lets up. I’m a big fan of Downton Abbey and so I thoroughly enjoyed the saga’s great dramas, one after another, the characters that come and go, leaving devastation and turmoil in their wake, the twists and turns (pleasurable despite their predictability), and the tragedies that will endure for years. Despite the bloody war scenes, this is not a heavy read. Its purpose is to inform and to be enjoyed and it succeeds perfectly.

The Storms of War is the first in the saga. The next will take the history and story of the de Witt family through to 1927. Some characters are merely hinted at in this first novel – especially brother Arthur and the mysterious General – while others make enigmatic appearances – the American Jonathan for one. I can’t wait to see what Kate will do with them all next as the stormclouds of war disperse.

The Corners of the Globe by Robert Goddard (The Wide World 2)

Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 400
Year: 2014
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Corners of the Globe by Robert GoddardReview
With the Great War over, the powers of the world assemble in Paris to decide on terms for victors and vanquished. While diplomats and ministers meet to discuss terms, agents and spies work to their masters’ agendas, dealing in secrets, hiding sins, removing obstacles. Circumstances, though, have made a spy of James Maxted, known to most as Max. With his father Sir Henry murdered, found in Paris at the end of a steep drop, Max is after answers and vengeance. The more Max learns, the deeper he descends into a most perilous world. The cost of peace is immense and no-one knows this better than Max, the man who survived years as a pilot and then a prisoner of war.

The Corners of the Globe is the second in Robert Goddard’s historical spy thriller series, begun so well with last year’s The Ways of the World. There is no pause from the previous novel. Max is now determined on his course of action. His father’s death might be less of a mystery now, proven to be murder and not suicide, but Max knows that Sir Henry’s killer was just one small cog in a wheel that surrounds Paris. Vengeance on the murderer is not enough. Max is after the leaders and to take them on he plays a very dangerous game indeed.

As the novel begins, Max is on a ‘mission’ for Germany’s chief spymaster, to travel to Orkney to rescue a document from the interred German fleet. It contains secrets so powerful they can draw out spies from the shadows. As British and German agents search for Max, the British secret service is in danger of collapsing from the inside out, its double agents making themselves known in the desperate scramble for the document. Meanwhile in Paris, Max’s old manservant, and now chauffeur to the British diplomats, Sam, is caught up in his own deadly game, mixed up in a power struggle amongst the Japanese delegation to Paris which strikes to the heart of what Sir Henry was up to in the city.

The result is an immense tangle of deceit and treachery. German, Japanese and British agents scramble for position, with Max pursued across Scotland and England to France and Sam fighting his own battle on the streets and rooftops of Paris. Both of them must decide who they are prepared to trust. Fortunately, they each encounter men and women prepared to help them, to stand up for what is right. But bodies fall on both sides.

The Corners of the Globe presents Max’s transformation into spy. His humanity lessens as his heart hardens. He directly puts other people’s lives in danger and he is prepared to live with the consequences, while they might not. There is one memorable scene where he comes across an old comrade from the war, begging on the streets, one leg missing. Max pretends he doesn’t know the man when asked and so he must then watch the light of hope fade from his old friend’s eyes. With so many lies and deaths, there is bound to be tragedy, and we encounter it in the sadness of bereaved lovers, sons, sisters and friends. It’s an intriguing mix, this contradiction between Max’s increasing hardness and the amount of suffering he meets, even causes.

Without doubt, The Corners of the Globe is a complicated novel. Fortunately, there are some recaps of what went on before in The Ways of the World and I found this vital. You could read this second novel without having read the first – enough is made clear – but a knowledge of The Ways of the World does add greatly to one’s appreciation of Goddard’s admirable plotting and the development of Max’s character. While I enjoyed the first novel greatly, I enjoyed the second even more. There is much more focus on what matters, less attention given to Max’s family in England, a greater number of puzzles, more danger and much more involvement by Max as the novel’s driving force. The secondary characters are also given additional life.

