The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth

In the case of Paul Kiwake cover_illustrationngsnorth’s extraordinary first novel, The Wake, which has been long-listed for the Mann-Booker prize, the effort is most definitely worth the reward.

One of the most unique and fiercely beautiful novels written in any language.

Set during the Norman invasion and occupation of England in 1066-68, the book is written in a “shadow-tongue”, the author’s imagined amalgamation of Old and Modern English, which proves slow-going for the first several pages and may scare off all but the most intrepid of readers. Which is a shame—the readers’ shame, not the author’s—because they may prematurely close the covers of one of the most unique and fiercely beautiful novels written in any language.

So the first rule of reading The Wake is to persist. After only a few pages the foreign yet familiar words settle into the mind and once there sprout and grow until the pages are alive and teeming with the voice of the peculiarly antagonistic protagonist, Buccmaster of Holland. A socman (an upper-crust farmer, a minor landowner) of the fens of eastern England, Buccmaster is a man forged in the upheaval of the French occupation, a man of his time who has lost everything and carries within him a fire and hatred of all things foreign.

the sea druncen with anglisc blud

He is at once proud and fierce, vain and detestable, and quite possibly delusional—an unlikely (unlikeable) candidate to hold center stage, yes, but just try and look away. The sheer momentum of his tale, the poignant urgency of his impassioned ranting, is impossible to deny. Kingsnorth has created in Buccmaster as flawed and human a central character as has ever before been written, and one that speaks with a voice that grabs the reader by the throat and refuses to let go. The second rule of reading The Wake then is to remember to breathe.

i saws up until his throta is cut and blaec blud then cums roaran out lic gathran wind and he claws and cocs and his eages is on mine first wid then dim then gan


The third and final rule is to wonder how in the hell, in all the eald gods and the new, Kingsnorth did it.


    1. It is a truly remarkable book – enjoy. I’m starting in on another long-listed title, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and as much as I love Mitchell I can’t imagine it topping this one.


      1. I just bought the wake on Kindle… very good value. And I am pleased you warned me about the language, but it grows on you after a while… my guess is he made avid use of autocorrect entries in his manuscript. No way can you make up a language as perfectly as that any other way! What a brilliant idea!! I look forward to the journey…


  1. I agree, it’s an astonishing feat. I’ve never encountered a character that comes alive quite like Buccmaster, and the language is a big reason for that. You’ll find yourself thinking and dreaming in the eald tongue… I read it on kindle as well – can’t find a hardcover in the US yet unless you have it shipped. But I think I’ll buy the hardcover eventually, as this is one I’ll return to often.


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