A Shadow Language Of English

the_wakeTHE WAKE

Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound) ISBN: 9781908717863

The first time I heard about The Wake, I promptly forgot about it. It sparked an interest that was quickly supplanted by the next thing on my to-do list that day. The next time I heard about it, it was on the Man Booker Prize long list – an unlikely crowd-source funded contender that exceeded all expectations.

By that point it was far too late for me to find an original copy bound with, what looks to me like, Coptic stitching between boards. And let’s face it, I was drawn to it mainly by the pretties. And the Green Man on the cover*. And Hastings. And the mention of Old English.

I deliberately avoided reading other reviews prior to typing up this load of drivel. You see, I have a slight conflict of interests (that’s not entirely the correct term, but kinda sorta).

I’m privileged enough to be learning Old English going on three years now. Not in any official academic capacity, but at the hands of – now two – extraordinary people/kick-arse scholars who very generously share their time and knowledge to guide our little group through the mire of dative plurals, genitives of respect and Wulfstan’s guide on how not to burn in hell.

Reading The Wake (a story written entirely in a “shadow language” version of English with a few Old English words dotted about to give it that I-just-found-a-golden-helm-in-a-barrow flavour) I found the language both slightly familiar and slightly off. Perhaps it was a case of knowing a bit too much. For that reason, I decline to comment. Maybe it will evoke olde worlde feels for some, as I have no doubt was intended. Enjoy.

What about the story then? I hear you shout as you take me by the shoulders and try to shake some sense into me. Okay, okay, I’m getting there. Patience, honestly – what’s wrong with you?

Essentially, it’s about a man going a little cuckoo around 1066 with that whole Norman invasion of England thing.

The Buccmaster is a very important man in the village and he doesn’t mind telling people just how important he is at any given opportunity (the guy’s basically a bit of a knob – which is fine).

What is not quite as clear is whether he is brave or a coward; clever or stupid; attuned with the “old gods” or afflicted with what we might now recognise as a type of schizophrenia.

I had trouble trying to determine what exactly I was reading. Whether it was a historical fantasy, a commentary on major cultural shifts and resistance in native populations, or an exploration of mental illness in a historical setting. Maybe it was all of those, or none.

I read this book wanting to like it and I tried hard to remain optimistic. I tried to see deeper meaning. I hoped for an intriguing story and kept waiting for the “ah, I see what you did there” moment. Sadly, for me, it never came. Maybe it will for you.




*That’s right, that’s how I judge books. I offer no apologies.

About Jamie Ashbird

Jamie Ashbird was born from an egg on a mountain top. At least that's what she keeps telling people. In fact she was born, quite boringly, from a uterus and was raised in Melbourne. It is here, in her native habitat, that she roams about watching the world go by and quietly judging people. She is also a writer... ahem, apologies, typo... she is almost a writer but wastes too much of her time watching other people play video games on YouTube.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  • You might also like

    • The Face of Jesus in my Soup

      The Book of Memory is Petina Gappah’s first novel, a tightly woven tale of privilege and prison, of Zimbabwe, and of course memory.  It is the fictional memoir of the convicted murderer, Memory.  She has been asked to write in service of a potential appeal against her death sentence. Memory … Continue reading