It’s all backed up by the most atmospheric and evocative worldbuilding. Paris in particular is given a life of its own, with rich descriptions of its famous streets and places, populated by a cast of characters from around the world, each of whom has his or her own agenda in the negotiations for peace and domination and revenge. The Great War itself gets little direct mention, except for the regular reminders and memories of shell-shocked, injured, dead servicemen. It is the trauma that overshadows all else.

My only complaint about this superb novel is its cliffhanger ending which is the most blatant cliffhanger that I’ve encountered and seems totally out of place in a book of such class. The novel as a whole makes me desperate to read the trilogy’s conclusion (I love the direction in which it’s heading), it doesn’t need such a cheap gimmick. Nevertheless, this is a minor niggle and it only slightly marred my appreciation for a novel that is, especially during the second half, an unputdownable thrilling race for answers.

Other review
The Ways of the World

The Spider of Sarajevo by Robert Wilton

Publisher: Corvus
Pages: 397
Year: 2014
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Spider of Sarajevo by Robert WiltonReview
On the morning of 28 June 1914, one hundred years ago today, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie were shot dead in the streets of Sarajevo, an act that set the world alight with war. The descent into war was, though, far from straightforward – the principle powers of the day played a complicated game, in secret, using diplomats and spies rather than the soldiers that were to replace them in just weeks. Published today to mark the centenary of the assassinations, The Spider of Sarajevo, brings the shady world of the spies to the fore, focusing on the weeks which led up to the events of 28 June 1914, moving between the men (and occasional woman) who dealt in lies and secrets across Europe’s borders and yet were themselves pawns – or bait.

The oldest, most secretive and respected of all spy offices – the Comptroller-General for Scrutiny and Survey in London – has a problem. Opposing him across the Channel is a new spymaster with extraordinary reach and control, extending from Berlin and Austria to the unstable Balkans and beyond. Nameless, he is known to the Old Man in London as the Spider. The war they fight is more than personal, it will have deadly consequences.

Four young people are hired as spies to tempt out the Spider. They are each very different – anthropologist Ballentyne, businessman Cade, charmer Duval and the fiercely clever Hathaway, the sole woman amongst the four. The agent responsible for their safety is Major Knox, a man who realises before most the extent of the danger they are all in. Dispatched across the continent, from France to Constantinople and St Petersburg, the four spies chase shadows, creating their own networks and relationships from the men and women that they encounter in cafes, dinner parties, diplomatic functions, or in the mountain villages of the Balkans. With four leading figures to follow, it’s quite likely that some will become favourites and brave Ballentyne and fierce Hathaway are mine.

The Spider of Sarajevo is a deliciously complicated affair – its opening list of individuals ‘named in the dossier’ is invaluable and I frequently referred back to it. Each of our spies has an increasingly large circle around them while the influence of the Spider becomes ever more noticeable as the heat of his hunt intensifies. The reader must have his or her wits about them as they follow the trail. But the characters have more than enough warmth in their veins for the reader to engage with more than just their brain. I cared very deeply about the fate of our four spies, especially as all of the clues, from the title and the publication date onwards, remind us what lies in store.

This sense of countdown is strong and it intensifies the tension, which is also heightened by a series of action moments which are extremely thrilling and dramatic, including one in a submarine base and another during a great regatta of German and British battleships at Kiel, an event which seems almost preposterous when one thinks how close this is to war.

Robert Wilton’s prose is as superb as his plotting and there is an irony and detachment in its tone that is especially effective during the moments of greatest tension. Surprises and shocks are delivered with impeccable timing. There are also some pleasingly witty asides, especially during our chapters in the company of Hathaway. This is a skillful narrative, mixed up within it are letters, cryptic telegrams, notes and reports drawn from the archives of the Comptroller-General for Scrutiny and Survey. Some characters we meet only briefly but they make for some terrific portraits nonetheless – I particularly enjoyed the mysterious Valfierno and his verbal duel with one of our four during a memorable railway journey. The persona of the author, and his relationship to his subjects and his readers, is likewise intriguing.

