Wake tells several stories at once, some very personal and some public. Set in England in the years immediately following World War I, it follows several characters whose worlds intersect, and uses a real-life event as an anchoring device to bring the stories together.
Running throughout Wake is an account of the 1920 state funeral of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey in London. Author Anna Hope follows the anonymous soldier's body from its disinterment from an unmarked grave in France to its burial alongside kings on Nov. 11, 1920. Hope's report is well researched and well told. As we know, the British excel at pageantry, and they pulled out all the stops for this event, providing the poor unknown soldier with a battleship escort on the journey from France and a Field Marshal's funeral, complete with a 19-gun salute.
Intertwined with this narrative are several fictional stories of women who could be the wives, mothers or sisters of the unknown warrior, and the men who escaped that fate, but whose lives were nevertheless ruined by their experiences in the war. Their tales are dark and brutal and the women, especially, rail against the futility of their losses.
The funeral of the unknown warrior was in part designed to help British citizens start to heal; this book shows how impossible that process was for many people, and how little the men in charge understood that. Wake is extremely sad, but it's beautifully written and very moving. Don't be put off by the topic -- Hope's characters are compelling, and I love how she mixes the fiction with the nonfiction.
I've read a lot of Second World War fiction, but not as much about the First World War. A lot of World War II fiction focuses on the victims of the war -- on those oppressed by the Nazis or on the civilians who were collateral damage. But it seems to me that World War I fiction often focuses more on the soldiers themselves.
Wake joins books like My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, by Louisa Young, the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker, and even the Ian Rutledge mysteries by Charles Todd in identifying the soldiers themselves as primary victims. Wake especially continues this approach.