The Wake

Paul Kingsnorth. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-55597-717-7
Kingsnorth’s debut novel is a feat of linguistic speculation—it’s written entirely in a modernized version of Old English. When our hero observes that “I had cnawan yfel was cuman when I seen this fugol glidan ofer,” phonetics, patience, and the glossary help readers approximate this as “I had known evil was coming when I saw this bird gliding over.” Set in England around the Norman Conquest, the novel portrays this cultural upheaval through the eyes of Buccmaster, a Saxon farmer. After his sons are killed at the battle of Hastings, and the French burn his farm and murder his wife, Buccmaster and a small band of fighters take to the countryside with vague aims of fomenting rebellion. The rhythms of the prose, the phonetic clues, and Buccmaster’s emerging narrative voice cue the reader in after a few difficult pages, and many sections sail along. Others remain obtuse, and the fact that comprehension is always coming in and out of focus gives the reader a sense of searching for connection with something authentically old. However, the stylistic triumph glosses over some basic flaws: for most of the novel, Buccmaster is absent from key events, and the bulk of the plot is related to him by others, making for a dull middle of the novel. And the ostensible climax of the story—the kidnapping of a French bishop—comes only a few pages before the end, underscoring the uneven pacing. It’s a brilliant novelty, but not a classic. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/06/2015
Release date: 09/01/2015
Genre: Fiction
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