Even though the outcome for Europe is never in doubt, the pace is fierce and there are surprises in store within these pages and it is necessary for the reader to pay the closest of attention in order to reap the rewards of the shocks and twists. The Spider of Sarajevo is the third novel in Robert Wilton’s Comptroller-General series, set several hundred years after the Civil War events of its predecessor, the masterpiece Traitor’s Field. Yet again, Robert Wilton proves he is not only a fine storyteller but also a master of untangling our history during its most complicated and perilous episodes, whatever the century.

Other review
Traitor’s Field

Blog Tour – Wake by Anna Hope: An interview

Wake Blog Tour PosterOne of the most anticipated and acclaimed debut novels of 2014 is Wake by Anna Hope. A moving and powerful novel, it takes place over the five days in November 1920 that brought the Unknown Warrior from his anonymous grave in France to his final resting place in Westminster Abbey, honoured by the King and his nation. Among the crowd are three women and it is through their interconnected beautifully told stories that Anna Hope presents the impact and trauma of the Great War. Following on from my review of Wake, I am honoured and thrilled to kick off the Blog Tour for the novel, marking its publication last week. Many thanks to Anna for taking the time to answer my questions and to Transworld Books.

Congratulations for Wake, which is an outstanding and deeply emotional read. It’s appropriate that Wake should be published on the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, but what inspired you to write about it?

Thank you so much! I was inspired to write about this period because I was fascinated with women’s fight for the vote. The vote was granted in 1918, and I wanted to know what had changed in those years for women. I was very aware too that the defining tropes of the Great War: the trenches, the mud, the botched battles, the barbed wire, were all from the male experience, but there wasn’t much out there that told about the war from the female perspective. The idea for the structure of the Unknown Warrior came when I saw the graveyards in France, and thought about how many families were left with no body and no grave, and how profoundly distressing that must have been.

Wake by Anna HopeYou show the impact of the Great War on men, women and families by focusing on the events of just five days leading up to the burial of the Unknown Warrior in London in November 1920. What appealed to you about this particular event?

The burial of the Unknown Warrior was an extraordinary event for all sorts of reasons. In a class-ridden Britain, it was profoundly democratic; this unknown, unidentified body to stand for the many that did not come home from France. It also gave those who had no body or known grave a chance to partake in a funeral. The response was overwhelming – when the train carrying the body arrived at Victoria Station the crowds burst through the barriers and stormed the platform. Such raw grief. Hundreds of thousands of people travelled from all over Britain to witness the body on its procession to the Abbey. I found it incredibly moving.

How difficult was it to put yourself into the minds of these three women and was it difficult to let them go afterwards?

I’d done so much research that it wasn’t too difficult to put myself in the minds of those women. Hettie was the hardest I think, because she has lost the least. It was hard to let them go, but I feel as though I am living with them still. It’s lovely to keep thinking and writing about them in this way.

Wake has a strong impact partly because it rings true for its historical details but also because of the authentic feel of the psychological damage done to these men and women by war. What kind of research did you do?

I read very widely, from accounts of women who lived through the war (Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth is widely known for good reason, it’s brilliant) to women’s fiction of the time; I loved Helen Zenna Smith’s Women of the Aftermath. Juliet Nicholson’s The Great Silence was an important touchstone for me, as was Virginia Nicholson’s Singled Out. And the poet Robert Graves co-authored a wonderfully gossipy book about the social mores of the time called The Long Weekend, which had all sorts of wonderful snippets of information, from how much dinner cost in a London restaurant in 1918, to attitudes to politics, sex and the arts. It’s a great book. I think I must have read over a hundred titles while researching. I became a WW1 geek!

Which novelists influenced you and what was your favourite novel of 2013?

I’m influenced by all sorts of writers. My favourite writers of this period are without question Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and T.S. Eliot. I loved the way their work plays with the fracturing of certainties that came in the wake of the war. My favourite books of 2013 were Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which I hadn’t got round to until then. I read them one after the other and then couldn’t read any fiction for months. What a writer! What a mind! I loved them.

A review
To buy Wake in hardback and on the Kindle
Follow Anna on Twitter