I am now reading The Wake. Honestly, on every level it is a marvel! Firstly, it is published by Unbound. Never heard of them? It is a subscription based publisher, has many books already in print and is waiting on the rest of you to sign up and get more titles out there; the scheme is called crowd funding. The Wake has many well known funders, as well as quite a lot of other members. Paul Kingsnorth, the author, clearly has a loyal and loving family! How do you get involved? Go on-line and find the website.
So back to The Wake: the setting is two years or so after 1066, William the Bastard is now King, the Norman barons are rampaging through England and free men are being enthralled. By that I do not mean, delighted which is what the word has come to mean, but enslaved: in thrall, exactly, for their land, their bread and butter and their livelihood – feudalism has come to Britain. The narrator, Buccmaster of Holland is a sokeman, a free tenant farmer living in the Fens. Sokemen were only found in the Eastern counties of The Danelaw, which you will know if you have ever read Hereward the Wake by Charles Kingsley or if you did history at A level or beyond. His tale is one of desolation, loss, grief, famine, but also resistance. For almost a decade after 1066 there were pockets of resistance to the Norman invasion, very largely in the East – Lincoln and East Anglia and in the West, Wales and the Welsh borders. Our tale is centred around Lincolnshire.
But here’s the thing: it is written in Old English, (or pseudo-OE) not the first five pages, the whole book! Yes, it is a challenge and I am finding that reading aloud is helping, especially when I come to a difficult passage. So even before I have finished, I am urging you all to go out there and get your copy.
Here is an extract, Buccmaster’s grandfather is telling him about the old gods, they are floating in a boat above a sunken forest in the fens:
woden has a wifman my grandfather saes also and her name is frig and for all wifmen frig is a freond in the birth of cildren and in luf and in all wifly things. and the first son of woden and frig was thunor freond of all wilde places god with a hamor what waepen brought on the lightnan itself. and his brothor was balder whose beuty was greater efen than the beuty of the fenn in winter efen than of my wifman edith. and his brothor also was ing ealdor of the holt who steered the waegn of lif through the grene months who colde becum a boar for feohtan and for specan to the land and all wihts
I chose that bit because the story of Odin and the gods is familiar, the Gotterdammerung is England’s fate: crist has not come, the preosts and biscops are not to be taken seriously, having predicted that the world would end in the year 1000. But the world appears to be ending now.
Truly, this book is a miracle. Written in what is practically a foreign tongue and yet as gripping, tense and absorbing as anything by another historical novelist of the period. I am loving it!
Historically and linguistically as true to the period as it is possible to be, without obscuring the narrative, Paul Kingsnorth takes us on a journey into our own past, with a passion and feeling for that past that is nearly as authentic as reading Piers Plowman or Beowulf, and just as thrilling.